In spite of its seemingly benign nature, young adult literature has received tumultuous responses. Back in August, education consultant Joe Nutt published an article for teachers and educational professionals called “Why Young-Adult Fiction Is a Dangerous Fantasy.” The article reflects the not uncommon belief that YA has directly harmed young people and that these books have “prevented [them] from ever becoming literate adults.”
Those are some fighting words.
Nutt bases his assertion off of the fact that he considers YA to be “gossip fodder” that does not introduce readers “to the real, adult world” full of responsibilities and roles.
Now I am not going to sit here and claim that YA is a perfect genre – it certainly has it flaws from overused tropes to sometimes less than stellar writing – but those weaknesses are not unique to YA nor do they mean that it should be completely overlooked as a genre. In his rush to compare YA fiction to “Kim Kardashian’s latest sex tape”, Nutt fails to recognize what much of YA does well.
For all of its shortcomings, YA captures the complexity of life for teens. It recognizes emotional highs and lows. It asks questions about ethics. Morals. It reflects the process through which teens have to relearn the world and their place in it. I don’t know how much Nutt remembers about being young, but in my experience, the simple, emotionally bare stories that he wants wouldn’t have felt real. During that time, I cared about everything so much. Not just “anxieties and bodies” as Nutt sneeringly describes YA. But injustice. The fallibility of adults. The recognition that simply wanting the world to be a better place wouldn’t make it one. Whether or not Nutt recognizes it, YA does deal with those issues and with the experience of being a young human trying to figure out this mess of a world we live in.
One of Nutt’s main arguments is that he wants young readers to deal with the “demanding world of ideas” and to engage in classic literature. To that end, he suggests publishers seriously reconsider the “cultural value” of contemporary YA literature. (Which brings up several other questions about whether or not publishers should or even can be arbiters of taste.)
I suppose I feel particularly defensive of YA literature because books of varying quality and cultural worth exist in all genres. There is pulpy science fiction and science fiction written that makes you think. There are fantasy books written to be daydreams about power and fantasy books written to explore some deeper aspect of being human. YA fiction isn’t exempt from this trend, but it also shouldn’t be condemned for it. Pulpy books play a role for readers just as much as highbrow ones do, and frankly YA has enough of both types of literature that it feels crude to write off the genre entirely.
But perhaps I’m off base. What do you all think? Is YA literature corrupting youths, or does it have a role to play? Should publishers seriously rethink the type of books they publish in that genre? Did I secretly fail to become a literate adult because I used to read a lot of YA? I’d like to know.