Saturday, June 7, 2014

Our World

Books have always been my safe place. When I turn on the radio, I hear adults singing, and they're singing about "adult" things. Beer and sex and drugs. When I turn on the TV, I see adults act, even if the characters are teenagers. But when I open a YA* book, even though the authors are adults, the characters are always, always teenagers. The authors respect us.
The reader community is another story. I spend a lot of time on book review sites, like goodreads. A while back I noticed a pattern. Almost all reviews that mentioned the character's age right off the bat- "Seventeen year old Princess Rose is cursed" or "Sixteen year old Kyra is on the run" were written by adults.
I have my own book blog, but I don't update it as often as I do this one. I went back and looked over some of my own reviews. I discovered I only mentioned the protagonist's age when it affects the plot, like if they live in a dystopian society where your future is decided at seventeen, or the event that sets off the story happens on their birthday.
I gave myself a pat on the back. But then I looked at some of the younger books. When I reviewed a middle grade book, I'd list "middle grade" as a genre, though I never did that for the young adult books. I'd say the main character's age more often than not.
I've been thinking a lot about the concept of "relating" to fictional characters. People naturally relate to people similar to them. Gender, race, childhood, and yes, age, are all things that prompt us to connect with characters. But I believe the most powerful kind of relating is when you abandon yourself completely and slide into a character's skin. Adults can relate to teenagers. And I can relate to eleven year olds. If we'd just learn to shut off that part of our brain that cries, "I can't enjoy this! It's not about ME!"
A friend of mine posted this review recently. For her privacy, I'll leave out her name.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
I had incredibly high hopes for this book. I read it in a book club and loved the concept of what I THOUGHT it was. It is a murder mystery that takes place in 1950's England with an aspiring chemist as the main character. Sounds pretty great, right? Wrong! Flavia (the main character) is only about 11 or so (I don't remember exactly), and she is so annoying I couldn't finish the book. She was just nosy and needed to be disciplined. If she was my child, I would not allow her act that way. She was self-righteous and disrespectful. Also, I felt as if the author was trying to hard to get across that the setting was 1950's England. A lot of the characters were cliche or stereotypical, and the language used was preposterous.
For a reader who's looking up reviews in order to understand the plot, this is useless. She says nothing about who gets murdered or how Flavia solves it. And, for someone who thinks they're capable of critiquing books for young people, it's pretty anti-youth. If you view a character as a child rather than your equal you will never appreciate the book. Last time I checked, nosy is a necessary quality in a sleuth.
Young adult literature is our world. It is not written with adults in mind at all. They need to understand and respect that. I'm not saying your opinions about YA literature are inferior because you're an adult. I'm saying the don't matter. If a teenager likes a book, that's a plus one. If a teenager hates a book, that's a minus one. An adult is an empty gray zero. If you enjoyed a YA book, goodie for you, but your opinion means absolutely nothing.
Oopsie. I just stepped on some toes, didn't I? Allow me to refine my definition of adult.
By adult, I don't mean librarians.
By adult, I don't mean authors.
By adult, I don't mean aspiring and unpublished authors.
By adult, I mean any person who kick off a review with "Number year old Character Name" when their age is not a plot point. Slapping the age in the first sentence is a sign that you don't read much YA, a young character is something completely foreign to you, and you have no idea what you're talking about. Don't expect anyone who knows anything to take you seriously.

*Young Adult literature. In case you're the type of person I described in this article

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