Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Good, the Very Very Very Bad, and the Uglies


Uglies--give it a try, there's little to no "teen whiny" in it


There is a very interesting debate going on in the literary world as of late, and it centers on the subject of Adults reading Young Adult or Teen Fiction. Though it is probably obvious to all of you, the main point is whether or not Adults should be embarrassed for reading books written for teens, and my answer is, Yes... ...and No...

I've been a bit back and forth on this subject as you might have guessed. I think it all started with Harry Potter because before then nothing written for kids and teens had been remotely interesting for adults too--at least not that I can think of or remember. But at any case, Harry Potter ushered in the era of Adults sneaking with dark sunglasses in the bookstore to the teen section and shamefully buying the latest edition of whatever Harry Potter book they were on and then rushing home to enjoy it without embarrassment in the privacy of their own homes and then secretly admitting to close friends that they were enjoying it. I myself didn't join the throngs of Harry Potter fans until the fourth book came out, and it is a good thing because the first two bored the tears out of me. Actually, it was really only the second, the first was mildly entertaining because it was new.

As Harry Potter came to it's end, I began another series called twilight. I was also embarrassed to have to go to the YA section of my bookstore to fish these out. While I was there, I began to notice another series called Uglies. For a long time I looked at them unconvinced that I should read, but eventually I gave in and found that I really enjoyed them, just like I had enjoyed twilight and Harry Potter. It was then that I began to wonder a few things:

1--have I regressed educationally?
2--was it really that big of a deal to read YA books?

After I read the Uglies series, I decided to visit the author's blog and came across an entry where he attacks adults that are ashamed to read from the YA section. Check it out. If you don't have the time or patience, basically it says that he thinks Adults that are wary of this section are lame-o. The problem with this theory is that we aren't lame-o, we are older and more mature. While I fully admit that I have found plenty of books in this section that I love, I have also found that I get impatient with the teen angst, and the whiny teen behavior, and the sophomoric plot lines. Not that this has been enough to keep me away from a well written book, but I have to admit that there are places in Harry Potter and twilight and the Uglies that I had to put the book down to roll my eyes. What Scott Westerfeld (author of the Uglies) and other authors that share his opinion fail to remember is that what makes a good book is an interesting plot and characters that can be identified with, and quite frankly it is difficult sometimes to identify with ten year olds. I find myself constantly thinking "grow up!" when the characters are faced with "difficult decisions," and generally I am two to three steps ahead of them waiting for them to figure out what I figured out three chapters ago.

So you can see why many adults would shy away from the YA section and find something about people their own age. Unfortunately this is also not always fool proof. Apparently there is an equal amount of crappy writing in all genres, and I've noticed that in the Adult section, authors tend to overdo the sex in a cheap attempt to reel readers in without actually having to have good writing involved. This is where I lean toward YA, because they tend to leave the sex out because it is more controversial for that age group. What's a reader to do? Wait until everyone you know has read a particular book before you give it a go--that's what I do--because there is nothing worse than reading a bad book. And Lisa, don't let this deter you from reading twilight. Just be patient with the teens, it's a good ride.

11 comments:

Erin said...

In no way should anyone feel embarrassed about reading a YA novel. Good fiction is good fiction. Just because the publishing company decided to market the book a certain way doesn't mean the book can't be enjoyed by a wider audience. Huck Finn if released today would have been YA fiction. Now, if you are reading some teen serial soapy book series then yes, perhaps you should be embarrassed--but only because you are reading really bad writing. Much in the way it is embarrassing to be caught with a trashy romance novel.

I feel really passionately about this--enjoy all good writing no matter how someone else labels it.

Adam said...

Don't be embarrassed by it, but do try to balance every YA book you read with something more substantial- like a biography about Hulk Hogan or something.

jill said...

I am so glad you wrote this because it is something I have thought alot about. It seems that because there is a belief among novelists that once you are married and have kids, all you would do is spend your day wanting to "escape" and of course pining over the handsome carpenter who is replacing the old boards on your front porch. (Naturally, it is only interesting if the carpenter also happens to be your long lost love believed to be lost at sea after his plane crashed while flying a "will you marry me?" banner for you.) This would facilitate many of the lame storylines that are given to us through adult novels. I too was embarrassed at first to admit reading some of the more popular YA novels out there. I totally agree that though the teen-i-ness can get annoying it is worth it if the storyline and characters are solid.

Juli said...

I completely agree with Erin. That's exactly how I feel--good literature is good literature, regardless of who it is aimed at.
Having said that, I must admit that I usually enjoy a good YA novel because they generally aren't so "heavy". I REALLY rely on my books for an escape and can't help but gravitate towards the lighter, funnier, happy-ending sort of books that won't depress me or keep me up at night, pondering.

I'm the same way with movies. Chick flick, anyone?

Seth & Libby said...

I'm completely secure about reading teeny-bopper books. Sorry, that's what I call them. And no, I don't get embarassed about it because I'm more focused on getting in and out of the store/library without one of my girls having a drama attack. I think a good novel for entertainment is fine as long as I mix in a classic every now and then. I loved A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, much to my surprise. Even while I read something like that I need to mix in something light, or I find myself posing deep questions to a bewildered 2-yr-old. None of my attempts at finding a good book in the adult section have been successful--- I must be a trash magnet. And you're right, there's nothing worse than reading a bad book. I've read several where the story was pretty good, but the ending was seriously lacking and horribly unsatisfying. What a waste of time.

ali said...

Libby--I couldn't agree more. I have had more bad luck in the adult fiction section than I care to remember. That's why I get nervous varying from the classics. And it is such an investment in time, it's not like watching a bad movie...

Adam and Bri said...

I adore young adult novels, and I, too, agree that good fiction is good fiction.

I recommend reading Louise Plummer. Start with "The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman," and then head on over to "A Dance for Three." She a genius!

Andy & Jessica said...

I have been reading more YA books lately. They seem to be more entertaining to me and with a boring life like mine :-) it is nice to have a fun and easy read waiting for me at night.

Adam and Lisa said...

I take it a step further and read children's books. I also dislike the whiny-ness of the YA section. Children's books are an easy read, lots of fun, and have some suprisingly good storylines/writing that in some ways I think, "there is no way a 10 year old would get that reference!" Andrew Clements is a favorite.

Amie said...

I don't see anything wrong with it, and I think that they fit young adult books into that category for unfair reasons sometimes. Like Harry Potter, I really don't view as a kids' book. It's ABOUT kids, but other than that, there are are a lot of adult themes in them that make them appealing to us old fogies too. Same for Twilight, etc. I read all the Pretties/Uglies last year and wasn't over in love with them. I read the trilogy just because I started, and once I started, I needed to finish, but I found them really unsettling, and anticlimactic at the end... anyway, there's my two cents. =)

Natalie said...

I delight in Junie B. Jones. Is that wrong?