Anthony Lane on Young Adult Fiction: a generalized and generally disturbing definition of the form

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Generalized definitions of anything—or anyone—are provocative, sure. They get the readers' ire up. Which is to say they attract more readers. I am sure that Anthony Lane of The New Yorker (a terrific if mostly acerbic reviewer) knows that YA fiction comes in many hues and forms and flavors, and that it is fed by many ideals and many wild imaginations, many time periods, many themes, and a full array of characters and landscapes.

But here, in Lane's review of the movie "If I Stay," based on the Gayle Forman novel, he issues a standardizing decree.
Young-adult fiction: what a peculiar product it is, sold and consumed as avidly as the misery memoir and the self-help book, and borrowing sneakily from both. One can see the gap in the market. What are literate kids meant to do with themselves, or with their itchy brains, as they wander the no man's land between Narnia and Philip Roth? The ideal protagonist of the genre is at once victimized and possessed of decisive power—someone like Mia, the heroine of Gayle Forman's "If I Stay," which has clung grimly to the Times best-seller list, on and off, for twenty weeks. And the ideal subject is death, or, as we should probably call it, the big sleepover.
Oh, the blogs/articles/talks that will erupt from this. Oh. Or? Perhaps we who write young adult fiction that is not part misery memoir and not self-help book, not, indeed, any single one thing, grow weary of the castigating, the easy sarcasm, the sneak and overt attacks?

Let others stomp their feet and say what they will. We've got work to do.


Missy K said...

Yes, Miss Beth. Let writing well be the best revenge. Even though this makes my blood boil, on behalf of you and all the other wonderful writers who show up with your best. It is difficult to imagine a more snide, dismissive or inaccurate analysis.

All right, I ranted a bit. Back to the good work.

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