May 21, 2017

Slice of PIE: YA Lit and Actions Without Consequences!

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #3264. The link is provided below…
Adult & YA Fiction: The Once and Future Teen – Estimates are that 80% of readers of YA are adults. How might this mix affect the growth and direction of new fiction? And what is it about YA fiction that brings adults and teens back for more?

Carrie Vaughn – author of like seventy zillion novels, lots with werewolves and someone named “Kitty”
Ms. Rachel Neumeier – author of several fantasy series and lots of stories
Shanna Swendson – author of a dozen fantasies that are FUNNY
Todd McCaffrey – duh. Author of INHERITOR OF PERN…and others
Jane Ann McLachlan – A professional ethicist and author of a SF novel

Some background on ME:

I started reading science fiction in 1969 when I was in sixth grade. SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE and THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET. I don’t remember if I read anything after that, but the next year in junior high, I discovered John Christopher’s WHITE MOUNTAINS trilogy. At that point, I also found that I could continue the stories I’d read and create new ones with my own writing. In eighth grade, I was deep into Andre Norton, Robert A. Heinlein, Alan E. Nourse, and anything else I could get my hands on.

Graduating to Bradbury et al, I haven’t stopped since then and now I’ve got a few dozen professional publications as well as having HAD two novels published.

I discovered Anne McCaffrey’s PERN books long ago and read all of the ones she wrote – multiple times. I tried a few written by Todd, but they never seemed to have the intensity of character that the originals had. I haven’t read a Pern book in several years…

Also, I rarely read fantasy. After CHRONICLES, LORD OF THE RINGS, and THOMAS COVENANT, the fantasy I read can be counted on a couple of hands. I rely on my daughter’s fantasy recommendations, so I have read JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL, and the Garth Nix ABHORSEN series.

As to WHO I am? I’ve been a classroom teacher for 36 years; mostly science, often writing. I’ve been a school counselor for the past six years. I think I can say that I have some kind of lock on what young adults and teens like. I also read YA science fiction and fantasy as well in order to keep up on the market. I loathe what I’ve come to define as “teen-slaughter-porn” and that others call “teen dystopian literature” exemplified by THE HUNGER GAMES and the MAZE RUNNER series – they’re novels in which old man and women attempt to justify slaughtering teens by creating situations in which teen slaughter is the “only” solution to whatever problem the story has manipulated itself into. As you can tell, I hate these books because teens read them all the time. An observation is that this sort of reading is contributory to the incredible popularity of the Netflix Cash Cow, “Thirteen Reasons Why”. I’m waiting to see how they justify a second season of a series in which the main character is dead…

In any case, the questions:

How might this mix affect the growth and direction of new fiction?

Not at all. It’s been my experience that the teens I work with and who read for entertainment sample widely. They read “adult” lit as well as lit “aimed at them”. Most read under their age group as well. Lots of my juniors (16 going on 17) read the PERCY JACKSON books as well as manga, comic books, and books like THE FAULT IS IN OUR STARS, and PANDEMIC, HANDMAID’S TALE, and others. Truth is that the “lines” are blurred already. Programs for gifted and talented students are regularly assigned books like MASH, CATCH 22, as well as HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES and KITE RUNNER.

The fact is that there are very few novels written from the POV of old people. Of course, there’s Santiago in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA; Gandalf in LOTR; Merlin in THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING…but the fact is that the majority of characters in best sellers today are young. I don’t see that as changing much. In fact, “old teenagers” may be the ones driving the 80% of YA readers. Like high school juniors who reread the first HARRY POTTER books, they may be merely longing for their youth.

What is it about YA fiction that brings adults and teens back for more?

The speed of the story.

There’s very little pissing and moaning about growing old, or losing skills, or wondering if this is “right or wrong”. Teenagers are provably insane (THE PRIMAL TEEN, Barbara Strauch) and can pretty much do anything and the adults in their lives will just shake their heads and say, “Kids.” While there are consequences to behaviors – for teens, children, adults, and retirees – there appear to be fewer for teens. At least that’s how adults perceive it; broken hearts over a shattered three-month romance make adults roll their eyes, then warm up to a REAL LIVE heartbreaking story, “That’s nothing, kid! Wait ‘til you’re married for fourteen years and your husbandwife runs off with an eighteen-year-old bimbostud and leaves you with the kids and the mortgage and credit card debt up the yinyang! THAT’S something that’s worth crying over…”

In the world of the YA, stuff just happens with virtually no moral or societal judgement. How many people did Katniss kill? She’s a hero! How many other kids attempt suicide and get dead – while Hannah gets revenge on the whole world? How many did Percy Jackson slay to no consequence? (There’s actually a FAN list of his murders!

This is why more adults read YA than YAs read the stuff.

My personal opinion is all this is. It’s probably mislaid. Possibly Irritating. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure this isn’t what they talked about at the Con…and maybe it’ll spur you to thinking…


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