What's My Book Age? — Reading YA Books

ya-debate2By Kristi Spuhler for LitLovers.
OK, we admit it—we were with Harry Potter from beginning to end (all seven volumes), we cried with Hazel Grace as the cancer progressed, and we followed Katniss through her long ordeal. There's something about a well-written Young Adult (YA) novel that grabs us, no matter what age.

That's why we were so surprised when Ruth Graham (Fear Not Tomorrow, God Is Already There) popped up declaring the YA genre inappropriate for adults. Graham claims certain lines shouldn't be crossed when it comes to the books adults choose to love.
Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children.     —Ruth Graham
Should we really "feel embarrassed" for picking up a well-written book—even one directed at a younger audience? Think of The Book Thief, When You Reach Me, Persepolis, or The Diary of Anne Frank, for heaven's sake. And what about To Kill a Mockingbird? (The last two aren't strictly classified as YA, but a case can be made...)

Graham has her reasons: she believes YA fiction lacks the literary complexity of theme, plot, or character that reflects the adult experience.
[YA] books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple.... These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.
As you can imagine, the article has generated a pronounced divide between literary purists and writers and readers of YA books.

In defense of her craft, YA writer Kathleen Hale (No One Else Can Have You) rebutted Graham in a hilarious parody of her own genre. She confronts Graham "outside a graveyard before nightfall."
"Why did you say that about YA?” I asked, as tears streamed down my face like rain.

“Because it’s true!” she hissed. And I saw in the moonlight that her anger made her beautiful. This was before the war, when the oceans still had water, and the moon was still visible in the sky.

“YA is formulaic, worthless dreck,” she said, transforming into a vampire.
You get the gist. It's very funny. But Hale is serious when she retorts (while turning into a werewolf, of course) that Graham's complaint is hardly new. Nathaniel Hawthorne, in 1855, disparaged the "damned mob of scribbling women" and the books they wrote as "trash." Fifty years ago, Flannery O'Conner and others complained that Harper Lee's now classic novel—written for a youthful audience—shouldn't be handled by adult readers.

This is not to say that ALL reading materials are created equal. But surely finding pleasure in books with happy endings, romance, high emotion, or one-dimensional characters shouldn't be an embarrassment. If so, we might have to toss the likes of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters (Caaaa-theeee!), Charles Dickens and plenty others off our oh-so-adult reading lists.

What do you think?  Should an adult reader shy away from YA books? Is the genre a lesser art form? What about your book club—has it taken on any YA books? Let us know.
* Photo by L on Flicker.

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