Loving Young Adult Lit Doesn’t Make It Perfect

Loving Young Adult Lit Doesn’t Make It Perfect

About a week ago, Slate published an article that said adults should be embarrassed about reading young adult literature. Like many, I disagreed with the article. Still, considering how torrid a love affair people seem to be having with YA lit, it’s good to have a dissenting voice in the mix.

On Twitter and Facebook, I saw people saying they were “blind with rage” or “seeing red.” My friends and acquaintances were calling the essay’s author stupid, and asserting that their love of YA was the least embarrassing thing about them. I feel that.

However…we’re living and reading in capitalist structures, so how can we divorce our interest in anything from the means of its production? We can’t. For starters, consider that adolescence is a social construct invented for capital gain.

Consider also: To make a lot of money in YA or children’s lit, you have a couple of options. A super viable one, as we can see from looking around us, is to play off larger cultural fears and create fantasies that pander to our collective anxieties. This is actually one of the things I love about YA and children’s literature, and this is why I studied it in college so much. But if we think about this above the level of the author—taking a zoom-out to look at the publishing house and the marketing team and the entities that own both—doesn’t it get a little sinister?

Maybe I would have more trust in the YA lit industry if it didn’t fail, year after year, to represent huge swaths of the population. We keep getting skinny, white protagonists who have beautiful, white, male love interests. How many young adults are actually like that?

It’s scary to me that all these mild-mannered “new adults” I know who work at non-profits and vote in elections and contemplate adopting corgis and read Slate flew off the handle over an article that asks them to question something they like.

I never want to be the person on the internet who’s like, “Don’t get mad” or, “I don’t care about this thing, therefore you shouldn’t,” because that’s my least favorite Internet type. Also, I care a lot.

I’m just of the belief that all storms of Internet anger betray certain discomforts and embarrassments, especially when they loudly proclaim “I’m not uncomfortable/embarrassed!”

We don’t have to be embarrassed by our summer reading lists but we should be embarrassed that we’re so ready to donate all of our love, money and trust to an industry just because we feel an emotional pull toward what it creates.

Loving something doesn’t make it perfect.

Sarah Harper