YA Shame

At my parents’ place, there’s a stash of YA books tucked away in a cupboard. As much as I love them, I can’t bear the thought of other people finding them on my bookshelf. I guess I am one of Scott Westerfeld’s ‘delicate creatures’, otherwise known as adults.

Along with Isobelle Carmody and Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld writes young adult fiction. Yesterday, the three of them discussed why adults were attracted to the genre at their MWF panel session ‘Taking Over the Grown Ups’ Table’.

Left to right: Agnes Nieuwanhuizen (chair), Justine Larbalestier, Isobelle Carmody, Scott Westerfeld

Left to right: Agnes Nieuwanhuizen (chair), Justine Larbalestier, Isobelle Carmody, Scott Westerfeld

According to Westerfeld, adults read YA for the great narrative drive and good, old-fashioned storytelling. His wife, Larbalestier, thinks that YA appeals simply because every adult has gone through the trauma of puberty. On the other hand, Isobelle Carmody believes that YA fiction demands less from their readers.

Oddly enough, these writers do not write with teenagers in mind. Isobelle Carmody, for instance, writes to entertain herself, while Justine Larbalestier never censors out the swearing, sex, and drugs during the drafting process. It is only later, during production and marketing, when their babies get categorised.

Grrr. Marketing. One would hope that good writing sells on its own merit, but unfortunately this is not the case. A book’s success is hugely influenced by how it is marketed. Larbalestier touched on how books portraying protagonists of colour don’t sell as well in the US because publishers aren’t pushing them as strongly as they should. A different example was brought up. Packaged as a literary novel, a book had been selling well in the adult market, but sales plummeted as soon as it won a speculative fiction award, highlighting the adult disdain towards YA and genre fiction.

Westerfeld, Larbalestier, and Carmody nearly shamed me into dragging out my corpse of a YA manuscript, which I had written in high school. However, the thought of drafting and redrafting was so off-putting (inaugural Text Prize winner Richard Newsome took ten years to write his YA novel) that I decided to confess my YA shame on the Internet instead: ‘I HAVE YA SHAME BUT I STILL READ IT. I HEART YOU JACOB*!’

For a more detailed account of what happened at ‘Taking Over the Grown Ups’ Table’, Estelle Tang from 3000 Books has posted up ‘Literature for the Yoof, or for everyone?’ on the MWF blog.

*Disclaimer: I lied about liking Jacob, but I do like Eric from True Blood and the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Mmm. Vampires. Yumcakes.

5 thoughts on “YA Shame

    • Lol. Poor you. Oh well, I guess it’ll be your claim to fame then: ‘Hey, I’m Estelle, I broke the electricity at so and so session at the MWF…’

      I’ll be going to the Thursday sessions, since I won’t be working that day, so I’ll see you round.

  1. I heart YA so much because it is so often less pretentious than so much adult literature. Also I’m not far out of adolescence – if at all – and YA seems to be the main source of writing about actual young people – as in, people who share similar interests with me. It’s hard to find that in a lot of adult literature.

    • Agree. YA never attempts to be clever. Adult literature usually does. Ugh.

      I must ‘fess up though. At the MWF, people were bagging Harry Potter in front of me, and I didn’t defend it, fearful of metaphorical pitchforks and whatnot, and this happened after the YA panel. It’s difficult being a writerly type with tastes that extend beyond a literary section of an independent bookstore.

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