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As anyone who has talked to me or seen my facebook updates recently knows, I'm in the process of revising my second book for Delacorte Press (which is a loose sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and will be coming out Spring 2010).

Thankfully, with the help of this article in The New Yorker, I know what I was doing wrong with the first draft. I was trying to be complicated. I was trying to be challenging and have complex themes. I wasn't stuffing it full of morals (hard to fit in a "no drinking and driving" message when there aren't cars and driving, but now I know I must find a way.) It's a shame I'm just learning these things now because it's too late to fix all of this in FHT!

But honestly, the greatest relief came when I read this line:

Surely we demand of "adult" writers (or perhaps what I really mean is "great" writers) higher moral and philosophical stakes?

The relief comes in knowing that I can lower my expectations for myself and my book. I'm not an adult writer, therefore I don't have to strive for higher stakes. Whew! Talk about a load off!

Of course, my hope is that Mishan said "adult writers" and then realized that this was too narrow of a category and decided to broaden her description to mean "great writers." However, I think this phrase can also be read to mean "adult writers = great writers." Take your pick of interpretations (and notice that some prominent YA authors gave their own thoughts in the comments to the article).

What's interesting is that my friend Diana Peterfreund sent me the link to this article because this is something we've been discussing and is something that she's blogged about recently. I'd mentioned to her that sometimes when I talk to people about my book I won't call it a YA but might call it a crossover instead. I've seen way too many times that people will perk up when they find out I have a book coming out only to go "oh," and have their faces fall when I mention it's young adult. Maybe they're expecting sparkleponies or something and don't understand what YA has become today.

Even my mom admitted feeling a little weird the first time she ventured into the YA section of the bookstore. I told her to get over it since that's where my book would be (and trust me, come March 10 I have a feeling she'll be setting up a tent in the YA section and shoving FHT into every hand that passes by... actually, she'll prob just take over the loud speaker and say "My baby wrote a book!"). In fact, I think most of my family were a little taken aback when they read my book because I don't think they know what YA has become and so they didn't know what to expect.

And maybe that's part of what's going on. Maybe that's why you have Caitlin Flanagan saying "I hate YA novels; they bore me" in a review that says two paragraphs later "Twilight is fantastic." I couldn't tell from the article what YA she's read recently. Can she really say that The Hunger Games bored her? Graceling? Uglies? The Book Thief? Skin Hunger? The House of the Scorpion? Little Brother? And if it's vampire romances she finds fantastic, what about the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead that's been hitting the NYT list?

When someone says something so qualitative as "I hate YA novels; they bore me," I just have to wonder what YA novels they've been reading. Because honestly, I think YA novels these days are the best they've ever been! To me YA novels are incredibly complex and dynamic and daring. I feel like I see YA authors take more risks than adult authors.

I don't have as much of a problem with someone hating YA novels or calling YA books "facile" or "having uncomplicated themes and morals" or "boring" or merely "light and fun reads" and having lower moral and philosophical stakes if they'd actually read enough YA to form an opinion. Of course, perhaps the people in the article *have* read tons of YA and legitimately feel that way and perhaps I should give them that benefit of the doubt.

And yet, I cannot honestly believe that anyone could read Hunger Games or Looking for Alaska or The House of the Scorpion or any other number of YA novels out today and think that YA is facile, uncomplicated, light and having low stakes. Instead, I think most of the opinions expressed in that article are born out of ignorance, of hazy memories of what they read back in high school and what they *think* YA is like today based on a few ads for Gossip Girl on the CW.

I feel as though some people feel the need to denigrate all of YA as somehow being "lesser than." And yet at the same time, if you ask these same people to distinguish between YA and adult, they rarely can. Just look at the abovementioned article to see how difficult it is for them to decide what makes something YA. Take for example this distinction: "I assume that anything branded 'young adult' needs... to be not too long or challenging"

Really? Really? Really? I'm just agog at this one because at the very least you don't have to read any YA but just glance at a YA shelf or two to realize that length is not the dividing line between YA and adult. Or remember that teens are reading Faulkner and Shakespeare (and Faulkner ranks up there in the challenging spectrum).

You know what divides YA and adult? Which shelf someone decided to put it on. And you know how they probably made that decision? They put it on whichever shelf will help them sell more copies. There are lots of books being published as YA today that would have been published as adult books 10 years ago because YA is doing well and sales have increased while adult sales have decreased.

I wear my YA badge with pride. But I also know that some people are going to write me and my book off the minute they hear it's YA. I'm fine if they write me and FHT off, I'd just rather they do it after they've read my book rather than jumping to conclusions based on a marketing label or where it's shelved.


( 49 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 19th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
Some days I think there really is a divide between YA and adult, and the difference is that YA is better and more tightly written, though of course there are exceptions on both sides.

I do know we generally go through a much more in-depth editorial revision process, though.
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:44 pm (UTC)
You make a great point that I didn't make in my post and that's that there are exceptions on both sides. But I do think you're right that YA often needs to be really tight to keep the reader interest -- I think often adults are willing to give a book more benefit of a doubt than a teen is. You won't hear me complaining -- I prefer that books skip over the boring parts :)

And I can't WAIT to read your book!!
Dec. 19th, 2008 02:59 pm (UTC)
*various growling noises*

I totally agree with everything you said. I just read a section of a writing book last night which tried to tell me anything I wrote for YA should be short, have an uncomplicated plot and few big words, while anything I wrote for teens should be melodramatic.


I stopped reading a lot of "Adult" fiction when it all started to feel the same to me. But I don't go around blasting the general literature section of B&N just because much of it isn't my personal preference. There might be certain YA books and series I don't enjoy, but by and large, for my reading time, I would chose YA above just about anything else. And if other people don't, that's fine. I just hate it when people blast the entire genre because they aren't fond of one or two titles they may have read and/or skimmed through and decided they didn't like.

And honestly? The "morals" I've found in books written for an adult audience tend to be much more wishy-washy than the ones I see in a lot of YA (not all- but most).
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
Coming from a background in writing romance, I'm used to people dismissing an entire section of the bookstore without ever having read any books in it! But I just found that article so odd because they're trying so hard to have an intelligent conversation about the classification without bothering to do any research on it. I can't imagine getting away with that (in college, my profs would have killed me!).

As for the writing advice in that book -- please forget it! Ack! I think if anything, teens are MORE used to being challenged in their reading than adults. Just look at what they're reading for school!!
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
Kudos for a strong post.

YA has changed significantly since I was in high school/middle school, thousands of years ago.

Yes, looking at the rows of books in the store--a large percentage of which feature the torsos of provocatively dressed persons, sort of how a lot of UF covers involve leather-clad backsides--it might be easy to leap to a conclusion. Shame on any reviewer, however, that makes such leaps.

There are great YA writers (Kristopher Reisz is a personal favorite) who are literary, contemporary and accessible--which is something the staid and weathered "classics" of YA never were when I was a younger reader.
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I've been trying to think about what I read as a teen, trying to recall whether I'm just paying more attention to the teen market now and it's been this strong all along or whether we really are in a kind of YA renaissance. I'm coming to the conclusion that you're right and that YA has changed a lot since I was a teen.

And I agree with you that it's a shame that any reviewer can classify an entire group of books based on covers, but it happens all the time, which is a shame.
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear! I have linked to your essay.
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:30 pm (UTC)
I could not believe what I was reading in that article! It went against everything I have experienced as a reader, teacher, writer and literary. I have read "Lolita" and "Ulysses" and "Gilgamesh" and other great literary works and can say I am able to find the same fulfillment in wonderful YA literature as I can in the classics.
(no subject) - carrie_ryan - Dec. 19th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gag01001 - Dec. 19th, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carrie_ryan - Dec. 19th, 2008 06:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carrie_ryan - Dec. 19th, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
Links and spittle from me too; you ain't wrong, lady!
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks, dude!
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC)
I just don't get the New Yorker. Do they print crap articles like that just to piss people off?
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
That was one of the things that surprised me the most!! I'm like "you'd think that the New Yorker wouldn't want to look like such a bunch of morons!" But I guess not. I just can't imagine writing anything with such broad judgmental statements without having ANYTHING to back them up with! Especially when taking such an academic-like tone as they did! But that's just me... I like to base my arguments on foundations, preferably foundations of fact.
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
So perfectly stated, thank you. You should post some of this on the comments page at the New Yorker.

P.S. My mom will be with yours in the bookstores.
Dec. 19th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
I love supportive moms :)

Haha, once I saw John Green and Maureen Johnson respond, I knew they had it covered!
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Dec. 19th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
It's interesting -- the article is really just a few people discussing why they liked a particular YA novel. Mostly, it's just them being amazed that this YA novel isn't like what they expected. But rather than going "huh, maybe there are other YA novels like this out there and we should rethink our expectations of YA" they seem to be saying "wow, this one novel is different from all that other YA from which we expect very little." I think that's one reason the article got under my skin a bit -- I feel like they should have explored whether this one book truly is the exception rather than the rule.

And yes, I believe it's gotten quite a few YA authors a little up in arms judging from the comments to it.
(no subject) - dpeterfreund - Dec. 19th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dpeterfreund - Dec. 19th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - dpeterfreund - Dec. 19th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - carrie_ryan - Dec. 19th, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carrie_ryan - Dec. 19th, 2008 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tinaya - Dec. 19th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 19th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
What a great post! I often describe my books plot rather than say right off the bat it is YA because most of the people I talk to in 'real life' don't know what that is.

So when I mention the teenage narrator they say, "is it a book for kids?" (and yes, usually look disappointed and/or confused) and then I say, "It's for teens and adults. It's for everybody who is interested in the subject."


I loathe labels.

Dec. 19th, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I definitely remember you telling me this before and that's when I realized that I could describe my book without the label of "YA." Of course, if they want to find it in the store, they're going to have to know where to look. Although if they bought it on Amazon, I doubt they'd have any idea what labels were put on it. Which makes me wonder if the shift to online shopping will mean that labels mean less?
(no subject) - seaheidi - Dec. 19th, 2008 06:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 19th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
Most excellent points, my sparklezombie!

What strikes me forcibly is that this keeps happening, more and more regularly: there was the Stephen King on The Hunger Games brouhahaha quite recently. Seems like every time someone actually reads YA, they're wowed by it... and then for some reason they say 'but this is different.'

One can only be forced to wonder what YA books they're reading. I'd be prepared to lay a bet the YA book they found so fantastically different is one of the only recent ones and well, maybe they're judging by books they read as a teen, maybe they are sorrowing because YA's doing better.

A friend of mine said to me in puzzled tones 'Hey, everyone I tell about your book coming out seems to have a secret passion for YA, and I have to tell them your title!' This makes me happy for my genre: apparently, YA is what people are reading and enjoying - even those who are putting it down! I hope that once a hundred articles have turned up about a hundred brilliant and different YA books, someone will start doing the maths.
Dec. 19th, 2008 06:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks petal! It does strike me as odd that they will say "this is so fantastically different" without bothering to look at what it's different from! It's like picking a grape from a bunch and saying "why, this grape is edible! Fancy that!" And you're like "um... did you happen to notice all the other grapes also in that bunch?"

I'm not good with analogies... moving on. I'm glad that more people are enjoying YA because I believe that there is so much to enjoy there!
(no subject) - lkmadigan - Dec. 19th, 2008 06:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 19th, 2008 05:13 pm (UTC)
(I saw a link on Kazdreamer's lj and thought I'd come over.) Very well said! I know YA's changed from only a couple years ago, because I remember getting so bored with the books and so I moved to adult novels. Now, I'm finding a lot of interesting books that are considered YA. And I think that they're not giving teens enough credit. They understand a lot more than people would think. I think those New Yorkers need to do some more research. This is a great post, thanks!!
Dec. 19th, 2008 06:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by Music Lover3! I agree. Honestly, I think that because teens are sill in school and reading such challenging material that they are often more likely to approach a book critically. I know that I tend to look critically at books so that I can study craft, but I also know plenty of adults that read a book and move on, not really thinking deeply about what they've read. Never smart to underestimate a teen!
Dec. 19th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
I have to stand up a little for the YA of a million years ago. Yes, a lot of it was crap. But amongst all the great YA being published today, there is still an awful lot of crap.

It's fine. There's an awful lot of crap published for adults, too. People like crap. That's fine, too. Not everything you read needs to be a Nobel Prize candidate.

But it gets under my skin somewhat when the response to these articles dismissing and disparaging YA includes a slam at the YA that came before. "The stuff I read in high school." Maybe the people saying these things were--like the people writing these articles--only reading the crap, the "Gossip Girls" of the seventies or eighties instead of the good stuff. Because it was there.

Robert Cormier's landmark The Chocolate War was published in 1974. Richard Peck was publishing groundbreaking YA work starting in 1972, as literary, compelling and complex as any Printz honored novel of the last ten years. Julian Thompson was writing the blackest of humor for teens in the early eighties. Jeanette Eyerly was playing with multiple viewpoints as early as 1978 with her novel See Dave Run, which told the story of a runaway teen with every chapter from the POV of a different person he met along the way. M. E. Kerr's wide range of work from the seventies on acknowledged the sophistication of her readers. K. M. Peyton wrote a series of historical YA novels in the sixties and seventies that were made into a wildly popular BBC miniseries that enthralled adults long before Twilight crossed borders. Heck, you know Susan Beth Pfeffer? Sure, she's a big star now with Life as We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone, but did you know she wrote a bunch of terrific YA novels in the eighties and nineties?

Yes, there is an awful lot of great YA being published today--more than ever, but there is in general more YA being published--with the burgeoning buying power of teens, so one would expect the number of quality books to rise, too. But that doesn't mean it wasn't there before. It just means that--same as today--an awful lot of people didn't notice, didn't care or simply didn't believe it.
Dec. 19th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC)
Good point about K.M. Peyton: I adored and have forced the Flambards series on many.

And much of my adult love for YA is based on reading Margaret Mahy's The Changeover and The Tricksters as a teen.
(no subject) - carrie_ryan - Dec. 19th, 2008 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 19th, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC)
Proud to be YA!

Even when I see the faces falling after I tell people my book is young adult.

Dec. 19th, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC)
We need buttons and tee-shirts :)
(no subject) - lkmadigan - Dec. 19th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 19th, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC)
Just chiming in to say YAY, YA! (And hi -- I read FOREST over Thanksgiving, and enjoyed it!).

Sometimes, I think we'll have to wait until today's teens grow into tomorrow's reviewers for YA to be portrayed with understanding in the mass media. Because today's teens know what's up, and so many of today's (non-YA) reviewers seem not to.
Dec. 19th, 2008 07:39 pm (UTC)
And, also, from the article this ALMOST gets it:

ANDREA WALKER: I’ve always thought of Y.A. books as being simply books that are written with a Y.A. reader in mind, which would likely affect decisions you make as an author about language, plot, etc. Of course, there are books not written for Y.A. readers that will appeal to them, and Y.A. books that will appeal to adults, so in a certain sense the attempt to define the category isn’t that helpful—it’s most useful as a marketing tool, as Koja says in her interview, and to booksellers and librarians who want to know where to shelve things.

Agreed about the marketing aspect being the #1 definer of YA vs adult, but not agreed at what's implied here about dumbing down for teens -- I don't think there's any plot that YA as a genre wouldn't accept or explore.
Dec. 19th, 2008 08:09 pm (UTC)
I totally agree with you that Andrea's statement was the one part of that article that I agreed with. And she's right, it really is about marketing. When I was querying FHT I had agents interested in shopping it as adult and YA -- it's just about finding the spot that works best.

And I'm glad you enjoyed FHT! Good point above about waiting for today's teens to grow up to be tomorrows reviewers (and quite a few of them have their own review blogs now!).
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Thanks for Visiting!

My name is Carrie Ryan and my debut book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, came out from Delacorte Press in the spring of 2009 with the paperback releasing February 8, 2010. A sequel/companion book, The Dead-Tossed Waves, will be out March 9, 2010. To learn more, visit my website.

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