In the last day, I’ve been raging. Raging, I tell you. I don’t do anger often, it’s not an emotion that I’m particularly comfortable giving or receiving. I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of why I was angry because I talked about it on Twitter a LOT and because I don’t think it’s productive to rehash it. But I do want to address some of my takeaways from it because they’re understandable out of context and I think they’re deeply important.
I should not have to defend my love for YA literature by saying, “I read adult books too!”. I read adult books. I love adult books. I’m happy to recommend adult books. Get me talking about Sula by Toni Morrison, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht, Swamplandia by Karen Russell, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Blunt, or A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Mara and we’ll be talking so long our coffee will get cold. Or adult spec fiction! Have we talked about my unbelievable love for Rhiannon Held’s SILVER series? They’re the only werewolves I’ve loved. I LOVE those books. And I think Mira Grant aka Seanan McGuire’s Newsflesh Trilogy is basically the best thing since sliced bread.
But those books? They don’t “justify” me as a reader.
Reading justifies me as a reader.
I am a reader. I read about werewolves and zombies and parallel worlds. I read comic books and graphic novels. I read romance novels and I read historical novels. I read young adult literature in almost every subgenre. I read literary fiction. I bend over backwards for a good poetry anthology.
I am a reader.
We have to stop valuing some books over other books. We have to stop saying that a literary fiction book is a smarter book than a romance novel, or that an adult novel is smarter than a young adult novel. When we create a hierarchy of literature, we create a hierarchy of readers. We say that some readers are better readers than other readers.
This is not Animal Farm (see what I did there?). Some of us are not more equal than others.
We are all readers. Can’t we all be readers?
I love Young Adult lit. I can read Where’d You Go Bernadette again and go right back to Fangirl and then go right into United We Spy and feel like I, as a reader, came away a better person not because of one of them, but because of all of them. Because they are all books. They’re all stories. And stories, stories, are ultimately what we should value. Stories have value. Reading is valuable. Readers are all valued and valuable. That is the long and short of it.
Things I’m tired of hearing: “Do you write stuff other than YA?” “Are you going to write an adult book at some point?” “I feel like all YA is the same.” “You should write something else.”
All of this insinuates, and trust me, even if you don’t think it does, there are MANY other YA writers who can chime in and say they hear the same shit and feel the same way, that what I am writing now is lesser. Lesser because it’s for kids? Lesser because it’s for teens? Lesser because it’s young adult and now many people buying young adult are actually adults? I don’t know why. Lesser in some way. Because it’s not always literary (though there’s plenty of brilliant literary YA out there). Because I have the audacity to write a book with kissing and romance and a female point of view?
A book can be smart and commercial and include romance and kissing and be written for or about teens and include angst and a million other things. A “light hearted contemporary romance”, as some of us were discussing online a few nights ago, can be much harder to write than a dark dystopian novel. I think people who write flirting and kissing well are made of magic or something because I struggle through those scenes.
You do not have to write a literary novel for it to be smart.
Not all literary novels are smart.
A Young Adult novel does not have to act like an adult novel to be a smart and worthy book.
I want to write what I love writing and the stories I want to tell. Some of what I write is young adult. Some of what I write is new adult. Some of what I write is adult. The story tells me what it is. That’s all.
Just like what we read shouldn’t be hierarchal, what we write shouldn’t be either.
I don’t ask adult writers, “Um, are you going to write something else?” But I might.
Every time an adult fiction writer, or a poet, or a short story writer asks me if I’m going to write something else, I’m going to ask them when they’re going to write a young adult novel, or short story. Because then they will be forced to say, “I don’t write that.” Or, “my writing has evolved,” like young adult literature is a stepping stone on the path to literary fiction, the prehensile thumb of literature.
There’s a huge difference between improving writing (which we are all always working on, regardless of what category or genre we write) and suggesting that despite one’s best efforts and improved writing, they’re not writing well enough because they aren’t writing books that are “smart enough”.
Writers are writers. We all sit down on our butts (or walk on treadmill desks, which honestly I couldn’t do, not because I am lazy but because I can’t do two things at once). We all put our pens to the paper or our fingertips to the keyboard. We all revise. We all put stories down and feel defeated. We all feel victorious when we succeed. We all get rejected.
Writers are writers. We all tell stories because storytelling is in our blood. We as humans have a collective memory fine-tuned to tell stories. We learn through stories. We find solace in creating content, in dreaming up characters, in exploring worlds that have never existed until they moved from our heads to paper or screen. We all ponder and turn around questions about family and love, relationships and curiosities, good and evil, what makes people tick and what makes people go on when they cannot go on. We all begin writing by asking questions of ourselves and of our worlds and of our characters.
Writers are writers. We are all writers. Not a single one of us is more or less than another writer. Our worth is not in what we write or how much money we make but in the process and the writing. Our worth is that we continue to write, no matter what, despite everything.
We are all writers. We are all readers.
No one benefits when we tear each other down.
Here’s the truth of it.
1. I read Fifty Shades of Gray (Grey? Gray? I’m too lazy to google and I can never remember). I also read the other two. I own them! They’re on my nook. I paid money for them. And I’m okay with that. Excusing all the possible discussions about whether it was well written or whether it was BDSM or whether it was a healthy relationship, this is the value of Fifty Shades for this reader: it gave me permission to read smutty books. I NEVER read smutty books before Fifty Shades. But now I do. And I like them. And I think they’re fun. And I can’t regret that. As a reader, I found a permission slip in EL James’ trilogy. And that’s okay.
2. I think that hatred or disparaging commentary on Young Adult literature is frequently rooted in sexism. I think that people, both writers and readers, look at a book written for teenagers that might include kissing or romance and think that it can’t be a smart book. I think that people, both writers and readers, look at a book written from a girl’s perspective and find it inherently lesser in value. And they might not realize that’s what they’re saying or what they’re analyzing, but I think it’s a common pattern and the root of a lot of this. Look, I’m going to keep writing books with teenage girls who say like too much, who paint their nails and worry about their hair, and who kiss boys even when it shouldn’t the most important thing on their mind, because those girls? Can still be smart and wonderful and lovable and worthy.
3. Everyone carries their own baggage. After a year of feeling like I had to defend my book as YA and OK to be YA (It’s OK to be YA! is my next campaign), being told last night that I “was the problem with YA lit” was the straw that broke my back. I am tired of defending the types of books I read and the types of books I write. They are worthy, both of them, and if you can’t see that, the burden of changing your mind is now on you.
I am tired of trying to hold your hand to broaden your mind.
Broaden your own mind. Do your own work. Figure things out on your own. Be curious. Be less proud. Be humble. Be willing to read things that are different. Be willing to write things that are different. Be brave enough to be uncomfortable. Be brave enough to admit that what you read or what you write is not a measure of your worth against another reader or writer.