Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why I Read YA

Lately--lately, in this instance, meaning always--there are some opinion pieces making the rounds comparing YA books to

Sometimes my dad tells me that he likes my books and he thinks I have real talent, and he thinks I really could write a real book. He asks me when I'm going to write the

I'm currently a senior year English major. You have no idea how many people I know whose big goal is to write the great American novel. In class, I read great piece of literature after great piece of literature and I really, genuinely like some of them. I do. But when it's time for me to curl up with something I'm actually looking forward to? When stretched out on a towel on the beach or balled up crying on my bed and I need that book, it's Melina Marchetta or Amy Reed or Steve Brezenoff or David Levithan or Jaclyn Moriarty, to name a few. It's YA.

People used to ask me if I would write
when I grew up.

I am twenty-one-and-one-half as of last Friday. I'm not saying I'm ancient (I'll leave that to my infant girlfriend) but I'm unquestionably outside of the YA age group. I know I'm far from the only adult reading YA, and I don't know if it's my on-the-cusp age or my body of work or my major that has people so fucking confused by the fact that I care a lot more about stories about girls by their lockers than about men who want to fuck their sisters (what up, Faulkner, write a different book why don't you).

And see, that there is part of it. When my dad asks me why I haven't written that great American novel, I have totally told him, "Because I'm a Jewish girl."

There are some fucking fantastic literary ('what the fuck is literary anyway?' is a topic for a different post and a better writer) adult books written by women, but, um...where are they? Ohhh that's right, they're being ignored and shoved aside by literary purists just like YA books are! Come sit with us, ladies, our table is ever-expanding.

I've mentioned this before, I think, but I had a teacher in high school who once said to me, after Break sold, "I just feel like there's a level of depth missing in YA books, you know?" in this thoughtful voice like she expected me to agree.

Well, you know what? No, I don't fucking know.

There is a reason adults come back to these high school stories, and it isn't a reason I can figure out how to articulate. But it's the same reason people who very much aren't teenagers love Glee and Friday Night Lights. There is something enduring and universal about these stories.

And there is something twisted and weird and personal and so, so not monolithic. And while we're still working on the diversity-of-characters thing (and trust me I am giving myself a get-out-of-fucking-nothing-free card, I have written waaay too many books about white boys to get off scot-free--I mean, I love my books, but write a fucking Asian girl, hannah) we have a ever-changing, ever-evolving body of authors. 

And I get that literary canon moves a lot slower. I get that.

But maybe it means literary canon needs to shut the fuck up a little bit. Because this isn't 1950 and writers aren't (just?) impotent men with typewriters and dark rooms and alcoholism and complexes. Writers are moms and teenagers and gay boys and black women and Jewish girls trying to tap out a blog post while the aforementioned infant girl watches RuPaul's Drag Race. 

Maybe it doesn't have to be such a fucking art all the time. Maybe I shouldn't be getting a degree in this shit. Maybe I just don't get it.

Maybe I should go back to just reading my little YA books on the beach or balled up in my bed.

God, what a fucking waste that would be!

When I was a sophomore, a creative writing teacher told me that after he finished his
he wanted to write some really commercial book about zombies. What a fucking joke, right! A real writer deigning to write about zombies!

Last month I ran into a girl from that class who has him again this semester. I asked if he'd finished his great American novel yet.

He has not.

My zombie book came out ten months ago.

(I love the taste of brains in the autumn. Tastes like legitimacy.)