Starting today with two disclaimers I am: (And I’m talking like Yoda already which isn’t a good sign.) Firstly I need to state flat outright that I love YA fiction and have never stopped reading it. My first taste was Judy Blume when I was 8. From that point on I’ve read at least one YA book a year, sometimes many more than that. Secondly I need to state that I know many of the people who read this blog write YA fiction. Good YA fiction, the stuff of theirs that I’ve read. (Yoda again. WTHeck?)
Now that we got “some of my best friends are black/Jewish/gay” out of the way, I suppose it’s time for me to be book-racist.
Young Adult is the hot trend in fiction these days. Fans of The Hunger Games and its fast-paced, streamlined storytelling have been spending years looking to repeat that experience. Chasing that particular dragon is understandable; a YA novel well-told is something akin to pure heroin. There is no extra detail cluttering the pages; the story goes straight through, uncut by the baking soda and talc of long exposition, backstory, world-building detail. There is an economy of words in most YA writing that makes it very appealing to busy readers. You can get the whole story pretty quickly.
That is starting to be a problem for some books. Or perhaps it’s a problem with readers. I’m not sure where the blame lays.
I’ve been reading several long books–not unusual for me–that are recent chart-toppers. I decided to read Shadow Of Night because when the reviews came out so many people mentioned that there was too much time spent on historical detail. The novel is written by a woman who holds advanced degrees in History. I figured one reader’s trash is another’s treasure and I dove into the series. I’m a third of the way through the second book and went looking for spoilery reviews of that story because I cannot stand not knowing certain things.* All of the reviews I found went into great detail about how much they hate the book. Every single one of those reviews–eight by my last count–mentioned that there was way too much time spent on boring things like historical detail and conversations between characters. Every single one of those reviews also mentioned that they normally read YA books but read this series because it was marketed as “Twilight For Adults”.
This is where my book-racism comes in. Because some of us (eg. me) enjoy stories that take some time in the world the author took us to. We like looking around, hanging out in the castle for Christmas feast with the family. That is part of the richness of escapism. There is nothing wrong with YA fiction in general. But I’m concerned that readers are developing a sort of fictive attention disorder that keeps them from being able to enjoy a story set in a different type of book.
Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t characterize it as a disorder. I don’t like Russian fiction because I have a distaste for bleak books. Each person likes what she likes. I guess my concern is that we’ll get fewer richly-detailed books as more and more mainstream readers insist upon a fast-moving story. It’s not just general fiction titles that are suffering from the YA-minded reviews. Rachel Hartman’s beautifully-imagined, hauntingly wonderful Seraphina suffers the same fate. The book takes place in a fantasy world, and the beginning is an evocative introduction to the characters and setting. There isn’t a lot of action in the first section, simply because the reader needs to understand where she is. The entire book is more compelling because of that set-up. By understanding the characters and the world they live in, the reader has a stronger investment in the events of the story. Yet many of the book’s reviewers complain about the “slow” beginning.
I love YA. Some of my best friends are YA titles. I am, however, getting tired of all fiction being held hostage to YA expectations.
* For example, I can’t enjoy a book if there is an animal or child in potential jeopardy unless I know for sure the animal/child lives or dies by the end of the book. As long as I know what’s coming, it’s ok.