Your Mom Reads More YA Than You
If you’re in any way connected to me on the Internet, you probably know that my first young adult novel, Sister Mischief, was just released on July 12 by Candlewick Press. If you are A) an independent bookseller, B) a prominent book reviewer for a major publication, or C) a 16-year-old girl in love with her best friend, I’d really like to tell you about my book.
If you’re a mom with a blog, though, I’m going to assume you already know about Sister Mischief. Here’s why.
During my book-pushing TFT hiatus, a widely circulated article in the Wall Street Journal decried the emergent darkness in young adult fiction. According to Meghan Cox Gurdon, YA literature is now a phantasmagorical “hall of fun-house mirrors”, rife with “kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings.”
The argument that representing dark themes in YA provides more solace than despair to its target audience has already been well-articulated, so I need not reiterate the conviction that the considerable number of teens who have experienced some modicum of trauma in their lives might appreciate the literary assertion that they are not alone.
Unsurprisingly, no one summarized the argument better than Sherman Alexie, whose 2007 YA novel The Absolutely True Story of A Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award. Returning to the WSJ, Alexie retorted: “I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.”
What struck me about the WSJ debate was not whether or not YA veers into a damaging darkness; rather, it was the allegation that mothers are unaware of, or disapprove of, the current YA offerings. It was striking to me because, in my own experience promoting a YA novel, mothers have been some of the most ardent and vocal harbingers of what’s new and what’s next in the genre.
All you have to do to verify this is join a YA discussion on Twitter. One blogger who reviewed Sister Mischief tweets “Uh oh, one child has bitten the other. Summer squabbles. Until later!!” Another follower self-describes as “Writer — Young Adult fiction, short fiction, and blogs. Wife, mom, reader, football fan, news junkie, coffee addict.” Or another: “Campaigner, linchpin, concierge, reviewer, evangelist, book goddess, trail blazer. Wife, mother, musician, photographer.”
So, though I don’t doubt that many mothers out there are bemoaning the lack of good things for their children to read without indulging themselves in said reading, much more visible to me have been the mothers who are recommending books to their children. Mothers who don’t just screen what their kids are reading through a dust-jacket blurb, but who are requesting galleys, blog-reviewing new books widely, tweeting like gangbusters, and setting trends in the genre.
Tracking data like this is difficult if not impossible, but I’d be willing to wager these moms and other grown-ups are driving YA sales as much or more than teens themselves (plus, where do teens get their book-buying money, anyway?), and recent press would tend to support the theory. Even Flavorpill, that old hipster chestnut, published a list of “The 10 Best Young Adult Books for Grownups.”
There are two interesting things to know about contemporary YA fiction. One: YA is the only sector of the literary industry that is both making money and growing this decade. If you don’t believe me, believe the 30% upswing in YA sales during the peak year of the Great Recession, 2009. Last year the LA Times called the aughts “the golden age of YA literature.” Two: YA is uniquely female-driven.
Synthesizing these two facts, one might reach the conclusion that women spend money on entertainment that takes their interests into consideration. Enough money, in fact, to keep an entire genre in the black during the worst economic climate in recent history.
(Do you hear that faint whooshing noise? It’s the sound of the entire American mainstream film industry ignoring the above comment.)
Especially in the absence of other entertainment that caters to their interests, it’s not hard to imagine why some adults, especially mothers, flock to YA. When you’re covered in kid puke, haven’t had sex in five months, and are in the middle of explaining where babies come from to a five-year-old who throws wet Cheerios in your face in response, the simple escapism of reading a first-kiss story might be blessedly necessary.
So, while you may not follow her suggestions on the topics of jeans, how to find a boyfriend, or what is and isn’t acceptable Facebook usage, it may very well be time to ask your mother what she’s reading.
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