“Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.” – Ruth Graham
The value of young adult literature was attacked by Ruth Graham on Slate where she begins her argument by saying, “As The Fault in Our Stars barrels into theaters this weekend virtually guaranteed to become a blockbuster, it can be hard to remember that once upon a time, an adult might have felt embarrassed to be caught reading the novel that inspired it. Not because it is bad—it isn’t—but because it was written for teenagers.”
I won’t lie. As an emerging writer and scholar, I have had my fair share of opinions about young adult literature. If you were to walk up to me and tell me that you thought Stephanie Meyer was the single most amazing writer that ever lived, I’d ask you for your ID. Well, because I’d assume you were too young to have one, and therefor too naive to know good literature. I remember reading all of the Twilight series as a teenager. And as an adult, I think, that was entertaining, but god, was that bad writing.
But that’s what this all comes down to, isn’t it? What is good writing? Let’s take a little look at history to begin, shall we? Edgar Allan Poe, arguably one of the best short story and horror writers to have ever lived, was once a critic himself of literature. He was ruthless against his competition. Poe worked on several literary magazines in his time and was known for his passionate opinions. He was particularly not fond of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But what does that matter now? English students are made to study both of them as a part of the all-powerful literary canon. This isn’t the only case where a now famous author – considered to be one of the messiahs of the literary canon – was once regarded as a fluke in their own generation. Often, the canon consists of writers that were not originally the “popular” stuff of the day or those writers that were forgotten or never realized. How, then, can we judge the value of literature based on its intention or its popularity? The point is, we often cannot tell what will end up becoming what students are taught in classrooms fifty years from now.
We don’t know if in a few decades young adult literature will become a whole new faction of literary study. We don’t know the possible longevity of that prospect either. But I can say that C. S. Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – a children’s book – and he is considered one of the 20th century’s best authors. And he didn’t just write children’s novels. Lewis was a brilliant scholar and philosopher.
Neil Gaiman didn’t just write Coraline. J. K. Rowling didn’t just write the Harry Potter series. Sherman Alexie didn’t just write The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Here’s the deal, folks: young adult literature is a style all its own. Yes, it is geared towards children and adolescents. Yes, publishers look for certain qualities in a novel considered to be young adult. But the value of the literature has nothing to do with the audience. The value of what we read should be better concerned with the crafting of the words on the page and the reaction of the general audience to the quality of their emotions.