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young adult fiction
cognitive, hazard

So, the WSJ puts up an article about young adult fiction (YA). Money quote: “kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed… at children from the ages of 12 to 18.” Summary: everything in this genre is now bleak and horrible and full of darkness and abuse.

My totally unnecessary take: YA's bleak darkness and abusive horrificness is not anything like new. Plenty of the stuff written for teens as far back as the 70s was full of all that. Chocolate War came out in 1974, and within 10 years you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a YA novel featuring a prostitution / rape / incest / violence / child abuse / awkward sexual experimentation / swinging dead cats. The qualities that people complain about in YA are not only 'not new', they are characteristic of the genre to the point of cliche

Daniel Pinkwater's Young Adult Novel is about a group of high school kids who are writing a parody of YA fiction which they call Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan. Their fictional Kevin Shapiro suffers a different degrading and horrible fate in every chapter. I read this when I was about 13, and thought, yeah, most of the stuff on the recommended teen reading list follows this same formula. If Pinkwater could make a joke out of it in 1982, it ain't new.

I guess I think everybody ought to read a couple YA books when they are the right age for them (12-15), just to learn the lessons they have to teach. Those lessons are: the world is a dangerous and unfair place, trust nobody, and other people also suffer from fear and doubt and the varied causes of teen angst. Because these are lessons that earlier books have not taught the reader, the books have a disproportionate sense of realism. The false syllogism that drives this effect looks like:

  1. the books I used to read follow certain rules
  2. real life doesn't follow those rules
  3. this new book doesn't follow those rules
  4. therefore this new book is more like real life

If you read more than a few of them, you learn the new set of rules, and the illusion of realism is broken.

Some moralizing shits don't want you to read YA so you won't learn about the darker side of life. (Note: people like me who think you should read some YA to learn about the darker side of life? ALSO moralizing shits.) Your teachers just want you to read something. The publishers just want you to buy another book, and YA is another genre that's easy to sell. Like 'epic fantasy' or 'military sf' or 'shojo manga', the consumer is not looking to be surprised.


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