Heated debate at the Edinburgh International Book Festival recently focused on young adult fiction. Who reads it? Who is it written for? And do those things ever collide? And, perhaps most important of all, how does one to even begin to define the category? From The Guardian:
Was it born from SE Hinton’s The Outsiders in the 1960s? From Alan Garner in the 60s? Is it, as a teacher was lambasted for writing in the TES last week, all about “a transgender school dropout with autism who meets a self-harming vampire with a heart of gold?” Or, is it a definition in flux, still being determined by contemporary authors as they write their books (which, without an exception, were reported to be “written for themselves”, not teens, a claim that seems at least partly untrue and somehow always defensive against some unspoken attack)?
“The great YA debate” at the festival on that middle Monday embodied the erratic focus of any debate about how to define YA, a topic that regularly bubbles up and always gets sidetracked. Is YA a genre or a category? Who reads it? Is it too grown up? Badly written? Not funny enough?
To bursts of nervous laughter, YA author Anthony McGowan kicked it off by citing Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of YA was crap, pandered to by an audience that treated the whole thing as a “this kind of amorphous quasi religion”, more of a cult than category. He lamented speaking to “monocultural audiences” of white, older women at YA conferences. Some misogynistic, cause-and-effect musing began: most YA bloggers were women, all his editors were women, “so there is a huge amount of energy directing these kinds of texts, texts that may well appeal to women in their 20s and 30s rather than to teenagers. We’ve got this female-dominated world producing texts that reflect themselves, for other young adult women,” he said, perhaps unaware of the significance of making links between gender and perceived quality.
The balance of the piece is just as thought-provoking. And it’s here.