Monday, February 08, 2010

Good-bye YA?

So you might have heard that the Indianapolis Colts lost the Super Bowl, and, naturally, that begs us to address the question…

Should we do away with YA literature?

Okay, one has absolutely nothing to do with the other and it was a terrible segue; however, we never promised everything we do here at WMLA would make sense. We are in publishing, after all.


Seriously, though, there have been some changes in the industry that have made this a viable discussion topic. Have you noticed, for example, that the books propping up the industry (Twilight, Harry Potter, etc.) are YA crossovers? Not only do young readers read them, but adults do as well. Editors are now desperate to find—and we speak from experience here—books they can market initially as YA that will attract the adult audience. Given that the last five years have brought about a trend toward more mature YA with older protagonists, what does that say?

I’ve been thinking about YA lately, in a publishing kind of way AND a sociological kind of way. If you know anything about the evolution of children’s literature, you know that youngsters pre-Newberry read, or strived to read, adult stories. Literature written and marketed specifically for children was an afterthought. Don’t believe me? Check out the early versions of fairy tales. Not what I would characterize as child friendly, what with the toe amputations and all. Have you ever read the original Peter Pan? The one by James Matthew Barrie, not the Disney version. Though filled with whimsy, it’s definitely not written at a level young children, or even most teens or adults, could read without a struggle.

YA is a natural extension of the kiddy lit revolution and its newest genre. It hasn’t been around in its current form THAT long, though it’s been around. Prior to someone deciding that teens needed a body of reading material specifically designed for them, kids either read middle-grade or stepped up to reading adult books. There was no in between.

Maybe that was a good thing.

I like some YA lit. I really do. Never liked it as an adolescent, but that’s rather a moot point considering my current age (which is not in the teen range). However, one has to admit that the best YA also happens to appeal to adults. And one also has to admit the YA titles most attractive to YA readers are those that tackle mature issues and include older characters (even as old as the first year of college). Let’s face it: Most kids can’t wait to be adults, and lots of commercial fiction is written at an 8th grade reading level anyway. Teens are fascinated by the idea of having complete autonomy over their lives and making their own decisions—weren’t you? Isn’t this nature’s way of luring the innocents toward the inevitable? If kids really knew how difficult being an adult is, wouldn’t they all pull a Peter Pan?

So what does that say about the genre?

This is not new. Not really. There have always been publishers who insist on pure YA because they market only to teens, and those who are more open about wanting a YA that can appeal to a wider audience (and hope for a Twilight). However, has the time come to admit that maybe the reading population needs more of one and less of the other?

In addition, it’s been said that the last few generations, those would have grown up with YA lit designed just for them, are endowed with more of a sense of entitlement than their predecessors. Less "get up and go" and more "whine until we get what we want." Did we in publishing do that? By designating a genre for teens, did we send the wrong message?

Adolescence is temporary. If a person lives an average life span, he/she will spend way more time as an adult than as a young adult. By cherishing the wonder years just a little too much, by celebrating our growing pains like they were the only pains we’d ever have, have we created a segment of society born of angst and lacking in any comprehension of a world beyond themselves, or beyond their “young” selves that have slyly slipped into their pasts while they were updating their MySpace pages?

Why is it that e-book publishers rarely seek out YA? The newest technology available, which one would assume would explode onto the teen scene (yes, teens do read THAT much), and no e-publisher will touch it. Doesn’t that seem odd to you? Perhaps the reason no one wants YA e-books is because YA readers are reading adult level novels.

What do you think? You can leave a comment or participate in the poll we’re trying to set up (if it doesn't appear, then you know we couldn't remember how to do Yes, it’s that important to us. This is our business and it’s changing, and we’ve found it’s the changes no one talks about that really are the most important and the ones that affect literature the most.