Rants About Rants About YA
That got very Inception-y. RANTS INSIDE OF RANTS INSIDE OF RANTS INSIDE OF… anyway.
I see a lot of “rants” about YA floating around the Internet and in my real-life bookish existence. I notice some very similar threads that run through these rants to the point that I can pretty much predict, point-for-point, what they say before I even read/hear them. Of course, every single person who gives one of these rants seems to think they’re are the ONLY ONE SEEING REASON, but such is the nature of criticizing things you haven’t read, I guess. NO ONE HAS EVER THOUGHT OF THIS BEFORE!!!!!
The points aren’t always in the same order, but they’re as follows:
1.) TWILIGHT SUCKS AND IS THE LITERAL WORST THING TO EVER HAPPEN EVER
2.) YA shelves are full of paranormal romance Twilight knock-offs and also Hunger Game knockoffs and literally. nothing. else. of. substance. Also Harry Potter?
3.) I mean, and John Green. He’s okay I guess. He exists alone in a sea of insipid girlish derivative nonsense.
4.) Every single YA protagonist is drippy/whiny/stupid/boring/weak/AN INFURIATING GIRL UGH.
5.) It is all poorly-written drivel (except for John Green I GUESS) that is destroying literature as we know it because no one ever reads or writes good books anymore at all ever. It’s destroying teenage braaaaains.
6.) Every single one has a love triangle that turns teenage girls into hormonal silly-heads who can’t read critically and are just obsessed with TEAM BOYS! GROSS!
Look. I will never, ever, ever defend all YA literature as being perfect golden untouchable literature. The category has a lot of duds and a lot of problematic content. I myself am a critical reader, and I encourage and respect criticism of problematic or poorly-drawn themes in YA books. If people want to discuss the elements of rape culture present in TWILIGHT and HUSH, HUSH, or talk about the problematic “generic Asian-ness” of books like STORMDANCER, I’m right there with you. I am 100% in favor.
But that’s not what these sorts of rants are. These sorts of rants are “for some reason, the popularity of YA really cheeses me off even though I barely touch the stuff and I feel the need to make some generalizations about how it’s destroying what I think should exist in its place.”
It drips of condescension, lady-hate, and flat-out misinformation. I mean. I kind of can’t believe people are STILL harping on Twilight. Twilight hate is way passe, you guys. The first book came out in 2005 and the last was released like four years ago. The movies are over. It’s done. Let it go. You want to talk about the lasting cultural impact, fine, but for Holy Roly’s sake, can we stop with the “TWILIGHT IS THE DOWNFALL OF PUBLIC INTELLIGENCE.” Really. Cut it out. It’s a pop culture phenomenon like THE DA VINCI CODE. Anyone talking about that anymore? Did it prevent the release of other better-written bestsellers? No.
Likewise with The Hunger Games. Even moreso with Harry Potter. Basically, if these are your “examples” when you’re ranting about YA, I tune you out, because it’s clear you haven’t actually read much of it. This is pretty much true of anyone who lambasts entire classifications of books by citing only uber-popular mega-sellers.
Regarding YA being “largely comprised of paranormal romance knock-offs” or “dystopian romance knock-offs,” I also roll my eyes and tune you out. Sure, there’s derivative stuff. There always will be. Deal with it. It’s there because people wanted more. There are literally hundreds of non-PR and non-dystopian books released every year. If you actually cared about finding “the good stuff” instead of just whining about how it’s all the same (like, I don’t know, all the other sections of the bookstore?), you’d have an easy time of it.
And ah, the inevitable nod to John Green as being the beacon of “good” YA. I like John Green. I think he tries to do good things and write good books. I respect that. But I notice no one ever mentions Laurie Halse Anderson, or Margo Lanagan, or Melina Marchetta, or Laini Taylor, or Holly Black, or David Levithan, or the dozens (if not hundreds) of other authors that write with the same (or better) skill. I think Mr. Green himself would disagree that he alone is representative of “the best” YA has to offer. I like to think he’d also severely frown at the casual sexism tied in with slamming what are overwhelmingly female-authored books and then giving a nod to one lone dude.
This just leads right back into my hypothesis that people composing these rants don’t actually READ any YA. They know who John Green is because John Green is a very popular YA darling. They just like to whine about how much “everything else” sucks.
Then there’s the inevitable implication that every girl heroine in every YA book is a paint-by-numbers copy of the same simpering blank slate. All I really have to say to this is lolololol no. Read more. I can barely muster up the energy to point out that it’s so easy for people to tear apart “weak” female heroines with low-self esteem, but they’re apparently fine with the bland/whiny/infuriating/similar male heroes from their favorite stories.
And YA literature is going to be literature’s downfall! I love it! You guys, literally no one has EVER EVER EVER stated that a certain method of printing books or writing books or a specific classification of books is dumbing down society in droves and literature is dying! Isn’t it so WEIRD that literature persists and there are still great books? That’s nuts, right?
Because everyone knows the existence of less-than-spectacular prose in some novels precludes the good stuff from existing or being written anymore. This is the same line I see from people tearing their hair over FIFTY SHADES. Oh no, publishers will ONLY PUBLISH SHITTY FAN FICTION-BASED EROTICA! They will NEVER PUBLISH PULITZER PRIZE WINNERS AGAIN! It’s okay, little sparrows. Maybe it’ll help to pull your head out of that elitist butt and breathe a few times.
People said this about fantasy. They said it about contemporary classics. They said it about science fiction. I’m pretty sure they said it about Shakespeare. Newsflash: just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s going to RUIN EVERYTHING YOU LOVE. Chill.
I mean I’m not even touching the fact that you’re trying to dictate which literature can and can’t enrich people’s lives, but whatevs.
Now, this last one is one of my FAVORITES. I simply adore the demonization of the sexuality of teenage girls. It’s the best. Shhh, you guys, don’t tell the fandoms, but did you know that getting excited over cute boys means your brain is too addled with hormones to understand or appreciate other elements of literature? It’s true! They can’t coexist. And I mean, it’s terrible that some people might be figuring out what they’re attracted to and exploring their sexual being as teens. Ick. They can’t read things that EXCITE them, you guys. It’s not good. Where’s that copy of THE SCARLET LETTER? They need more heavy-handed metaphors couched in dry-as-hell prose! SHIP THIS, LITTLE GIRLS.
So. That was my rant about rants about YA. If you want to read and criticize YA books based on their actual content, I fully encourage that. I’ll probably read the shit out of it. But if your rant consists of any of the aforementioned points, all I hear is “wonk wonk wonk.”
It’s… so beautiful…
I hear people say all the time ‘That’s for girls’—‘that’s for TEENAGE GIRLS’ in a way I never hear them say ‘That’s for middle-aged men.’ What you end up hearing is ‘These books have cooties all over them!’ and frankly that isn’t charming even when you’re five: by the time you’re able to read books all by yourself you should have cut it out.
Also, yay for a mention of Holly Black. If I could let just one person keep writing YA, if there could be only one YA writer to rule them all, I’d pick Holly Black: then of course I would start a protest demanding the return of our right to write YA, but at least I’d be somewhat comforted knowing that Holly Black had the situation in hand.
And heroines, of course: I remember seeing one ‘feminist blogger’ go on for yards about the dreadful ladies, and when I coughed and said ‘the gentlemen, though’ she was like ‘I just can’t talk about those, they make me too mad.’ But the ladies, she could talk about. And all the dreadful lady writers of YA, naturally. But the faults of gentlemen… let us preserve a dignified silence on that topic. Unless it’s ‘he’s awful… SO REALLY, LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT LIKING HIM SAYS ABOUT HER. DOUBLE AWFUL.’
Would The Fault in Our Stars have got the attention it did if written by Jane Green, with a delicately tinted pink cover of a girl looking a little dieful, and maybe some pale stars winking out between the word ‘Stars’ and her alabaster brow?
And lettuce not forget that ladies having sexy feelings is just the worst. Instantly devalues all literature! Ladies being sexy OBJECTS is okay, that stuff’s high art, but ladies having their OWN sexy feelings (do they think they’re PEOPLE?) instantly means a book is trashity trashy ‘escapist’ drivelly girly trash.
Gosh, I talked a lot to say: I agree with a lot of this, and isn’t it uncomfortable how clearly much of this YA critique is coming from a dark and disturbing place?