So, so, so, I found out today that it’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Week on Goodreads. I was excited to see what lists of books they recommend, when I made a mistake of reading through the comments section. Yeah, unfortunately. Who reads the comments section, these days, on anything? Those who are incredibly healthy, who aren’t in threat of keeling over due to high-blood pressure, that’s who. And while I think that would include me, a pretty hale 25-year-old… I’m not so sure anymore.
See, if you take a peek at the comments, you’ll find it infested with the usual classical champions arguing with trash defenders. I’ll make my position clear and say that I am very much a trash defender, mostly because I find it very difficult to have any affinity with classical works (especially since they’re so Eurocentric). And let’s face it! While I love reading books that are exhilarating and poignant just as much as the next reader, I do have times when I just want some cheap, brain candy. Sometimes I want my mind to take a break from the hassles at work and life, and if that means resorting to easy entertainment, it’s actually not bad for my health. It’s certainly not going to be any worse than getting all worked up, with arteries bursting and veins popping, hating on books that are written after the 70’s.
This blog post, or perhaps a better word for it would be rant, is going to be focused more on the divide between SFF Adult/YA/MG readers, because a lot of the comments in that Goodreads post is aimed at belittling younger readers.
Fact 1: I love children’s books. Yes, I’m 25, and I would unapologetically, unabashedly walk in the children’s (9-12) section of Chapters Indigo. I find children’s books to be so fresh and imaginative. They also often deal with themes that are central to my life even at this point in my mid-twenties: family, friendship, home, identity, finding your place in society, loyalty, and bravery. There are tons of other themes that I can’t pull off of the top of my head at the moment.
In fact, the majority of my favourite books are (or once were considered, since marketing ploys these days tend to push books towards the YA shelves) for children: The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge, and many more.
I love this a quotation by Diana Wynne Jones about the intellect of children and how they respond to books:
“Writing for adults, you have to keep reminding them of what is going on. The poor things have given up using their brains when they read. Children you only need to tell things to once.”
There are other people who have defended children’s literature in much more articulated fashion than I ever will, so I will just move on to the next point.
Fact 2: I like YA books. They’re dramatic, and they pull you in with a lot of shiny, mysterious allure, and when they get the romance right, they really get it right, if you know what I mean. In terms of themes, they might be a little more titillating with their handle on sexuality and morality; otherwise, I don’t think YA touches on themes that children’s books are not able to handle either. And I’ll get more to this a little later.
Fact 3: I like adult books. From their complex world-building to their flowy, detailed sentences, it’s a treat to lose yourself in different world so thoughtfully built.
Here’s my problem though. As someone who reads across all age-ranges, I don’t actually find anything that different in the thematic takeaway or profundity of books targeted for different age groups. I am forced to ponder about colonialism in The Lost Conspiracy as I am with Illusions of Fate. I am forced to ponder about spiritualism in Moribito as I am in Mistborn.
You know what I find to be the only thing that’s really different these days? The explicitness in sexuality and violence, and level of details in the writing. That’s all.
And so I froth at the mouth whenever people look down on books aimed for younger audiences, and because the lowest common denominator here are middle grade books, they unfortunately get the most flack.
Adults VS YA&MG
I’m not saying there aren’t bad YA and MG books out there. Oh there definitely are. But the bad books crop up equally in all three target age ranges. There are bad writers in all three tiers; there are poor plotters in all three tiers.
And each tier have their own set of overused, trite tropes.
Personally, I’m not a fan of love triangle at all; I almost refuse to read any book with a hint of love triangle in it, so that rules out a good lot of YA real estate for me. But you know what? I find a lot of love triangles in adult books too. And they’re not always better handled. If anything, a love triangle is a love triangle is a love triangle, and they’re just as tiresome in an adult book as they are in a YA book.
As someone who’s not that interested in romance, I do tend towards the children’s shelf more often than YA, because romance is such a central theme in so many YA books, and unless it’s handled in a tasteful way, I wouldn’t be that interested. Adult SFF books usually have tame romances as well, and even if they do get kind of explicit, the portion of the book that’s dedicated to romance is still pretty low, unless it’s jointly marketed as romance.
Also, I’m not a fan of gratuitous violence. The emergence of grimdark, I find rather unfortunate, not for its existence, since I know that there are people who find value and entertainment in grittiness and gore; but it’s unfortunate that people treat grittiness and gore now as an end in themselves, and not as a means to some overarching point. I don’t like how somehow if a book is “gritty” and “dark” that automatically entails maturity. Perhaps my definition of maturity is just different, because I think that finding hope and goodness in a world marred by evil is much more mature than succumbing to the bleakness of it all.
YA VS MG
You know, it’s strange because I feel like YA readers and MG readers would be better allies, but that hasn’t always been my experience. YA is sort of a new genre; fifteen years ago, there wasn’t a Young Adult section in the libraries and bookstores I go to. It wasn’t until Twilight came out that the books for younger readers became segregated into 9-12 and 13+. I have a little bit of a complex relationship with the YA community, because while I like some YA books, I find the YA community to be a little confusing.
See, YA readers would be the first to argue with adult readers about how YA books are meaningful despite being aimed at younger audiences. However when I was just getting into YA, there were a lot of YA readers who, ironically, turned up their noses on MG books in the same way adults turned their noses up at YA books. Since I was just transitioning between MG books to YA books at the time, I found the flippant attitude to really repel me from the community. Readers were bashing children’s books that I love, simply because they were for younger audiences, and I can bet that many of these readers had read those same books just few years prior.
Go to Goodreads now, and you will see a myriad of reviewers who say things like, “Oh, this book was bad. It must be written for younger audiences” on some YA books. What is that even supposed to mean? That the poor quality YA books are reserved for children? A bad book is a bad book regardless of what age it’s aimed at. I don’t understand how reviewers can think that if a book doesn’t cater to their taste, it automatically means that they’re too mature for it.
My other pet peeve is when high quality children’s books are repackaged and marketed for YA. It’s great that we’re encouraging teens to read books that work for younger audiences, but what I don’t like about this is that it reinforces the idea that MG books are of poorer quality. Because every time that a good-quality MG book is taken out of the MG shelf and placed in YA, then the only things that are left in the MG shelves are the ones that are not so good, which only supports the belief in the first place.
It’s the same story when we pull out a “cleaner” adult book and repackage it as a YA book. Again, great that we’re diversifying the YA shelves, but it only reinforces the idea that the books that belong in the adult shelves are the ones chock full of dirty and gritty stuff. I don’t like the implications of that… that to be considered mature, you have should be into darker or saucier things altogether. No, that’s not nearly sufficient nor necessary for maturity.
Well, This is Getting Long…
I think part of the problem really is that these categorizations are pretty arbitrary. Books are subjective in general. I think it’s better if we just encourage the idea that no matter what age we’re looking at, there will be bad books and there will be good books. It’s up to the reader to discern what works for them.
Oh, and let’s not even get into these classicists…