Thursday, November 8, 2012
In which I start thinking about YA books . . .
For the next few weeks I'm going to be putting down some of my thoughts about children's and young adult literature. If I had more time, these thoughts would be crafted and researched like an essay; I usually feel uncomfortable about making literary arguments without having spent the time and energy to place my own thoughts within the context of current scholarship on the topic. But, you know, LIFE. Also, STAY-AT-HOME-PARENT. So, whatever, I'm not going to worry about crafting this so much as try to clutch together a few threads that might crudely articulate my thoughts on the subject. Maybe I'll just call it "brainstorming" and if y'all want to jump in, feel free.
For this introductory post, I'll offer a few reasons why children's/young adult literature is on my mind:
1. After finally completing Perdido Street Station, I needed something to unwind a bit. So I scanned my bookshelf and came up with Garth Nix's Sabriel. It's not a perfect novel. It's kind of like working your way through 2001: A Space Oddyssey and then taking a break by watching The Avengers. The former might be the greater work of art . . . but there's still a real place for the latter, and not just as "fluff." I also recently finished Divergent, after hearing how it "trumped" The Hunger Games. My thoughts on that at a later date.
2. When I write reviews of popular sff, I sometimes get comments like "well, if you're going to analyze it like that, of course you won't like it," or "it wasn't intended to be great literature, so why apply that standard to it," or "screw you! THE HUNGER GAMES IS BRILLIANT!" These kinds of attitudes are particularly prevalent in relation to young adult literature, as there's the sense that it somehow deserves a pass from any critically rigorous effort. "It's written for kids/teenagers, of course, it seems stupid in comparison to adult literature!" Which of course overlooks the fact that some of the most erudite and beloved and accomplished authors have written novels primarily for children/young adults, and they are beautifully written, and challenging, and intelligent. I might try out a more exhaustive list in another post, but you can at least note Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring and White's The Once and Future King which I've reviewed on this blog. Maybe even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (I've been getting the hint from readers that I need to read the whole series before judging the first novel too quickly).
3. There's something about my favorite YA/children's literature that just charms me. It's got something to do with innocence and elegant simplicity and a contagious imaginative ebullience that often seems hard to find in "adult" books. I'm going to try to pin this "charm" thing down a little more as I think about it.
4. There's something about my less than favorite YA/children's literature that doesn't capture that same magic. And I've been wondering lately if it's because YA/children's literature has suddenly become lucrative, especially after that juggernaut Harry Potter. It sometimes seems that a lot of YA literature is being written more by ambitious fanboys and fangirls than by really experienced/talented writers with a desire to explore new territory.
5. Up until recently, most of my creative writing efforts were directed towards writing children's literature. I grew up on Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander and Isaac Asimov, and that's what I felt I had the best handle on when I started trying to write my own stuff. It turns out that I was having a harder time writing youth-oriented stuff than adult-oriented stuff, which makes for an interesting twist on what kind of skill it takes to write the kind of material that often gets presumptuously dismissed. I mean, it was hard for me to try to get my voice right for the right age level -- and I consider myself a reasonably competent writer.
Anyway, I know that this post contains a bit of a muddle of different thoughts, but that's okay. I'm not really trying to make an argument yet. Just trying to point out a few different directions that my thoughts may decide to go.