RMIT Gazette: Is YA all grown up?

Neve Mahoney  

The RMIT Gazette is a dynamic daily newspaper produced, published and distributed around Melbourne during the Emerging Writers’ Festival. We’ll publish the Gazette’s top stories online during the festival.

Since Harry Potter the young adult market has boomed and diversified, now encompassing a variety of genres and a wide readership. Despite this some argue that YA is not worth the time of an adult reader. YA authors are asked when they’re going to start writing ‘real novels’. A Slate article called ‘Against YA’, went so far to say that adults ‘should be embarrassed’ to read YA. ‘Overwritten’, ‘overdramatic’ and ‘simplistic’ are some of the comments made about YA lit. They are brash generalisations to make, especially when the people making them have never read YA.

Some authors don’t even realise they’re writing a YA novel until it goes to the publisher. “I didn’t set out to write a YA book,” said Fiona Wood, author of Six Impossible Things. “It was a complete accident, a fortunate one.” Mark Smith, author of The Road to Winter, echoed the sentiment saying that he “wasn’t conscious of the fact it was a YA novel, but that it was a sixteen-year-old protagonist.” But writing for teenagers doesn’t make a book unworthy either. There are no more “voracious and passionate” readers, in the words of #LoveOZYA chair Michael Earp, than teenagers. YA does tackle heavy issues but without the narrative fat of adult fiction, just an emphasis on emotional truth.

I think YA’s bad rep is more than simple misconception. The root of the dismissal of young adult literature is its primary target audience; teenagers. Adults are confused by teens and often dismissive of them, which can lead to dismissing their books. But in particular, it’s a dismissal of teenage girls. It’s no coincidence that it’s mostly teenage girls who read YA, while most of YA’s criticism echoes commentary aimed at ‘women’s literature’—fluffy writing not to be taken seriously.

Creating a category for YA is necessary. When this genre doesn’t fit with children or adults, where else are bookstores and librarians going to know where to keep the books? What is inherently problematic is our perception of these labels. These assumptions about YA don’t come from the novels themselves but from bias. YA is admittedly less pretentious than some adult literature, but it should no longer need to justify its own existence. YA deserves respect, as do its readers. If you refuse to see YA for what it’s worth, then that’s a bit childish.

Read more from the RMIT Gazette here.