Recently Joel Stein, who writes for Time Magazine, wrote a scathing article chastising adults who read YA books, saying such books were for kids. “The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading The Hunger Games or a Twilight book.”
Using Horton Hatches the Egg as an example (but by inference lumping in all YA books) his rationale was that a YA book “doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature written for people who have stopped physically growing.”
And finally he yells to the heavens, “I’ll read The Hunger Games when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.”
He admits he has no idea what The Hunger Games is about because he hasn’t and won’t read the book. That’s like saying you won’t eat peanut butter without ever having tasted it.
YA books are not solely for kids. Hell, Stein never even defines “kids” for us. One has to assume since he attacks The Hunger Games and Twilight that he’s not referring only to elementary or middle school readers. Young Adult literature is just what the term implies: those in their teens and even their early twenties.
Adults (even those who can no longer remember their teen years) can most certainly enjoy The Hunger Games. It has all the elements Stein wants in an “adult” book: depth of language and well-crafted characters. The Hunger Games also deals with adult themes (an oppressive autocratic government which can imprison, even kill its citizens without due process) that adults of any age can appreciate.
Stein assumes the books written for adults he will read before he touches a YA book are all well-written. We all know that’s a crock. Many books written for adults are quite simply a waste of paper. Many are poorly written. Just as many incorporate poor characterization. In any novel the reader wants characters to come to life on paper; three-dimensional characters with strengths and flaws. Some the reader will sympathize with. Others the reader may detest and hope for their demise. Just because a book is written for adults there is no guarantee the reader will care about the characters if they are not properly developed. Those who traipse across the page in The Hunger Games or the Harry Potter series are well-crafted three-dimensional characters the reader cares about. Why? Because the books are well-written and appeal to tweens, teens, adults and old geezers (and geezettes).
Stein says books are “one of our few chances to learn” and infers that one can’t learn from a YA novel. Since (from what he says) he hasn’t read YA novels such a blanket statement is ludicrous. Many YA novels give the reader just as much of a chance to learn as those written for adults. And, there are any number of books written expressly for adults that don’t teach anything. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. Why can’t adults read books solely for enjoyment or as a means to escape a dreary life?
I’ve written both novels for adults and a YA series. I don’t dumb down the writing of my YA books. Since I want to get them read in schools I don’t use profanity or sex in my YA series. But I do tackle adult themes such as honor killings, a society that demands women be submissive and slavery in my Shamra Chronicles. They are written for teens but can be enjoyed by adults, as well. And, you can learn as much from my series as books written expressly for adults.
Stein never defines what he considers “kids” books (I wonder if that might be considered poor writing?). Are graphic novels “kids” books? If so would Stein refuse to read Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” which deals with a Holocaust survivor and just so happened to have won a special Pulitzer Prize?
Stein needs to get off his high horse and look at books in their totality. There are exceptionally well-written YA novels just as there are thousands of books written for adults that . . . well, suck. A good book is simply that: a novel that grabs the reader and refuses to let go regardless for whom it was written for. I’ve read The Hunger Games and enjoyed it immensely and I ain’t no kid. I pity Stein for what he is missing by refusing to read YA novels. Then again, maybe he is getting just what he deserves.