There's no reason to despise Young Adult novels simply because they're geared towards teens. In fact, there have always been Y.A. novels (remember good ol' The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Flowers for Algernon?). What should be a concern, however, is the way Y.A. books could affect the way our youth will read in the future.
Apples to Bookworms
I'll reiterate so there's no confusion: I don't mind Y.A. novels. Granted Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter allusions bore me to death at times, all of the Y.A. series have been crucial to literature in the last 20 years for two main reasons:
1.) Y.A. books, especially fiction, have inspired more teens than ever to read. In fact, since 2007, teens have dominated certain markets which were normally ruled by 20- to 40-year-old women.
2.) Literature, especially genre fiction, needed a fresh look. Let's face it, Vanilla Ice was cool before he wasn't, right? Dean Koontz used to be as much of a household name as Stephen King and has holds as many, if not more, titles to his pen name, yet I encounter countless individuals who've never heard of the guy.
What I want to focus on is the first part - how teens are gobbling up Y.A. literature.
One post started by Andrew Karre claimed Y.A. was a disruptive force in literature akin to Apple's presence in the last 10 to 20 years. This is an interesting point. In short, a disruptive force or technology is a game changer. For instance, the way we consume technology has completely changed since the emergence of superfluous iSomethings.
Our technology is mostly for consumption now. As I've mentioned before, eReaders in the form of tablets can be more a distraction than useful tool. It's like if you could open a print publication and Skype at the same time. Even more interesting is a concept not fully explored in Karre's article. He states we have a new look on literature like we do with cell phones since the iPhone. These game changes aren't necessarily "bad", but they shake things up. If you're in doubt, my argument alone should serve as some evidence that Y.A. and Apple have both caused a stir.
While I like Karre's viewpoint, I want to explore deeper into the aforementioned comparison.
The Counter Culture Paradox
I think Y.A. literature has the ball in its court, but it's not passing when it knows it can make a 3-pointer.
Let's digress for a moment. Remember MTV when it was full of Beavis and Butthead episodes between music videos? Remember the MTV-sponsored Sprite commercials?
What happen was MTV and Coca-Cola were partnered in youth-centered social venues and certain promotions. They did substantial research, which included face-to-face interviews with their teenager consumers, and found direct advertisements didn't work. That's when they started using celebrities and sport stars to advertise in the most anti-advertisement way. In a strange sort of metacommentary, the advertisements made fun of the way people advertise, while still advertising.
Teenagers dug this concept. It was new and interesting. It responded to their views on the topic of blatant advertising. However, after awhile, teenagers became wise to their act and the above-mentioned practices became too common and fake to say the least.
This is my fear with Y.A. There's nothing wrong with a story that targets a younger audience or simply has a lot of young characters, themes, motifs, etc. The problem is the marketing.
We've all beaten vampire novels to death with our new-found stigmatization. It seems from readers to publishers, everyone is sick of monster-based melodramas. Nevertheless, more and more keep becoming available. Before long, Barnes and Noble Showrooms might have to add on a vampire wing.
See, magic took off again with the Harry Potter series. Then we had Twilight, which to be honest was an easy transition.
Now Y.A. books all seem to be very similar. They all want to cash in on this moment in literary history. From a everything-is-a-business standpoint, it makes sense. But here's what happens:
Too Dark to Read, Too Light to Care
When everyone is trying to push similar fiction onto the market, they have to reach a new extreme. This is nothing new.
The problem is, teens often want to read things that are banned. You've probably experienced a high school library removing certain novels because they were too graphic, violent, etc.
As Y.A. fiction became more popular, the amount of "darker" fiction increased. Take the term to mean whatever you'd like, but simply put, fiction had to be a bit more risque to keep teenagers reading. Then, of course, Y.A. novels like this one, reached a level in which they started being banned.
In this situation, two things happen:
1.) The books available to young adults are too bland and PG to keep their interests. This, in turn, could lead to a disinterest in literature altogether. Let's face it, if you can only consume PG information or 19th Century literature, you might lose your mind or need to take a break.
2.) Our books become cookie-cutter. Think Pokemon here. Damn popular franchise that was ruined by it's own success. The more popular it became, the shorter it's life expectancy became. Twilight is a victim here too. I don't think people would've minded the series until t-shirts latched onto clothing stores like parasites and you couldn't go a day with out someone comparing their significant other to a vampire.
If Y.A. stays tunnel-visioned, then we might see teens turning away from literature again, because most of it is too similar to care or too light to be interesting. Right now publishers have the opportunity to keep things fresh or keep cashing in. I have faith, but then again, remember how traditional publishers originally felt about this whole "eBook" thing? Like that ever caught on.
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