The Young Adult Novel Apocalypse: Authors Exploit the Genre

Diana Dudenhoeffer, News Editor

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J.K. Rowling spurred the explosion of today’s young adult genre back in the late 90s with the release of the first Harry Potter book.

       She had to go to several different publishers —at least 12, according to The Guardian—because her story was repeatedly rejected.

   And it wasn’t because the publishers didn’t like the story. They were worried that the books would never sell, says the fandom-journalist site Hypable.

   Christopher Little, Rowling’s first agent, told The Guardian that publishers feared nobody would read Harry Potter because, they reasoned, it wasn’t relatable to an adult audience.

   Before Rowling, there wasn’t much of a Young Adult genre, and this is likely due to the same reasons why Rowling had to face so much rejection.  No company saw any profit in publishing a book that catered to such a small demographic of 12-18 year-olds.

   Although I’m glad that Rowling had determination to put what would become one of the most beloved book series of all time on bookshelves, it’s understandable that these publishers didn’t want to take the risk.

   Teens didn’t have their own genre before the last couple decades.  Books were published for children, and books were published for adults.  Before the late 90s, students read classics like Gatsby and Catcher in English classes, and any leisure reading was made for the grownup audience.

   Books like Gary Paulson’s Hatchet or like Hinton’s The Outsiders (she was 17 when her book was published, funny that) are some of the earliest examples of YA fiction, but few others wanted to write fiction for specifically young people because there was no demand for it.

   Rowling set the precedent for  young adult literature by showing everyone how much money you can make by creating something that teenagers want to read.

   Ever since Rowling’s immense success, there was an outbreak of young adult books.  Authors like John Green, David Levithan, Rick Riordan and Veronica Roth—all names you can find on our library’s shelves—have emerged as some of this generation’s most successful writers.

    YA literature has become the bottom of the barrel for books; publishers are using the genre as  loophole for authors who aren’t good at writing to get something published.

   Recycled plot lines, laughably bad dialogue and character arcs as flat as old Pepsi are only some of the many crimes against literature that run rampant throughout these god-awful books.

Joyce Carol Oates, American author with hundreds of published novels, short stories, poems and essays, said in an interview with the Michigan Quarterly Review that young adult writing takes a special kind of skill.

“[My editor] Tara encouraged me to write a young adult novel, which, for me, became an experiment in genre: how to present a narrative in the most succinct and dramatic way, relying mostly upon dialogue, a minimum of interior narration, virtually no description, exposition, or background. In adult fiction, the act of describing, for instance, a high school cafeteria could be a tour de force of sharp, sensory writing, but a young adult editor will simply cross out such a description with the gentle admonition: ‘Teenagers know what a high school cafeteria is, you don’t have to tell them.”’

   Oates may be right that good Young Adult fiction is dramatic and succinct, but much of the young adult books published these days aren’t on par with the leading authors of our generation.

   Rowling’s use of installments was artful, masterful and added to a gripping plot.  C.S. Lewis and George R.R. Martin have also used installments tastefully.  But  the rise (and plague) of series has become just another way to copycat Rowling’s successes.  It’s become less about writing impactful and thoughtful literature and more about making up new ways to keep making money.        One of my biggest problems with this genre is that it is insulting to our intelligence.  YA authors have this nasty habit of censoring themselves all the time.

   Do these authors think we don’t know what sex is?  Do they think that they are doing us some great service by only alluding to all the dirty things that teenagers do?  Young adult books should be as honest and real as the lives of those reading them.

   The Young Adult genre has become an outlet for middle-aged writers to reminisce about their high school experience.  While this style may be suitable for memoir writing, it’s not entertaining when placed in a modern setting with fictional characters in a slice of life plot line.

   Forty-year-olds do not know what the current high school scene is; they like to impress their ideas on what they think high school is like on their story and pass it off as real.

   Oates was right when she said that high-schoolers know what a cafeteria looks like.   There’s a special shared experience between students.  It’s a mutual language that we all know, and authors are making it all too obvious that they don’t speak the tongue.

  What are teenagers all about?  Their phones!  Let’s write all of our stories with a heavy reliance on texting and email in order to dig ourselves an even deeper grave.  Books that use threads as a means of carrying a plot makes a story boring as hell.  If i wntd 2 read txt lk ths (which is NOT how teenagers text, John!) id skrrt skrrt rite on ovr 2 twitter lol.

   This plot device-y way to make characters seem more hip and trendy falls short nearly every time and leaves readers bored, confused and a little uncomfortable.  This heavy reliance on technology in order to make a book seem more modern is a glaringly obvious crutch for someone lacking talent in writing dialogue.

   Our great-grandchildren will still be reading Mark Twain and Mary Shelley when they’re in school. Cassandra Clare who? Stephen Chbosky what?  Young adult books exist only in the present and have no literary merit to keep them relevant in the future.