Sunday, December 12, 2010

YA – is it just for young adults? Hell no.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Okay, this post will most likely make Steve Weddle froth at the mouth. Could someone please stick him in the ass with a tranq before he reads this? I really don’t want his family to experience him having a temper tantrum during the pre-holiday frenzy. That just isn’t festive. Besides, it would make me feel downright mean, and I don’t want to be mean.

(insert pause as someone knocks out my fellow redhead)

Is Steve out cold? Good. Here’s the thing. I read Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for the first time about two weeks ago. Since then, I’ve read Catching Fire and Mockingjay – the other two books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Technically, theses are YA books because the heroine is the teen. However, the themes in the book aren’t what I would typically think of when someone mentions young adult books. I’ve read a lot of YA books that have teens learning and living and experiencing the heart ache of high school and college. They fight with their families. They chose whether or not to have sex and deal with all the issues that might bring. They have romances and break-ups and all the drama that being a teen holds. That kind of YA isn’t really for me.

No offense to that part of the genre. Teens love it. They should. It is meant for them. But some books don’t fit into the YA category as easily. Hunger Games and the two following novels are different. I’m going out on a limb here, but something tells me these books would never have been targeted at the young adult reader when I was a young adult. The market and the breadth of the genre has changed and the publishers understand that. Targeting a violent book like Hunger Games at the Young Adult market lends buzz to the book. Some adult readers will praise the book. Others will lament the violence and scream for the publisher to be held accountable for taking the innocence of our youth. Ha! You can’t buy that kind of press.

I am thrilled that our youth is reading period. That being said, I’m even happier when I know they are reading books that ask important questions. The Hunger Games and the two follow-up books do. They force the reader to think about government, rebellion and the ability of good, well-intentioned people to do the wrong thing. The books are violent, but the violence isn’t extraneous. It’s purposeful. Sometimes it makes you angry. Other times it makes you cheer and here and there it makes the reader cry.

These books have great depth, a kick-ass storyline and a heroine that is damage from the first moment she steps onto the page. It is that damage that makes her more than a typical YA heroine. She is more adult that youth. Her circumstances demand it and it is that maturity of spirit that allows adult readers to identify with her.

Sure, there were a few technical flaws in the books – very minor shifts to third person that I caught happening here and there. There were also a couple of flashbacks that I had to read several times and still found a tad bit confusing, but none of these flaws detracted from my enjoyment or my need to turn the pages.

I guess what I’m saying is that there are young adult books and then there are YOUNG ADULT books. To say that the entire genre should not appeal to an adult is belittling some really great reads. I admit that I failed to read Hunger Games or the other books earlier because I chalked them up as YA and therefore not as pressing to read as others. I was totally wrong. If Steve Weddle wakes up from his nap looking mellow – press a copy of Hunger Games into his hand and make him curl up in front of the fire. He won’t be sorry.


David Cranmer said...

Two of my favorite reads this year was Y/A novels. Nice change from all the blood, guts, and horror.

I'll remember Hunger Games. Thanks.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Thanks for the info and you plead a good case, but I probably won't read them. When I was that age, I certainly enjoyed The Outsiders, Bless the Beasts & Children, and the Lord of the Flies. I also enjoyed Stephen King's story, The Body. For better or worse, The whole YA / MG thing reminds me of the grunge music goldrush. You never know though, so I'll keep your recommendations in mind.

Scott D. Parker said...

A good story is a good story no matter how the publisher tries to market it. I've never been against reading YA books. Kn many ways, like you wrote, they are YA in name only. A case in point is Ender's Game. When it was published, the YA market was not what it is now. Thus it was never considered a YA---which it clearly is. And it clearly isn't, too. My wife was reticent to read the Harry Potter partly because fantasy books don't appeal to her. But read them she did...and absolutely loved them. It is she who is pining to see HP 7.1 at the theaters. It is she who stops and watches just about any of the movies when the (always) show up on TV. A good story is a good story. Period. I've been intrigued about Hunger Games. Think I'll give it a try.

Helen Weddle said...

Ms. Charbonneau,

Thank you ever so much for ruining the weekend at our home.


Joelle Charbonneau said...

David - It's nice to know I'm not alone:) Let me know what you think of Hunger Games it you take a whack at it.

Sean - Funny, I never really read YA when I was YA - never could get into the Outsiders. Lord of the Flies I had to read for school - it was fine. Hunger Games struck me as a bit different. More like Stephen King's (or Richard Bachman's)Running Man.

Scott - yes! Oh - and I just saw HP 7 (part 1) last'll have to talk to me about it when you've seen it. I have lots of thoughts...

Helen - Sorry:) Put a touch of sedative in Steve's hot chocolate and everything will be fine.

Fred Zackel said...

I wandered into this back alley, too, and am midway in reading THE CURSE OF THE WENDIGO, which is advertised as YA. But David, if you want a "change from all the blood, guts, and horror," this YA is not for you. The protag is a teen, but we're hovering on flayed flesh, corpses impaled by 40 ft pine trees, birds pecking out eyes ... oh yeah. This is not your grandmother's YA Market.

Anonymous said...

My daughter has recently begun to read books (for enjoyment) having read through the whole series of Patterson's MAXIMUM RIDE books, and the Percy Jackson books. We were thinking of giving her the Hunger Games series for X-mas.

@Scott I read ENDER'S GAME back when it was release in paperback, I wasn't a teen, and I never would have classed it with books like Harry Potter. Sure enough I saw it in the YA section the other day. World has gone crazy.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Fred - you are right! This is not your grandmother's or even my YA. This is something very different.

Ron - The Hunger Games is a bit more violent that the Maximum Ride books, but I think it is way more compelling. I read When The Wind Blows when it was categorized as adult...somehow that series morphed into a YA series. I've never seen a series make a change like that, but it seems to have worked for it.

John McFetridge said...

A couple weeks ago I was at a "lit fest" and the YA authors were mostly complaining that all YA is fantasy and supernatural these days. One of them said that if "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published today it would be YA and another said that it would only get published today if it had elves or ghosts or wizards in it.

A lot of people have been talking this week about an essay on the Mulholland Books website that talks about how tragedy has gone missing from noir (or from most literature) and uses the turning point of 70's movies, away from serious, adult movies to an overemphasis on action-oriented "blockbusters."

Sure, it's good that kids are reading, but not for its own sake. It doesn't help to get a reluctant eater to eat only ice cream.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

John - I agree that what kids read is just as important as getting them to read. In this case, the Hunger Games is in the same tradition as Farenheit 451, Catch-22 or 1984. It discusses big issues and doesn't have any ghosts or vampires. I'm not a huge ghost and vampire fan.

Ben said...

I read YA up to when I turned 16. I understand your point, but I'm not too sure I agree. YA is called for that reason because it's aimed at young adults. The problem right now is that with Harry Potter and Twilight, the genre got SO popular, everybody is trying to market their stories as YA.

Anyway, I have to read one YA book for a 2011 reading challenge. Maybe I'll change my mind.

Elizabeth said...

Joelle - Like the comparison to RUNNING MAN. If you've not read it, what HG made me think of is a book called BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takami. Same kids used for government sponsored brutal sport theme, but even more disturbing because the setting is more real / recognizable.

Ben - Why 16? Why not 15? Or 17? So completely arbitrary. So what if a book is "called" YA, a work is defined by the content, not the label. What if the publisher had decided to market FREEDOM under the label thriller? That wouldn't make it so.

I guarantee if someone had put the HUNGER GAMES series in your hands and you didn't know it was labeled YA you'd never think that as you read it. Try thinking outside the box (label) and judge books for yourself based on their content, not on what some marketing monkey decided to label them. You're robbing yourself of some very enjoyable reading experiences.

Stringer Belle said...

Label The Hunger Games whatever you want, but as Scott says: a good story is a good story whatever. It was my little sister who forced the first book in the trilogy upon me, describing it as "the new Twilight but this time I want you to promise me you will actually read one without pre-judging". How well she knows me. To be fair, the absence of sexy vampires certainly helped. But what a gripping story. I've ended up finishing the trilogy faster than she did, which meant that as I sobbed hysterically through the final pages in a shopping centre earlier today I had nobody to call.

Ben said...

I stopped reading YA because I have found other genres that suited my needs more I guess. Like I said, I'm making a YA comeback with "Speak", which I heard is a very important novel.

I might be "robbing" myself of enjoyable reading experience, like you say, but I don't ostracize YA. If the book attracts me, I'm going to read it. It's just that vampires, werewolves, sorcerers and love problems have never been my demographic. Even Dracula didn't conquer me.

But like I said...I'll have to read more about it.