06 September 2010

How did we manage without YA in our lives?

Wikipedia defines Young-adult fiction (YA) as 'fiction written for, published for, or marketed to adolescents and young adults, roughly ages 14 to 21'. The article goes on to add that YA 'has distinct attributes that distinguish it from the other age categories of fiction.....(they) portray an adolescent as the protagonist, rather than an adult or a child. The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character, but beyond that YA stories span the entire spectrum of fiction genres.'

What the article leaves unsaid is that YA is probably the fastest growing market segment in fiction, and the mass hysteria that accompanies the release of certain YA books is more in keeping with what you will expect outside the stadium where the latest pop sensation is performing than with yet another boring book release. After reading the dozenth facebook status update, and skimming through the twentieth blog post on Mockingjay, I realised it was time one of us blogged about YA.

Before I start, let me clarify that of the entire bunch, I am, perhaps, the least qualified to write on YA fiction. Leanne writes and sells YA (even if she claims her latest MS has a plot hole large enough for a circus train to go through), Hart has a daughter who fits perfectly into the age category that defines YA, Chary teaches high school students so has to be clued into the latest reading trends, Jason reads more fantasy than anyone else I know (and he claims that is what YA boys read), and though she is wise beyond her years, Cruella is the one closest in age to the YA readership. That leaves just Tara and me as potential YA virgins, but considering she has a step-dot in that age category, perhaps she knows a little more about the genre than I do.

Why then is it that I am blogging about YA? Quite apart from the fact that nobody knows I am writing this post and therefore cannot object, I think it is precisely because I never even heard the term YA till a couple of months back that I am well suited to write about it.

Kid lit as a genre was well established when I was a child. Every child in India grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton, with a couple of Hans Christian Andersens, Johanna Spyris, Robert Louis Stevensons, Rudyard Kiplings and Mark Twains thrown in for good measure. When you were ready to move beyond that, you had a couple of years of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, of Louise May Alcott and (abridged works of) Charles Dickens, before you moved right onto adult lit.

My early teenage years were spent reading Issac Asimov and Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Jeffery Archer, Arthur Hailey and Arthur C. Clark (why are so many authors called Arthur, I used to wonder - is it a case of the name defining the profession?). In high school, we somehow endured a play of Shakespeare every year. My grandfather introduced me to G.B. Shaw when I was 13, and I read Mrs Warren's Profession long before I even knew that such a profession even existed. We studied short stories by the Masters in school, and I obsessively read every story ever written by Saki, O' Henry, Katherine Mansfield and Guy de Maupassant. And because I did not want to be considered 'dumb', I read the Classics - Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen.

By the time I reached my mid and end teens, I used to pick up pretty much any book I could find and devour it. There were books that I now know were unsuitable for my age, but since nobody knew enough to object, I read them. Books like 'To Kill a Mockingbird' made me think, books by James Michener made me come to terms with who I wanted to be, and that solitary book by Milan Kundera convinced me that every book recommended by a friend was not necessarily worth wasting my youth on.

Was any of it YA? I am sure not. While Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre were protagonists of the same age as I, I couldn't even start to comprehend the social conditions they lived in.

Was any of it suitable reading for a person my age? Considering no permanent damage seems to have come out of all that reading (no, I cannot see your smirk - I can't see you, remember?), I would think they were fine.

Did I enjoy reading the books I did? Of course I did. If I didn't, wouldn't I have been addicted to the TV rather than to books?

Did I miss not having YA books? Considering it is a little hard to miss something you don't even know exists, I guess not.

If I had my youth over again, would I want YA books in it, or not? Now that is a tough question. I am lucky. I had an unremarkable childhood, or maybe it was a childhood remarkable in its normalcy. I was secure in the affection of my parents, my teachers doted on me, and I was confident enough of myself to hold my own with my peers. I did not have any of the issues that the teens in YA novels seem to have, so I did not need a YA book to sort me out. Any self-esteem issues I may have had were sorted out by my mother or grandmother, and I was blissfully unaware of the opposite sex, so did not need extra coaching in boy-ology.

If I had my teen years all over again, and if those new teen years were no different from the set of teen years I already had, I would not *need* YA. BUT, I would definitely *want* YA.

Though, after having read 'Dracula', I am not sure if I would have had much more use for the sequels of 'Twilight' than I now do.

Enid Blyton books
Scene from Oliver Twist
Girl reading


Jemi Fraser said...

My reading history is very similar to yours. I think I read mostly adult books by the time I was in grade 7 or 8. This was okay because I'd always been a strong reader, but for kids who weren't, a lot of them stopped reading for pleasure. I think the strength of the YA genre will ensure more people are able to find books they enjoy and therefore we'll have more adult readers. All good news :)

ViolaNut said...

I love the explosion of good YA that has happened in the last 10 years - and I firmly believe it is thanks in very large part to JKR, for showing that kids would read it and so publishers would publish it and authors would write it. Of course, they also seem to be on a reprint trend lately, bringing back things like Christopher Pike that were just about the only thing out there in the "teen" category when I was such a thing (silly horror novels, for those spared the experience). I adore the variety and quality currently out there in the land of YA (I probably read at least 3 YA books to every 1 so-called "adult" one) and do indeed wish it had been around when I was in that age range - I went straight into the adult section once I'd finished everything in my elementary school library (alphabetically...), having already tacked Tolkein in 1st and 2nd grade (don't ask) and moving on to The Silmarillion in 6th, for example. YA authors tend to be wicked good fun at signings too, I've met Shannon Hale and Libba Bray and Suzanne Collins and Scott Westerfeld and...

I'll shut up now. :-P

LTM said...

is Enid Blyton like Judy Blume? I just bought the girls Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing & Superfudge b/c my youngest is still too young for Potter... (she keeps falling asleep)

We had "teen" fiction here when I was a teen, and I liked it--read all of it. But at school I was assigned serious adult lit, so it was escapist for me... still is, I guess! :o)

Twilight's not really about vampires IMO. That's more incidental to the story--a complication to be overcome. So if you're not looking for a romance, er... love story?, you're probably safe to skip it. ;p

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

I used to be a closet YA reader. The the Rowling's series made it okay to read everywhere. Yeah!!!

Natasha said...

@ Jemi - spoken like a true teacher. I never really thought of YA in that light.

@ Leanne - I have to confess to not reading much YA, what I have read, I have liked. And why am I not surprised you tackled the shelves alphabetically?

@ Leigh - never read Judy Blume, so don't know if Enid Blyton is like her, but Blyton wrote books like Five Minute Tales, Ten Minute Tales, etc.

Natasha said...

@ Mary, we cross posted. I saw an Enid Blyton I hadn't read at an airport bookstore a couple of years back, and sat right down and finished it. Later I came to know a client of mine had seen me, but I didn't even have the grace to blush.

CA Heaven said...

Can't say I missed anything when I was in the teens. Read a lot of cowboy books, then Bagley and MacLean, and was happy with that ... until I discovered Dostoyevsky and Jean Genet >:)

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

I wasn't a strong enough reader for 'real adult' stuff as a teen and was WAY past the kiddie stuff for interest, so I turned to soft porn (Harold Robbins) and horror. I don't think I was necessarily HARMED, but I would totally have LOVED having really great books like there are now. I would have dived into all the distopian stuff hard core. Perfectly hits the 'angst' thing.

Natasha said...

@ CaH - I guess, as Jemi says, the serious readers among us found something to read. But the rest fell by the wayside. YA may just keep more potential readers reading.

@ Hart - Harold Robbins- soft porn?!
Goodness grief- you need to come to Bombay/ Calcutta- both cities have people selling second hand books on the pavements, and a staple is Harold Robbins. Soft porn for sale on the streets!