Wednesday, June 25, 2014

YA Fiction is Growing for an Obvious Reason - and, No, it's Not Because People Are Getting Dumber

The rise of Young Adult fiction must mean that our society is getting stupider and more childish. Right? That's the simplest explanation for some people.

We've all heard the haters who accuse YA-reading grownups of dumbing themselves down and turning away from "real" books, but the real reason for the rise in YA books is incredibly obvious, and it has nothing to do with people getting stupider.

I don't read YA. I don't think I'm the intended audience. The only thing I need to know about the Harry Potter books, for example, is that there's a character named "Dumbledore" and I'm supposed to take him seriously. Dumbledore? Does he battle pink bunnies and plot against The Dark Lord Snuffaluffagus?

A lot of YA sounds ridiculous to me, but I haven't got a problem with the popularity of the field. Also, I've got a number of friends with Ph.D.s in English who proudly line their bookshelves with YA fiction, telling me that it's fun to read a good story after drudging through the classics. I think they're right, and I don't believe that the current YA reading trend is dangerous.

First of all, let's do a little history. A glance backward will show you that every generation gets criticized for not living up to the previous one. Even Socrates said,

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

You'll find similar accusations throughout the past; everyone who ever lived has believed that they were watching the final decline of civilization - there's no need for us to repeat that tired, old gripe.

YA is not a new thing, of course. I read these sorts of books when I was a boy, and in those days no one read YA after a certain age. The reason for this was obvious: they weren't meant for grown ups.

One of my favorite was called The Game, (now it goes by the title Invitation to the Game), a dystopian story about a future where people have to learn to live without modern technology after college. Believe me, it was more interesting than it sounds. If you want to buy a good story for your kids, I recommend it.

If I gave this book to one of today's YA fans they would think I'd handed them a pamphlet, because The Game was a short book, just a simple novella, and I always finished it in one sitting. Probably had fewer than 10,000 words, which was normal for YA at the time. (My parents once bought me a sack full of these books so I would have something to do while we drove across the country on vacation. I may have finished the last one as we pulled out of the carport.)

Let's compare The Game to Harry Potter. The first book in Rowling's series contained over 70,000 words  - that's more than White Fang or Lord of the Flies. And that's just the first one. The final book in that series is a staggering +198,000 words long - bigger than The Grapes of Wrath and nearly the size of Moby Dick. Putting all of those stories together brings you to one of the most lengthy and complex tales you'll ever find.

Like I said, I don't read this stuff, but I can tell that the field of Young Adult fiction isn't successful because people are getting dumber, it's obviously because the books are changing. Grownups are reading YA because, for the first time, it's actually being written for a broader audience that includes them.

Stop hating on YA readers and lighten up. Meanwhile, I'm off to play Skyrim. Again.


My favorite books are The Name of the Rose and Les Misérables. In my spare time I kill dragons. You got a problem with that?

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