On YA and #PromoteaYAInstead

I’m still kind of a newb at the whole YA fandom thing. I know about the most popular titles and could give you plot summaries of the biggest series, but I’ve only a small percentage of these YA titles since I got into the genre late last year.

One thing I can tell you about YA, though, is why I like reading it so much and why, though I’m nearer thirty than twenty, I don’t feel even remotely embarrassed to admit it. Simply put, I started reading YA for the women.

My favorite genre is high, epic fantasy–a sort of bookish doorstop where assassins lurk, wizards counsel kings, and common soldiers save the world (or, at least, a country or two). The problem is that, although women are definitely better-represented now than they were in the SFF genre in the 60s or 70s, and there are usually a couple of women characters in ensemble fantasy pieces (see Daniel Abraham or Michael J. Sullivan, for example) well-written, brick-length books which feature a female protagonist counterpart to Locke Lamora or Jonathan Strange are still few and far between. Fantasy books or series featuring female protagonists tend to be set in different milieus (Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories), be a part of or spinoffs of series abounding with dudes (Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold), or be urban fantasy (Patricia Briggs, Seanan McGuire).

Well. Unless you look in the YA section. There, next to John Green and Sarah Dessen, you can find Eon, Graceling, Grave Mercy, Alanna, Shadow and Bone, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Falling Kingdoms, Defy, or Seraphina–and that’s just the books I can think of off the top of my head. All of them are non-urban fantasy featuring some awesome female protagonists (who are not only strong but well-rounded). And that’s just classic fantasy! There’s contemporary/urban fantasy, historical, sci-fi, romance, ‘chick-lit’/beach reads, classic coming of age novels–there are all sorts of subgenres under the YA umbrella.

Sure, there are bad or mediocre YA novels; but I know for a fact that there are bad or mediocre adult novels (I’ve read Dan Brown. I know what’s what), yet that is never used as reasoning to discourage adults from reading adult novels. There are plenty of ‘light’ YA novels; but Sophie Kinsella and Nora Roberts, whose novels are written most definitely for adults, aren’t exactly plumbing the depths themselves. There are certainly YA novels that aren’t complex in their plots or prolix in their verbiage; but Jan Karon and Patrick Taylor, whose series I myself have seen shelved in the same section as Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, don’t write labyrinthine plots or wordplay that would make the Bard green with envy.

In fact, a lot of the criticism towards YA fiction seems to presuppose that adult fiction is some sort of paradise where every novel is some deep and intricate exploration of the human psyche or a great work of philosophy masquerading as an entertaining story.

Like fuck.

Maybe YA novels are written for a younger audience, but there’s a rather large difference between The Fault in Our Stars and The Poky Little Puppy. Many of the same people who read The End Games read World War Z and weren’t confused by World War Z’s plot or vocabulary, despite the fact that World War Z is an adult novel. Despite their ‘younger audience’, YA books just aren’t that much lower as far as reading level than adult books; the difference lies, for the most part, in the subjects dealt with in the stories, as YA books will necessarily tend to focus on younger characters. Also, there’s a sort of assumption that people who read YA don’t read anything else, which, while it may be true for some people, is, as one might gather from the excessive name-and-title-dropping scattered through this post, is most definitely not for me, nor for any of my RL friends who read YA.

Which makes me laugh, honestly, because I can’t count the number of rants I’ve heard in the sff community about teenaged protagonists and ‘not another coming of age story!!!’. The difference between most of *those* series and YA series, however, was that the authors and main characters were, by and large, dudes. That is a rant for another time, but I will note that a lot of the gripes about YA often come down to ‘but it’s so girly!’, which–well, no shit. It’s a genre whose writers are often women and whose target audience, as many of its main characters, are girls in the process of becoming women.

Which is precisely why I started reading it in the first place, and which, as a reason for avoiding some compelling, amazingly-written novels, is shallow, stupid, and (as many YA novels are pointedly not) childish.

And that, dear readers, is why I like to promote YA.


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