I just finished reading this missive by Slate’s Ruth Graham, where she admits people can read whatever they want, but they should feel embarrassed when…if they decide to even pick up a Young Adult novel — what she calls “children’s books.”
Ms. Graham is wrong. I don’t know anything about her; the Slate biography page about her only says she is a writer from New Hampshire. But, I am not embarrassed to read Young Adult, nor should anyone else feel that way.
While I haven’t read all the books she mentioned in the piece, I have read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which movie’s release is why Ms. Graham feels compelled to attack Young Adult literature at this point in time. TFIOS is a monumental work, Young Adult or not. I’ll confess I was an very early fan. I pre-ordered the book months before its release and my book has both John Green’s signature, as well as a Hanklerfish as drawn by his brother, Hank. (Nerdfighters know what I’m talking about.)
You can certainly make arguments about the quality of some Young Adult books that have been overhyped (I stopped reading the Twilight series after the second book and my dislike for the third book of the Divergent series is well-known among my friends). However, what harms Young Adult books is also what makes them great.
Here is what is missing about Graham’s argument. She claims once you reach the age of 18 (and apparently enlightenment), you must automatically crave adult books. Literary fiction. She says:
But I remember, when I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks; I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a world where all the adults were camped out in mine.
How pretentious. That teenagers need to aspire to read something besides what they have. When I was a teenager, no one was telling me what I could and couldn’t read — I wasn’t desperate to “earn my way into the adult stacks,” because I could already go there and read books from there already. I wasn’t clamoring to read books by the Bronte sister. I did read “adult” books before I had my driver’s license and you know what?
I hated them.
I will never read a Gore Vidal book again after a failed attempt when I was in high school. His Lincoln may have been the worst reading experience of my life. I certainly read non-Young Adult books now, but most of the books I do read have the “passion” in common.
Adolescents think with their heart, not with their head. As a high school teacher, this is both the best and worst thing about them. If you know how to communicate with teenagers, you can earn their trust and loyalty, but when you betray that trust, it is almost impossible to gain back.
To think you’ve moved on and won’t ever read a Young Adult book again, does NOT mean everyone is like you. I certainly hope people have varied tastes. She specifically mentions the books The Westing Game and Tuck Everlasting and that she has no desire to go back and re-read them.
I have a confession to make. Last year, I went back and re-read The Westing Game. I remembered the feelings I had in junior high when I read it and wanted to re-experience those feelings, even in a small way. It doesn’t detract from my adult-ness. It doesn’t mean I regret growing up and want to escape my job and responsibilities. It simply meant I loved it and wanted to find out if it still held up, all these years later. I also re-read Tuck back about four or five years ago just to re-experience the same feelings.
I have another confession to make. I don’t think I’m strong enough to re-read The Bridge to Terebithia. That book wrecked me as a kid. I read it when I was in fourth or fifth grade and while I loved it, there are a lot of childhood feelings I’m afraid to encounter again. Just because of this article, I think I may have to challenge myself to read it again.
And that’s the thing. The passion that is inherent about so many of these books is what makes them so great. Naturally most people lose that passion and emotion when they reach a certain age. Do they then move on to James Joyce and Hemingway?
Most people stop reading. Would I prefer people read, even it if has the label of “Young Adult?” Yes. Yes, I would.
We shouldn’t be shaming people for their reading choices, especially when the criticism centers around so many great books available today, like TFIOS, Hunger Games, Divergent, etc…
“But they don’t get people thinking!” a Ruth Graham apologist might say. Bull. I read the Neal Shusterman novel, Unwind, a couple years ago. You want to think? Read that book — if it doesn’t get your brain going, you’ve got some major issues. It may be couched in the emotion of a teenager, but the thoughts that swirl around in your head…
One book isn’t good enough? Try Feed by M.T. Anderson, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, and I haven’t even mentioned Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen. There are deep thoughts in each of these books. There are aspects that push people to think differently about the world around them. They are excellent books and it doesn’t take an “adult” label to be classified as such.
Ultimately, I feel sorry for Ms. Graham. If she wasn’t allowed to read adult books as a teenager, perhaps that is why she feels the way she does today. Another thing about teenagers is they want what they can’t have. If that was the “forbidden fruit” of her childhood, maybe that is why she grasps so tightly to it today.
Read what you want. If it doesn’t fit in a specific genre, who cares? Read.
Another great view on this by Lauren Davis from io9.