Now, as you all are already aware, I am not John Green's biggest fan. In fact, I've never so much as read a single book by him. And, honestly, I'm not likely to: from what I've seen of the latest film and heard from readers, he does not appear to be writing much of anything I'd be interested in. This is not, however, because he writes young adult literature. I quite enjoy several young adult novels (the Harry Potter books are still one of my favorite modern fantasy series). No, I don't have any interest in reading John Green's stuff because John Green apparently writes really good rom-coms with young protagonists. This is simply not my bag.
|The Fault in Our Star Wars|
|Garnish it however you like, it still tastes like it looks.|
|Actually, I'm calling chicken livers.|
It's Kind of a Crap Thing to Say.
Graham claims that even the "good" literature written for young adults is bad for older adults because it is written to appeal to a very specific audience that is not made up of mature adults. How is this not offensive as hell?
Seriously, it's like telling people they can't read Invisible Man or One Hundred Years of Solitude because they're neither black, nor hispanic. Or The Women's Room because they're not women. Or Great Expectations because they are not British or Victorian.
|Or Mein Kampf because they're not genocidal psychopaths.|
What the Hell Is Young Adult Lit, Anyway?
Graham, herself, admits that it is increasingly difficult to define young adult literature, but that "it generally refers to books written for 12- to 17-year-olds." Now that sounds pretty damned definable, right? It's young adult literature if it was written for young adults. Fair enough, Ruth. You got me there.
Except wait a minute...
Hey, do you guys know what these books have in common?
- They were each written for young adults, and
- They are now considered straight-up literature for all audiences.
Speaking of "adult" literature...
Why Doesn't It Go Both Ways?
If it's inappropriate for adults to read young adult literature, you would think it would be equally inappropriate for young adults to read "adult" literature. However, I can tell you from personal experience teaching a high school literature curriculum that not only do we apparently consider it imperative that young adults read adult works, these works often contain material young audiences simply are too inexperienced to really get:
|Few 16-year olds are going to truly appreciate |
either Gatsby's decades' long obsession over Daisy or
Nick's burgeoning mid-life crisis when he turns 30.
|Similarly, few 16-year olds are going to firmly grasp the brutal tragedy of war, |
even if they can get past a novel told from the point of view of "the enemy."
|A group of kids left to their own devices on a deserted island|
resort to tribalism, violence, and near cannibalism.
Okay, maybe the kids will understand this one.
Breast-feeding the homeless
Hell, what do you make, then, of authors who write both adult and young adult fiction? Neil Gaiman, for instance, or Terry Pratchet? For that matter, where does Douglas Adams fall? I read him in sixth grade, identified completely with Arthur Dent, then grew up, read him again, and identified with Ford Prefect.
|Still wanted to punch this guy in the noses, though.|
Gaiman's work, particularly, is hard to differentiate. Best I can tell, his young adult work is slightly shorter with marginally younger protagonists. His plots, dialogue, and writing style is exactly the same.
|Guess which one's the kiddie book. Go ahead, I dare you.|
It's no secret that literacy rates are on the decline. We live in a world where the most popular pastime is watching reality television. People, young and old alike, can't even be asked to think enough to follow scripted entertainment. Carl Sagan said it best:
Ruth Graham can stick her nose in the air and read all the hi-falutin', hoity-toity Literature she wants; she will not change that fact. In fact, shaming people for reading young adult novels is equal to shaming people for reading. Shame on her.
A good story is good regardless of genre or intended audience. I say if a book inspires people to read more (whether it's Literature, young adult novels, or comic books) then that's a win for everyone, Ruth Graham included.