Grace KellyToday's Tune:
I read a great guest post over on The Rejectionist from her good friend Chérie this week. It was musing on why the adolescent/coming of age story for males has made the branch to the more literary and accepted "adult" literature, but young women's stories are still largely relegated to the YA section. A lot of excellent points were made, and I wanted to expand on the idea.
Chérie states (accurately) that women and men both still feel some connection to their adolescence, whether it be bigger-than-life emotions or just generally feeling like we don't know what the hell we're doing. However, somehow this is considered a universal trait in men that they can connect with even as adults, but women are expected to be the more mature and put-together sex. Specifically, she says, "The intimation, of course, is that there are aspects of the teenage boy experience that can resonate with everyone, but the stories of teenage girls will be of interest only to other teenage girls."
She also goes on to say (paraphrased, naturally) that a lot of the books in the YA section are considered "issue novels," which is something I've heard before. A lot of the books are about Struggling With and Overcoming Something. Some books go about this in a very superficial way (This Thing Is Bad, Don't Do It) and some are treated with care and genuine emotion. But the point is well taken. Issue novels can speak to us, but they're not necessarily about the emotional and psychological connection we have to adolescence.
Another quote from the linked post: "Being a teenage girl is not all about your fucked-up relationship with food or losing your virginity to the wrong boy. The strange and romantic world of female friendships, falling in love with science or art or music, the slow discovery of the things you’ll be passionate about for your whole life--these are the stories that are woefully absent from those shelves."
Here is another place where I agree. I read a lot of YA, and there's no question that it's overwhelmingly female-centric. Written by females about females and the female perspective. Don't get me wrong; there are many great YA novels out there and several options for males, but this is statistically speaking here. And I am loathe to admit this, but while I read and enjoy a lot of YA novels, there aren't that many I come across that I connect with on such a deep level that 1.) I want to read them over again or 2.) they make me think, "Wow, this could be a new favorite book." Not favorite YA book, but favorite book period.
I'm not saying that I don't like or enjoy most of what I read, because I genuinely do (or else I wouldn't read it, AMIRITE). And this goes for literature as a whole -- I'm picky, and a novel has to really take me somewhere special for me to count it as a favorite. Even so, I feel that we can reach further with YA. We can tackle more complex themes. We can go beyond falling in love and having our heart broken and dealing with drugs. Those can all still be at work in our books, but we can stretch even more.
And I'm not trying to get all intellectual elitist and say that ALL BOOKS NEED TO BE LITERARY MASTERWORKS TO COUNT, not at all. I don't want to make anyone feel that they have to do their thing a certain way, because it is of course THEIR thing. I'm just saying that clearly there is something about being a teenage girl that continues to connect with adult women, and maybe we can keep that in mind. And maybe we can stop belittling adult women for connecting with that part when we think it's no big deal that men continue to connect with their adolescence well into manhood.
Let's challenge ourselves to see if we can find that bridge between YA that realistically connects with teens and the experience that still sings to adults. We can do it.