Archive: September 25th, 2010

I YA, Do You?

I just read this quote on an Amazon book review:

“Although the point of view shifts between many characters (with even the Coleman’s maid and cook getting their say, sometimes unnecessarily), Falling Angels is essentially the children’s story, since it is their lives that are most open to change. ”

(My added emphasis.)

It immediately made me think … more and more adults are reading books geared towards younger readers. (And, conversely, more and more YA books are expanding to include an older audience–think Harry Potter and Mockingjay.)

Speaking as an adult who has enjoyed reading MG and YA books since I was MG and YA, and has never actually given them up, this quote piqued my interest.

Why DO adults enjoy books for younger readers so much?

They’re safe, for one.

Even the books that acknowledge that The World can be a Scary Place aren’t usually too graphic or too consistently awful in the scope of the story. People might die, but not usually right in front of us. Or if they do, it’s not described as graphically as might occur in a book geared toward older readers. Ditto for sex and bad language. They appear, both of them, because they are part of Real Life, but not necessarily to the same, described to the last detail, degree as in, say, an adult romance novel.

The worlds in YA and MG (even the post-apocalyptic ones like Lois Lowry’s The Giver) tend to be real, but not quite so hard-edged as daily existence can be. It’s like the reader is standing in the doorway watching the harsh realities, but hasn’t quite entered the real world yet. You know, like television.

Nostalgia.

Those of us who have grown up, left school, and are just trying to make our livings, put food on the table, clothes on our backs, raise our kids, blah, blah, blah may well enjoy a look back to those halcyon days when the worst that could happen was that we’d get a failing grade in school, or that the bully might embarrass us during lunch. Even acknowledging that school isn’t the pastel-tinted wonderland we think we remember, as a rule, the consequences for most teen-aged mistakes don’t come with the same consequences as adult-aged mistakes. Teenagers aren’t usually responsible for the family finances, or for making the mortgage payments. (There are those that do, and certainly there are teenagers who are forced into being adults before their time because the adults in their lives aren’t cutting it. But, you know, generally speaking.)

But … other than that … that review has that line about “Essentially a children’s story since their lives are most open to change?

Sometimes I think that … gritty and harsh and devastatingly real though YA is these days … there is an element of possibility that’s not always available in adult fiction.

It’s a simple fact that, as you grow older, your options get smaller. I’m not saying that you can’t decide at 20, 50, or 80 to do something completely new. You can quit your job and join the circus; you can tell your family you’re stepping out to the grocery store and run off to Taiwan for a week. People remake themselves and their images of themselves all the time.

The difference, though, between doing it at 16 or doing it at 66? Two differences, actually. (1) Baggage and (2) Time. The older we get, the more memories and experiences we gather–good and bad. You might be less likely to bungee-jump off a bridge now if you’d had a bad experience years before. This, of course, is the point of wisdom–you learn from your experiences. The problem is that that wisdom can weigh you down, especially if you’ve found a good place in your life and know that one wrong step could demolish it.

And, of course, older people have less time to explore options than younger people. You can decide to become a neurosurgeon at 72 if you like, but it’s going to take time to learn everything you need to know, and the years you’ll be around to practice are (presumably) going to be fewer than someone in medical school at 23. Nobody knows for sure how much time they’ve got in their account, but we all know it’s going to run out eventually, and like any other resource, the rarer it gets, the more precious it becomes. Old people don’t have time to mess around, darn it!

Which makes books for children and teenagers particularly appealing. When you’re young, almost anything is possible. You can’t change who your parents are, or the situation you were born into, but you can almost always change your future if you try hard enough. When you’ve got your whole life ahead of you, you can change almost anything about your life. Maybe not your skin color, or your obnoxious little brother,or terrible things that might have happened to you, but … where you’re going, what your destiny is.

I’m an optimist, folks. I like to believe that anything is possible. And too many books written for adults are just bouncing from one disaster to another. They’re depressing.

Optimism is worth it.

I like books written for younger people because–even the post-apocalyptic, gritty, life-is-awful ones–tend to have at least a hint of faith that, no matter how bad things get, there’s always a chance they’ll get better. The good guys usually win, people are redeemed, life changes for the better. Not every adult-geared book does that. I can think of any number that left me feeling depressed at the end. A book that makes me feel hopeful for the future? A Godsend.