Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Makes Your Adult Literature Better Than My Young Adult Literature: A Short Story by Me

Here's another piece I wrote for my Nonfiction Short Story class. This one is a public essay instead of a story. Tell me what you think! Please? And thank you?
What Makes Your Adult Literature Better Than My Young Adult Literature? 
The discussion started the same way most of these types of discussions do. “Twilight is absolutely ridiculous.” Of course, the moment I heard the word Twilight, I decided to remove my eyeballs from my phone screen and actually pay attention to what my classmates were talking about during the fifteen minutes we had before our Survey of English Literature II class began.

I should probably explain before I get started that I am a very adamant and devoted fan of young adult (YA) literature, despite having  turned 21 more than six months ago. I read and review books on my blog, Shell’s Stories. I follow every YA publishing group that I know of on Facebook, Twitter, and other various social media sites. And I own hundreds upon hundreds of YA books.

So when I heard another person criticizing a young adult book, with no apparent basis, except for its literary quality (And what exactly constitutes a book’s “literary-ness”? Who decides whether or not a book is literary?) for an argument about why it was so bad, I got a little mad. In fact, my reaction was to post the following statement to Facebook:

People are ripping on Twilight before my class starts. I find it funny that they sit and criticize the literary qualities of a young adult romance book. It's meant to entertain, not satisfy your desire for an intellectually stimulating read. Get over yourself and admit you loved it just as much as the rest of us did at first.

I’m sure I could have stated that a little better, but my feelings got the best of me. At the time, I was not brave enough to debate this issue—plus they were having what could have been construed as an MYOB conversation—so I simply listened and imagined rather spiteful things happening to the two girls who were holding this hate session.

It is not my comment about these young ladies that really inspired this paper, nor is it the girls’ conversation—I actually only remembered this conversation as I began writing this paper. It’s really what the other people said on the Facebook post, and just online in general, that really had me thinking.

“I love it all and am not ashamed to admit it! At first hated the movie too but just they grew on me. Loved the books. Now just watched the marathon on tv…enjoyed them! Very entertaining to me.” – my cousin

“Saw the movie first - hated it. Read the book - loved it. Loved the movies just to see it living on the screen. Now I can't even re-read the books because they really are bad, but guys put it down because they are jealous of fictional hotties and girls put it down to be cool. It's how you know who not to be friends with lol. The Twilight test.” – my older sister

Books like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and even the Harry Potter series have fans. Yet these fans have to make disclaimers about why they like the books, as you can see with the phrases like “not ashamed to admit it” and “guys put it down because they are jealous of fictional hotties and girls put it down to be cool.” According to Joel Stein’s May 2012 article “Adults Should Read Adult Books,” “The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading ‘The Hunger Games.’ Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter.” And when almost 500 people commented to express their extreme distaste for the article, even they used phrases and sentences that did not simply defend their enjoyment of YA literature, but tried to justify it by explaining that YA isn’t all they read, or they like YA because it’s lighter than adult books that apparently have heavier, and therefore somehow better, subject matters. Some of my favorite comments (as in they make me angry, not favorite as in I agree with them) are “Don't get me wrong, I love a good Margaret Atwood novel. But sometimes, after weeks of reading depressing non-fiction about economics or social issues, it's nice to sit back and read a novel that is just about character development, not using fancy words that have most readers reaching for a dictionary every other page,” and “IS [YA] all I read? Of course not?”

Do adult literature fans have to tell their readers why they enjoy Charles Dickens, Aldous Huxley, or George Saunders? No. So why is there this double standard? It’s also interesting to note that movies like Avengers, Superman, and The Dark Knight are all based on children’s action heroes from comic books that were originally targeted towards children, yet rarely do you see online posts about how comic book characters are inappropriate movie-watching material for adult audiences. So why, again, does this double standard come into play?

I am not the only one who has noticed that young adult literature is getting a bad rap. Articles around the YA book-world have constantly defended the right for people to read what they enjoy. But why should they have to defend their reading choices at all?

Generally, the combatants of older readers of YA—these readers are typically above the age of 25 and reading YA— believe these older readers should spend more time reading adult literature. Usually, adult nonfiction is the genre these combatants prefer. Why? Because it’s realistic, intellectually stimulating, and absolutely not created for a children’s mind. Yet a fantasy story that introduced new possibilities, and does not simply tell a biographical story, explain a historical event, etc., is not considered high quality literature. This may just be me spouting nonsense, but wouldn’t a story based on fiction show more imagination and spark new ideas than a work of nonfiction?

I know I have just spurted question after question after question with no real answers in sight, but I cannot see what is so wrong with writing for children and reading children’s books. Is our society so ashamed of our children that we can’t stand to pick up a book mean t for them unless it’s to read them a good night story? Do we devalue our children enough to throw a piece of literature at them that has no depth, literary basis, etc.? I really don’t believe that is the case.

To make this piece a little more interesting and interactive, and a little less grumbly and grouchy, I want you to participate in my essay (or, as I like to call it, my very long and question-mark-filled rant). You get to decide whether or not a story has literary quality, but you don’t get to know the name of the story, just what it’s about. I’m going to give you blurbs of various adult books and young adult books and you get to guess which belongs in which category, adult or YA? Literary or not?

Blurb #1
Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.
As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.
The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.
Adult or YA?
 Answer: Adult. Game of Thrones may have dragons, swords, and fantasy elements, which are all the makings of a young adult book, but the description forgets to mention its
incest-, murder-, and sex-filled plotlines.

Literary or not?
Answer: Unknown. While some might consider a fantasy book to automatically fall into the “not” category, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is actually built on actual historical events. *GASP!* There’s even a website dedicated to finding the parallels between the real world and the fictional Westeros.

Blurb #2
Into Thin Air is a riveting first-hand account of a catastrophic expedition up Mount Everest. In March 1996, Outside magazine sent veteran journalist and seasoned climber Jon Krakauer on an expedition led by celebrated Everest guide Rob Hall. Despite the expertise of Hall and the other leaders, by the end of summit day eight people were dead. Krakauer's book is at once the story of the ill-fated adventure and an analysis of the factors leading up to its tragic end. Written within months of the events it chronicles, Into Thin Air clearly evokes the majestic Everest landscape. As the journey up the mountain progresses, Krakauer puts it in context by recalling the triumphs and perils of other Everest trips throughout history. The author's own anguish over what happened on the mountain is palpable as he leads readers to ponder timeless questions.

Adult or YA?
Answer: Adult.

Literary or not?
Answer: It is considered to be literary, if you can’t already tell from  Into Thin Air’s description. Nonfiction = literary. But, despite this book being based on true events, its differences from the young adult book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen are minimal. Both deal with the idea of survival in extreme conditions, the idea of mortality, and analyzing who you are in life-threatening situations, yet because Hatchet was written for a younger audience and is not based on real events, it’s not seen as a book that’s worth an adult’s time.

Blurb #3
It happened like this. I was stolen from an airport. Taken from everything I knew, everything I was used to. Taken to sand and heat, dirt and danger. And he expected me to love him.
This is my story.
A letter from nowhere.
Gemma is kidnapped from Bangkok airport and taken to the Australian Outback. This wild and desolate landscape becomes almost a character in the book, so vividly is it described. Ty, her captor, is no stereotype. He is young, fit and completely gorgeous. This new life in the wilderness has been years in the planning. He loves only her, wants only her. Under the hot glare of the Australian sun, cut off from the world outside, can the force of his love make Gemma love him back?
The story takes the form of a letter, written by Gemma to Ty, reflecting on those strange and disturbing months in the outback. Months when the lines between love and obsession, and love and dependency, blur until they don't exist - almost.

Adult or YA?
Answer: YA. But, you may be asking yourself, isn’t abduction a very serious topic? Why yes, yes it is. Not every YA book is filled with characters that have shallow problems like boyfriend drama, prom dilemmas, or mean girl attacks.

Literary or not?
Answer: Lucy Christopher’s Stolen has won quite a few literary awards…in the children’s category. Despite its serious discussion of Stockholm Syndrome, abduction, and general nightmare-inducing subject matter (which are all the makings of a Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episode), adults aren’t meant to read this tale of a girl being taken from everything she knows and loves, yet this very same phenomenon happens to adults just as often as it happens to children.

To some, it may seem like I’m just making a big issue out of nothing, however, this topic is prevalent in the online book-community. So before you move on from this paper and proceed to forget my points, I implore you to, whenever you pick up a book to read—young adult or adult, it doesn’t matter—ask yourself if the book should be valued because it’s adult, or devalued because it’s YA. I expect, if you like the book, the answer will be obvious.           

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