A while back, I came across a friend’s Facebook post that said the following: “Read whatever you want, but you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.” The friend who posted the slate.com article by Ruth Graham added this note: “Yes, I am putting this up mainly because I know how people will react to it.” As expected, a lot of people posted comments. Some agreed with Graham’s argument that grown-ups should be embarrassed to read young adult literature, including a high school teacher who claimed she only read YA books to “keep current” with trends; however, most responded as I expected they would—opposed to the argument. And yet others fell comfortably in between, “kind of” agreeing with the author. I did not fall into that category.
As a “defender” of the genre, as Graham puts it, I disagree with her point that “YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way.” In the article she says, “It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life […] but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults.” As a college teacher, I use YA fiction in the classroom with students who are typically outside of the 12-17-year old target market, and the way my students and I engage in YA lit simply does not adhere to Graham’s theory of “abandoning mature insights.” In fact, it is quite the opposite. We read YA to explore new and layered perspectives and to consider themes of identity, sacrifice, spirituality, and social injustices through a new and/or comparative lens. I’ve used many YA titles in my composition classroom to open up discussions on relevant and current topics, and I am not ashamed nor am I embarrassed. But apparently I should be?
Also, according to Graham, adults should not be reading YA because “the list of truly great books for adults is so long.” I agree about the list being a long one, but the list of truly great YA books is really long too: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Speak, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, The Outsiders, Maus, Persepolis, The Giver, The House on Mango Street, The Book Thief, The Catcher in the Rye, The Pigman, The Chocolate War, Looking for Alaska… Some of these titles I missed out on as a teen, so does that mean I shouldn’t read them now because I’m an adult?
What do you think? And, which titles would you add to this list?
Here’s the link to the article if you’re interested: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/06/against_ya_adults_should_be_embarrassed_to_read_children_s_books.2.html