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.
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.