The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Argument for Young Adult Equality

Written by: Beth Fred, Special to CC2K

CC2K contributor Beth Fred talks about why young adult fiction and adult fiction should be equally regarded in the literary world.

At twenty-five, I’m one of the youngest members of the staff at the law office I work for.  Although this is probably not surprising, the fact that the Twilight books are swapped, dealt, and passed back and forth may be.  What’s a group of overly educated women ranging from ages 25-55 doing reading middle grade books?

Well, the truth is a vampire falling in love with a human is not exactly a new concept—it’s even appeared in adult fiction more than once! The truth is if Bella had been a senior in college or a working adult rather than a senior in high school, then Twilight would be adult fiction instead of young adult fiction and no one would have a problem with educated adults being able to enjoy it.

How a book is classified makes little difference to me. If I drive to Barnes & Noble to buy it, I’m coming home with it.  But what does matter is that readers and writers of adult fiction seem to think that they are somehow elite to the readers and writers of young adult fiction which is absurd and ridiculous since they often cover the same concepts and address the same cultural or ethical issues.  

Lauren Groff reviewed the best selling Beautiful Creatures earlier this year and decided that while it had simplistic characters this was okay since it was not intended for a “more sophisticated” audience. She calls the characters simplistic because set in Gatlin County, South Carolina most of them drop the “G”s when they talk and fear the unknown. Having lived in the south my whole life, I can say while it might not be flattering it’s pretty accurate. But whether one book has simplistic characters or not really isn’t the point. Groff’s assumption that readers of young adult fiction are completely unsophisticated and need simplistic characters shows her sophistication.  She misses the point that because this girl’s family is different she is shunned by not only children but adults too. She is a nice girl, friendly and intelligent.  The people of Gatlin can’t accept her because her family are “Castors.” While there are few castor families that live in the South there are lots of minority families who aren’t always treated well, because they’re from places we don’t know and practice cultures we don’t understand! It’s a lot easier to read about when it’s about characters we don’t know! Groff, as unsophisticated as the readers of YA fiction are, you completely missed the cultural analysis that twelve years olds can see.

This is the most obvious case, but there are always people criticizing young adult books for not using teen talk, or being too developed.  But not all teens use teen talk, and some adults do. No one would ever complain that a writer of adult fiction hadn’t dumbed their work down enough. Yet such sophisticated readers of adult fiction can review a little “tweeny” novel and completely miss the theme!

I’m an adult with an English degree. I like magic but prefer to stay away from the risqué. I find my haven in young adult fiction. Granted, if you look hard enough you will find some books in this genre that no one other than a twelve year old could enjoy, but my husband hates ya and I could say the same about some of the books he reads!

More than once this year, I’ve seen a book that was once placed only in adult fiction on a table in the YA section. If there is a definitive difference in adult fiction and young adult fiction I can’t find it. The Mark Twain books were originally intended for young people, as was Alice Through the Looking Glass (Alice in Wonderland). Are these classics for the unsophisticated? We have this age old antic “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I guess I would add “Or its shelf.”