Friday, March 30, 2012

YA? Why Not?

The inimitable Ferrett Steinmetz, whose list of credits now includes a prestigious Nebula nomination, posted a link to a rather embarrassing New York Times piece that decried The Hunger Games as puerile trash.  Now, I agree with the columnist that The Hunger Games is worth about as much as a Thallid, but I fundamentally disagree with the contention that YA as a genre should be read only by, well, young adults.

This is a thallid, and no, it isn't worth anything.

Unlike the author of the New York Times piece, I've actually read most of the notable YA series, and the reason that Suzanne Collins' meal-ticket is bad is because it is sloppily written melodrama that has an infinitely superior contemporary work to compare to.

Since this is the Internet, and the Internet loves lists, here's a brief run-down of each YA "phenomenon" and the books your kids should be reading instead:




We'll get the obvious out of the way first.  I actually hugely enjoyed the last four books of the Potter franchise, and I have no qualms recommending them to children as an introduction to speculative fiction.  In fact, if Ms. Rowling would have actually had some intestinal fortitude and managed to finish the series the way it should have ended, there is every possibility that Hogwarts would have replaced Rivendell in my mind and earned an elusive "greater than" sign on this list.  But, sadly for all of us, she decided to crap the bed instead, and wrote an ending worse than ninety percent of her fan-fic community came up with.




Even excusing the obvious bias towards American authors, the reaction over The Hunger Games is pathetic and frightening.  In another New York Times piece, a different author celebrates the vitality of the YA genre, and praises it for its creativity, its revolutionary new plots and character types, and even its ability to reinvigorate wilted prose.  Apparently that author has never read any of the books on the right side of this list, or she would realize that YA is the most derivative, depressingly unoriginal miasma of rejected ideas that exists.



We could throw The Lord of the Rings back here again, but it is just as easy to make the connection between Anne McCaffrey's masterwork, and the valiant, but flawed first effort of fledgling author Christopher Paolini.  I've written before about my stance on recycling plots (for those too lazy to go through my archives, basically, I have no problem with it) but the key is to do it well.  You don't even have to change it at all, I don't care about your innovation, but if I get the classic trope, you damn well better write a very good story with crisp prose that goes down like well-aged scotch.



Here I have a confession to make.  I hate Twilight irrationally.  While I have coherent arguments to make against most YA best-sellers, Twilight just sets something off in me that makes it impossible to communicate without several expletives.  I'm doing my best here.  I could literally set Stephanie Meyer's disasterpiece up against any other human creation and it would be worse than anything I could find.  The writing is late-night coffee house bad, the plot has less action than a sloth documentary, and the characters are as bland as Irish cuisine during a famine.

I'm Wild and Passionate

I'm Brooding and Contemplative

I'm...a robot?

You get the point.  It is possible to go on forever.  But what I don't want to give the impression that I'm against adults reading literature intended ostensibly for children.  For me, I read YA because it reminds me of the old Greek classics.  The characters have simplistic motivations or none at all.  The plot is usually dynamic, but easy to understand.  And the writing is at about a third grade level, making the actual activity of reading the books more like doodling than deciphering ancient scrolls.*

If you disagree and want to debate the artistic merit of most YA novels, I'll back off and let you have your opinion, just know that I feel you are trying very hard to describe the rich, aromatic fragrance and spongy, but surprisingly palatable texture of your dog's most recent bowel movement.

Again, the Internet loves sensationalism and hyperbole, but I am not trying to lump all YA authors together and decry their production as juvenile garbage.  There are many writers who try their hand at young adult fiction that do a fantastic job of actually being original and creative.  It is just that the ones who do nab million dollar profits tend to not have been either of those things.

Ben Snyder apologizes to any one who has been missing the blog over the last few days.  He can't promise it won't ever go on hiatus again, but he will try very hard to update more frequently.  Stay tuned for Magic musings and writing issues.

*You probably don't think the Greek classics are written at a third grade level, but it depends on the translation, and the originals are simple enough that just about everyone in the audience would have understood them.

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