let's not toss entire categories; one more defense of YA (celebrating Cordelia Jensen and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

One wonders if it will ever end. The cast-the-entire-category-aside comments from those who cannot abide YA. The idea that all literature written with teens at its heart is literature of a lesser-than status.

Look. I'm uncomfortable with much of what is sold to teens—uncomfortable with books that forget how intelligent teens are, books that neglect the complexity of teen lives, books that don't embrace history or ideas or culture or the environment or real, abundant pressures as they also introduce characters and plot, books that don't investigate the power of language itself. I'm uncomfortable with easy. I'm uncomfortable with marketing machines that are motivated solely by the brass ring of commercial success, which is not always the same thing as the gold ring of genuine meaning.

But I'm also uncomfortable with the idea that all YA is to be shelved far below "real" books and that those who write it are second-rate dabblers. I'm a believer in seeking out the best in every genre—the best poems, the best history, the best biographies, the best "adult" novels, the best picture books, the best memoirs, the best middle grade, the best YA. Because there is, in fact, a great YA out there. There are people who are making the most of this very elastic form to write ferociously about kids who need their stories told.

Last week, at Books of Wonder, I bought Cordelia Jensen's teen novel-in-verse, Skyscraping, a true work of art about which you'll be reading more about here.

Not long ago, I read e.E. Charlton-Trujillo's When We Was Fierce, another novel in verse that is so deeply grounded in e.E.'s understanding of kids who need and deserve a voice. "If we can agree that the finest story-making erupts from impassioned empathy and a willingness to bend the rules of language," I wrote, after I read it, "then we must agree that e.E. Charlton-Trujillo ranks among our very finest story-makers. This is a lyric manifest that commands us to hear, so that we might have a chance at being healed."

You know how I feel about the other extraordinary YA writers in my real and reading life; I've written about them here. You know, too, how despairing I can get when literature devolves into gimmickry or merely brand-able ideas.

But let's evaluate each single book for what it might be and not dispense with entire categories.

And let's be kinder to each other.


Sarah Laurence said...

Those who criticize YA as a lesser form of literature have clearly not read enough YA. As a book blogger for nine years, I've seen so much innovation and fine writing, including yours.

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