L.G. FUADToday's Tune:
So here's a thing I think about a lot, especially given what I write: is it appropriate or reasonable to compare YA literature to adult literature? Also, is it reasonable to compare literary fiction to commercial fiction?
It's an interesting concept to consider. I write what's considered to be literary prose with a commercial plot, and I've often contended with people outside the publishing sphere who've read my work and asked me if I thought I was writing too "advanced" for teens. Funnily enough, I've never received that question from fellow YA writers or any of the agents who've read my work. So I suppose I'm saying that I sort of straddle the line between commercial and literary, stereotypical YA and stereotypical adult.
First, I think it's probably a good idea to talk about how all books aren't created equal and different books have different goals. There are books out there whose intent is to make the reader feel or think, and there are books that exist to entertain. Some attempt both. I certainly attempt both. But considering that books fit different readers and their needs, is it reasonable to compare them side by side? Is it fair to compare a bestselling commercial thriller against a bestselling literary tale of loss?
I guess that depends on your definition of fair, but it seems odd to me when I read reviews of people comparing completely incomparable works. Disparaging people for being entertained by a certain book and belittling their intelligence because they're not reading *insert appropriate literary masterwork here* instead seems counterproductive to me. And I say that as a self-confessed intellectual who loooooves many a literary masterwork.
Next, let's talk about how this relates to YA. I've lost track of the number of reviews I've read where a reviewer said something along the lines of, "The protagonist is kind of a whiny brat and the plot was loose and cobbled together, but it WAS written for teens, so what did I expect?" Which saddens me, naturally. It implies that "literature for adults" is always sensical and solid, which is COMPLETELY untrue. As with adult literature, YA contains a breadth of genres and plotlines all across the board, and not all are going to be created equal. There are going to be sloppily written diatribes alongside works of heartrending beauty. That's the way of literature.
Which links in to the way people outside the YA sphere (or even within the YA sphere) view YA. It's the overall stereotypical belief that all literature for teenagers and children is less cerebral, less emotionally deep, and less thematic than work for adults. It's certainly different, because the audience has less life experience and thus less exposure to "complex" literature, but it's not a completely separate entity.
This attitude cracks me up, because I mean, anyone who could argue that one of those detective romance pulp novels where the roguish PI sweeps the bombshell mark off her feet amidst a hail of gunfire is more cerebral and emotionally complex than The Book Thief can pretty much bite me.
But here comes the rub: is it fair to compare YA to literature written for an adult audience? A big part of me says yes, that YA can be just as stirring and brilliant as adult literature. On the other hand, it is written with an entirely different goal in mind -- to speak to the teenage experience. And the teenage experience is, by definition, a different animal than the adult experience. When writing for an age group that just doesn't have the life experience and advanced education that many adults have under their belts, is it fair to compare Looking For Alaska to The Waves? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't.
I'm making my own brain hurt with this post. TOO MUCH THINKING FOR A SUNDAY EVENING.
What say you, reader-pals? Is it reasonable to compare commercial to literary, or YA to non-YA? Why or why not?