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YA Fiction Snobbery Needs to Stop. Right now.

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YA Fiction Snobbery Needs to Stop Blog Header

In spite of wild commercial success, it’s fair to say that YA fiction snobbery has lingered on the horizon for quite some time now. Sometimes it comes from the more literary circles, other times simply from trolls, which is what Beth @ Booksnest experienced recently.

Even Samantha Shannon, author of the highly successful Bone Season trilogy addressed the very-real topic of snobbery towards YA fiction only a few years ago.

Trumped perhaps only by so-called ‘chick lit’, YA is probably one of the more frowned upon genres of fiction, despite – or perhaps because of – an enormous readership and commercial success.

But why exactly is this?

Why YA Fiction Snobbery Exists

Ageism

There’s a bizarre shibboleth, expressed more often than not by our wizened peers, that certain hobbies or types of media are designed exclusively for a particular age range. 

Once you’ve passed the arbitrarily designated threshold, you’re no longer allowed to read said books, or play video games, or consume certain kinds of media that are deemed too ‘childish’ by the enlightened.

The inherent absurdity of this position is laid bare once you ask the accuser who they think creates these types of media. 

Are video games designed by a focus group of seven-year-olds? No, they’re designed by highly qualified developers and graphic designers, with soaring OSTs composed by actual, well, composers. 

Likewise, books for all ages are written (mostly) by adults passionate about their craft. It’s therefore time that we let go of this vacuous framing of overtly ‘children’s books’ vs ‘adult books’.

Here I must call upon our old friend CS Lewis, one of the fathers of fantasy and an author who, if writing today, would certainly be considered a YA author. 

Addressing the notion of perceived childishness, Lewis wrote this stinging rebuke:

“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence...

CS Lewis hates YA Fiction Snobbery
CS Lewis hates book snobbery. Totes. For reals.

...But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

This perception of being ‘grown up’ from those who engage in snobbery against YA fiction seems, to me, to be a vacuous one.

Literary Pretence

I’m not sure that this group is nearly quite as large as others make out, but it’s certainly a rather vocal sect. There is an element of snobbishness in self-proclaimed literary circles about genre fiction and, by extension, YA fiction.

Ruth Graham, for example – a correspondent for the New York Times – once wrote that adults who read YA fiction ought to ‘feel embarrassed’ for reading books ‘written for children’.

Fascinating.

The general cut-and-thrust of the article, which (to be fair) isn’t without some fair points, is that YA fiction is largely simplistic in comparison to more ‘adult’ books and that readers of YA are stunting their reading growth. 

However, I’m not sure that this is particularly solid ground. 

I’m no scholar of YA literature, and indeed I personally get a lot more enjoyment from classics and literary fiction, but to take The Hunger Games as just one popular example – it’s hardly a simplified, ‘childish’ novel. And I don’t just mean the murder. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy raises a wealth of moral, ethical, and social issues in a fairly mature manner.

It’s intellectually dishonest to claim YA fiction has no depth, in the same way that it would be absurd to claim that James Joyce’s writing is nonsensical drivel. Perhaps it appears to be so on the surface, but if you’re a half-decent reader, you’re presumably capable of reading between the proverbial lines.

Is it more beneficial to read different kinds of genres? Sure. Confining yourself to only certain kinds of writing limits your perspective – and you’re missing out on some really great literature.

But ultimately, we read for pleasure, right? And there’s a vibrant community of readers who derive an enormous amount of pleasure from YA fiction. 

Life’s too short to worry about what other people are, or aren’t, reading.

'Tropeyness'

Yes, YA fiction is quite tropey.

Whether it’s ‘the chosen one’, ‘enemies to lovers,’ or the dreaded love triangle – it’s not unfair to point out that YA fiction has its fair share of tropes. 

But here’s the thing – some people like these tropes. And quite a lot of people really like them. Goodreads has entire shelves dedicated to trope fiction because, ultimately, they’re comfort-reading for a certain type of reader.

YA fiction helps its readers navigate the often complex landscapes of identity and belonging – more so than other types of writing. And no matter the age of the reader, this is pretty important. After all, one doesn’t cease learning about one’s self purely by passing the vague threshold of adulthood.

And of course, it’s still reading. I’m not sure it’s anyone’s place to doubt or ridicule another’s preferences.

So, own your love of YA fiction and enjoy what you enjoy reading – you don’t owe anybody anything and it’s nobody else’s business.

Juvenility lies purely at the door of the accuser.

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