30 April 2008

Why YA?

Here are a few provocative remarks from this week's "Think Future" panel on what distinguishes Young Adult literature from adult literature, as reported by panel host Publishers Weekly. The panelists addressed the never-ending question of what distinguishes "young adult" literature. Perhaps because of demographics, we seem to have shifted from how YA differs from books for "tweens" and younger to how YA differs from adult books. And by "provocative," I hope to mean "thought-provoking" as well as "attention-getting."

  • H. Jack Martin, assistant coordinator of young adult services at New York Public Library: “Teen books are like adult books, without all the bullshit.”
  • Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: the YA world is made of “99% women,” and that a significant percentage of them have no idea how boys and men think.
  • Alexie: If a YA title is created as a book for young people, “a more conservative point of view comes in. If they are about young people, it’s more about respecting and not protecting. As an Indian I’m used to being what I call ‘reservationized.’ There can be a sense of the category, instead of elevating us, doing the reverse.”
  • Alexie: “I thought I’d been condescended to because I’m an Indian. That was nothing compared to the condescension I get because I’ve written a YA novel. . . . Because I’ve written a book about a 16-year-old, that means I’m a capitalistic whore.”
  • While libraries often shelve copies of a title in both adult and young adult (and children's) sections, George Nicholson, senior agent at Sterling Lord Literistic, “pointed out a hard reality that factors into the ‘where do we put this book?’ discussion: chain bookstores will not multi-position a book in the store.”


Glenn Ingersoll said...

One of the things I like about Sherman Alexie -- he's angry and he's funny, often at the same time. None of the quotes you attribute to him show off his joky side, unless that part got trimmed.

I saw him read once and remember an audience member afterward grumping about how Alexie had to make a joke out of everything.

J. L. Bell said...

I thought Alexie's comments were funny. Maybe it's all in the delivery.

Leila said...

I found the line about condescension hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I just have to say how much it gets up my nose when people like H. Jack Martin say smug, asinine things like YA books are adult books without bullshit. Way to go with the stupid dismissive comment. Only . . . isn't that what a lot of people do to YA? And aren't we getting pretty sick of it? How are people in this field ever going to get any respect if our spokesmen say juvenile, petty things like this? It's as if he's still in the fourth grade insisting his baseball team is better than the other guy's.

J. L. Bell said...

The article provides more context for Martin’s comment, linking it to a remark from Alexie: “In the adult world, the number of adverbs and adjectives can be confused with great writing.”

AliceB said...

John, here's another take on "Why YA" from John Scalzi: Why YA . The most surprising piece for me was that YA fantasy outsells adult fantasy 4 to 1 (I number I still have trouble wrapping my mind around).

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Hm. Clicked thru and read article. Prob'ly funnier 'fyu were there.