Ok. Don’t jump down my throat… hear me out yeah? I’m trying to dig deep here. This is hard for me because my default setting is pretty much cheerful sarcasm.
So I read that article. Probably you know the one… And if you don’t GREAT glad you missed it. It was completely absurd.
And even though I rolled my eyes and thought “Well this chick, sorry mature adult woman knows how to get a rise out of the internet.” it hit a little close to home, waaaayyyy deep in that bit of my soul that’s still wounded from being bullied in middle school and doesn’t want to be judged. Or something.
Maybe it’s partly that last sunday I pretty much turned “officially old” and that article felt like it was aimed at me. Actually it WAS aimed at me… Me and the legions of other well past 18year old YA readers out there who are responsible for a significant enough to write an ignorant opinion piece about us portion of book sales. And lets be honest, occasionally obsessive fandom.
But enough with the snark, I’m not saying anything thousands of other people haven’t already said far more eloquently. What I’m here to do is confess. So grab the holy water and send in the YA priest. (Is that John Green??)
So here it is… *Deep breath*
Sometimes I am embarrassed.
Embarrassed that many of my all time favorite books and certainly everything I have read and loved this past year feature characters that are a decade or more younger than me.
Embarrassed that my heart flutters and I fangirl squeal right along with the teenagers I teach over the likes of Marie Lu, Alex London, V. Roth, JKR. (the list is pretty much endless so I’m gonna stop there.)
Embarrassed that I swoon over book boyfriends I might have babysat.
Embarrassed that if I could magically reincarnate it would be as Hermione, Ginny, June, Katniss, Tris, Deuce, Valentine (Hell, I might even come back as Harry, Syd, Day or Ender!! I’m not about to get picky about sex here if it means I get to be a world saving bad ass!) and not as a fully fledged adult character.
Embarrassed that I currently have no desire whatsoever to read any of the books that grumpy woman said I should (and I’m not sure I ever will) and that my floor to ceiling TBR has maybe two “Adult” novels in it right now.
Sometimes I’m even embarrassed of this blog.
And you know what? When it comes down to it what I’m truly ashamed of is my embarrassment. Yep, that’s right I am straight up ashamed that I would ever consider hiding my books on the bus or that I feel like I should explain my reading choices even if the person I’m recommending my new favorite book to didn’t give me any reason to be defensive. I’m ashamed that I ever feel embarrassed of any kind of reading at all!
The funny thing is I am not ashamed or embarrassed that I married a man who plays D&D, paints legions of mini’s and writes horror, fantasy and science fiction. I don’t think twice about the fact that we see every super hero movie that comes out or occasionally go on comic book buying sprees. And I LOVE that we go to the renaissance faire every single year where I wear a flower crown in my hair and we wander the stalls drinking cider and fantasizing about being lords and ladies.
So why the hell would I be ashamed of the beautiful, intelligent, thought provoking YA books I love? (Ok… they aren’t ALL extraordinary books…sometimes they are mediocre or fluffy but thats not the point! And maybe what I thought was so-so set your imagination on fire so it’s absurd to say that anyway!) The thing is, I really don’t know why I’m embarrassed but the ugly truth is that I suspect I’m not alone. The outcry from fellow YA loving adults in response to that holier than thou piece of drabble was fast and furious. It was filled with justifiable anger and endless lists of celebrated “classical” literature written about children and young adults. For hours my twitter was full of author responses and empowering comments which was WONDERFUL but I can’t help but wonder if buried deep in that totally relevant fury was the nagging fear that maybe that old “fuddy duddy” (her words) was right.
So for one second I’d like to take this opportunity to examine my “shame”.
Sometimes I glance at my bookshelves and wonder if all those freaking awesome sixteen year old protagonists I love so much really represent my own immaturity…maybe they do… It’s not that I particularly want to be sixteen again or go back to high-school (and I SURE AS HELL wouldn’t want to do middle school again!) but when I was a teenager there was an exciting rawness about everything accompanied by a feeling that the problems of the world were actually pretty manageable if only the world leaders would just sit down over coffee and be open, honest and respectful of each other. (Which seems completely stupid to me now but maybe that’s exactly the problem). And I confess I miss that side of myself… the girl who believed in the inherent goodness of people and thought she could make a difference.
So maybe I do occasionally read for “nostalgia” and maybe I AM afraid of this aging thing… (Because we are pretty seriously having that “lets have a baby” conversation in my house and OMG sometimes I forget to feed myself!! How can I be expected to keep a child alive and warm and happy??! And what if I fuck it all up??). And while I’m at it I’ll admit it’s absolutely true that I’d rather read a book full of characters fighting to make the world better, learning from their mistakes and trying to be good to each other than stories of how we tear ourselves apart and ruin our relationships.
Perhaps I wonder if it’s unhealthy that the grown woman I’ve become misses the little girl who had endless magical worlds in her head and spent hours playing dress up in her backyard.
Maybe I AM an idealist or an escapist?
Personally, I think it’s clear via my last four or five book reviews that I’m not particularly looking for neatly packaged happily ever afters. But that doesn’t mean that I believe there is anything wrong with happily ever after either! Maybe happily ever after is growing old with people you love and weathering life with joy and humor to temper the sorrow and dying in a rocking chair with Harry Potter in your lap?? I don’t know but that sounds good to me.
I don’t know if these are things to be embarrassed of…? I suppose I’m inclined to think that they represent both my strengths and weaknesses. Here’s what I DO know however.
Good books are good books and literature does not begin and end in the adult psyche.
In fact I would argue the opposite… I believe that the mind of a child is a precious thing and a young adult is at a place in their lives where they are still able to access the imagination and clarity of thought that children posses but they are old enough to join conversations and truly have a voice in shaping the future of their world. Hell, this amazing NPR article about the power of the “Book Girls” pretty much proves that. So why wouldn’t writers want to tap into that amazing combination of intuition and intelligence and why wouldn’t their peers (ME because I’m the same age as many of those writers) want to read and find value in their work?
My mother (who is pretty much the equivalent of a sage) taught us to value the wisdom of children and she encouraged us to read books that treated children with respect. To this day my mother collects children’s books and my sisters and I still treasure the lessons we learned from the likes of Miss Rumphius, Grandfather Twilight, The Big Orange Splot and Meanwhile back at the Ranch. In fact I myself have a bookshelf dedicated to picture books and children’s stories in addition to the shelves filled with YA, Fantasy and Science Fiction. To me it often seems that children’s books and YA function as parables and if you hadn’t already guessed, it’s the lessons that draw me time and again to their pages.
And this is where I’m gonna be mean because, really?!? What did she (the well read writer lady) learn from all that highbrow literature? Apparently it wasn’t the value of exploring the heart and soul of the world’s youth or lessons in acceptance, diversity and individuality, you know all those things YA writers are constantly examining in their books and promoting in real life. I’m sure that’s not the fault of the books she’s reading, probably there are a lot of amazing pieces of wisdom in her favorite novels. Believe it or not I have also read my fair share of adult fiction (and even NON fiction *gasp*) and I can attest to it’s worth (though of course there’s fluff in every genre). Probably that woman was just grumpy or she really, really wanted to have her fifteen minutes of fame and took a cheap shot she knew would set her twitter ablaze. I don’t know… I’m kinda tempted to send her a copy of Miss Rumphius (which is all about having your adventures but making the world more beautiful) and put her in the time out corner to think about it.
So this is why ultimately I am ashamed of ever hiding my love of children’s and young adult literature and why I felt the need to confess my shame to you and perhaps open the door for a conversation. Because I am someone who truly, truly believes that books and mostly books that find their homes on the YA shelves saved my life and shaped me into the adult I am today. A woman who I’m not always be proud of and who fails frequently and occasionally embarrasses herself but who strives to live up to the lessons she learns from the stories she treasures. (And of course the ones she learned from her mother.)
Whew, confession over. That was actually even harder than I thought.
Now I’d be truly honored to hear from you… YA lovers young and old, I want to know how this article (and the shaming of YA in general) made you feel. I wan’t to know what you thought even if it was ugly… And if like me, you had a moment of self examination maybe you’ll share??