Pamela Paul on the adult embrace of young adult literature

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Several years ago, when I was just beginning to understand the transcendent possibilities of young adult literature, I wrote an essay for the Chicago Tribune, which the Tribune then titled "Welcoming posture of youngsters lures more writers." (February 5, 2006)  Why, I asked, were Adam Gopnik, Isabel Allende, Michael Chabon, Louise Erdrich, Sue Halpern, Marilyn Nelson, and so many others writing for younger readers?  I posited this possible explanation:

While some might claim that the wild success of the Harry Potter series has raised the stakes of--and interest in--writing for the younger reader, I'd like to suggest that something else might also be at work, something about the very hospitability of the young reader's mind. For aren't young readers typically blessed with capacious hearts and souls? Don't they tend to welcome the slightly askew into their midst? Don't they walk straight into topsy-turvy worlds, hail the wraith, admire the ghost, listen with care to the talking tree? Young readers, by and large, care more for stories than for labels. They censor less. They want the writer to get it right, or so it seems to me.
Today, in a wonderful essay for the New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul explores why so many books labeled "young adult" are bought and savored by those well past their teen years (while also discussing the book club phenomenon Kidlit).  Among the reasons put forth:
...good Y.A. is like good television.  There's a freshness there; it's engaging. Y.A. authors aren't writing about middle-aged anomie or disappointed people.  (Amanda Foreman)
A lot of contemporary adult literature is characterized by a real distrust of plot.  I think young adult fiction is one of the few areas of literature right now where storytelling really thrives.  (Lev Grossman)
There's an immediacy in the prose.  I like the way adolescent emotions are rawer, less canned. (Darcey Steinke)
I know that many of you who read this blog read across genres and labels (and I am grateful).  I wonder how you, then, might answer the question, Why are so many adults reading books that are (at the very least) marketed to teens? 


Beth F said...

I think there are more possibilities for young adults -- they are on the edge of their lives with all doors open, which makes storytelling more unpredictable.

melanie said...

I know when I read good young adult books it conjures a combination of nostalgia and fresh possibility that is appealing. Also the heightened emotions of that in the now with the intensity and importance of every little thing supplies a different energy.

aquafortis said...

I was going to leave a rather lengthy comment - I really enjoyed that article on the NY Times - and then realized I was drafting an entire blog post of my own on the subject! :) Anyway, thank you for inspiring me to take a second look at Pamela Paul's essay and think about it in more depth.

Becca said...

When I read "young adult" books, it's almost like being in a time machine. My outlook changes, is fresher, simpler, cleaner - as if the experience of age gets stripped away and I recall the purer, less jaded emotions of myself as a young person.

It's alchemy.

David A. Bedford said...

I second what you say. For my first venture in English (I previously published a book of short stories in Spanish) I decided on a YA book for the freedom it offered to write a real plot and deal with a mature and healthy teenage central character. You and some of your readers may like my book (the first in a series of three). Anyone interested is welcome to visit my blog, leave a comment and read about the book on the website. Thanks!

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