Monday, September 9, 2013

Literary Fiction Disapproves of Your Silly YA Novel

Blatant refusal to accept reality. 

Those were the words that ran through my head this afternoon when I looked up from the linguistics book I was reading in our college library and found Mockingjay  leaning casually against a picture book entitled On Christmas Eve on the shelf in front of me.

The reason this was my view as I read my linguistics book is because some of the comfiest chairs are in front of the Children's Fiction section.

Let's think about that for a second.

Mockingjay lives in Children's Fiction. Uh-huh.

"Children's Fiction," in my college's estimation, encompasses everything from the small, brightly-colored cardboard books one reads to infants to the brutally bloody, fast-paced Hunger Games.

As I walked through the shelves I found similar odd pairings decreed by nothing more than the fate of last name. A picture book in primary colors called Who Can Fix It? and another called Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School are separated by only the entirety of Robin Mckinley's YA works. The Harry Potter books are split across two shelves allowing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to cuddle with a picture book called, simply, Beach Ball and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to be next door to A Cowboy Named Ernestine. In one truly fantastical line up, a MG called Blaze and the Forest Fire is adjacent to the bittersweet YA Tiger Lily, which touches Speak (another great YA), then there is a book called The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, a picture book about Handel, and the shelf is nicely ended by The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.

Basically, YA has been dismissed to the ranks of "children's books" and is therefore irrelevant if not in fact bad. 

In his awesome book, 21st Century Fiction, the fantabulous Donald Maass* discusses the tension between academic, literary fiction and commercial fiction in a section about transcending genre. I read that section and laughed at silly people who couldn't get over themselves enough to just love books and at the idea of commercial writers bivouacking in our blog tent-city and at the literary writers having print runs of 200 books and then winning Pulitzers.** It only vaguely occurred to me that this strange feud would have significant bearing on my own life.

However, as college students, Susan and I are in a unique position to observe the disdain with which academia views popular fiction, worst of all YA,*** and it has been brought home to me recently in interactions of varying levels of unpleasantness that, in the opinion of my college--an institution I have the highest love and respect for--I come down on the wrong side of this strange class divide. In their opinion, YA is not a genre, let alone a worthwhile genre& and the fact that I write YA Fantasy and admit it (OMG!) seems to make me appear less of student and less of a writer than if I said I wrote Magical Realism. It grieves me that when circumstances force me to tell a professor what I write, I feel a momentary twist of shame. It hurts me to know that because of doing something I think is absolutely right, I become less in the eyes of these brilliant men and women whose approbation I care about more than I care about getting sufficient sleep.

And what irks me the most is that, as it has become increasingly clear, very few, if any, of the people who I have heard pass the worst judgements appear to have read even a single YA novel.

So they put it with the children's books and think about it as little as they can, ignoring any possible, and to me, obvious goods, and regarding it only as something silly for kids and for adults who foolishly refuse to grow up, instead of the earth-shakingly powerful medium that I know it is. 

It seems to me that we would all--as writers, as readers, as analysts and lovers of literature--benefit from better commerce between the white city of Academic Literature and the colorful gypsy camp of Commercial Fiction.

Give us your poetry and your wise beauty and we'll give you passion and unconquerable hope.


Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever felt that someone was judging you because you write Commercial fiction instead of Literary? Or YA instead of Adult fiction? Leave us a comment! I'm interested in hearing everyone's thoughts on this topic.

Be prepared for another installment on this issue pretty soon as it has become a big new feature of our lives.


* Pronounced like the fuzzy green plant, so you don't embarrass yourself if you should have the happy chance to meet His Eminence.

** If you thought the last Pulitzer Prize winning book you read sucked, you will think this article is hilarious.
*** It seems they like to pretend that Romance and Erotica don't exist at all.

& Let me caveat this by saying that this opinion is certainly not universal. But it is by far the most popular.


  1. I'm surprised when people don't consider YA to be "real," like that's just a term people made up because it's a fad or something. Have they never gone into a book store like Barnes and Noble and seen the "Teen Fiction" section?!

  2. Just say, "I read and write what I love, not what I think will make me look impressive. It's a better way to live." :)

    As for Academia... as one who is an advocate of education, it's sad to say that often, Academia truly is an ivory tower with little or no connection to the real world. This is true when it comes to my own discipline, theology, as much as it is in literature.

    With regard to literature, I think what often gets overlooked is the fact that the art of writing is all about communication. The point of writing is to communicate. The good writer is not the person who writes the deepest, Pulitzer Prize-winning literary fiction, but the person who communicates their story, thoughts, opinions effectively. That concept transcends genre, and allows you to find great writing in picture books, MG, YA, NA, Thriller, Horror, Romance, Literary Fiction--whatever.

    I feel sorry for those locked in the ivory tower. It's a terrible prison. :)

  3. Such a great post, Tyler-Rose, and I couldn't agree more. I've bumped into this attitude toward YA on numerous occasions. It never stops offending me. Recently, I was in conversation with another YA fan at a book club about how many adults are turning to YA. Someone came in late to the conversation (obviously not realizing we were singing YA's praises) and said "It's because people are getting dumber." Man, did I have to bite my tongue. And the worst part, like you say, is that most of these people have never even cracked open a YA book.

    That "momentary twist of shame" you speak of? I know exactly what you mean, because this happens to me each and every time I mention what I write. I feel like I'm apologizing for it, which is ludicrous.

    I honestly don't know how to change these people's opinions about YA, especially when the only glimpses they get are the blockbuster movies based on a small handful of YA. I'm hoping that time will change that.

  4. I find it silly when some place more importance on one genre over another. That indicates to me that they are far less cultured than they would like to believe. Certainly within genres there are books that are far superior to others but one will never discover those books until one actually tries to explore that genre.

    I love to read books all over the spectrum and have definitely found that people have strong opinions when they see that I'm reading YA and children's literature. It used to make me feel ashamed but I've come to realize that I don't need to justify myself to people who refuse to branch out and learn more.

  5. You have it right--I've been in college for almost 6 years now, and if you told people you wrote magical realism (which is awesome and I have nothing against it) over YA, they'd be interested. Further, in my experience, people seemed to be confused when I say I write YA Fantasy. They automatically ask me "Oh, like Twilight?" Or, they assume I'm writing romance because I'm a girl. There's a lot of merit in YA books, especially for Young Adults. There's also a lot of merit in Literary Fiction...but that doesn't mean I'm good at writing it. I'll stick with what I know and love.