IAM Guest Post…You’re Never Too Old

Guest Feature

Guest Feature

Our featured author today is Clinton Harding, a regular visitor to the blog since we ran our first Indie Author Month in 2012. We recently hosted a week-long tour feature for Clinton celebrating the release of Book 2 in the Bad Monsters series. If you missed that, or any of his previous features and guest posts, you can check them out here

Back to today – Clinton’s shared a great post on the young adult fiction genre and why you’re never too old to enjoy great books…

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YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD…

 When you walk into a brick and mortar bookstore (the few left anyway) or browse Amazon’s list of new book releases and see books under the category “young adult” what do you expect to see? Most people will say the Twilight series of books, maybe The Hunger Games trilogy, or any other single or set of books with young adults or children as protagonists dealing with common growing pains on their way to adulthood. Now, name the target audience for these books. This is an easy one. People will roll their eyes and probably say, “duh! What section of the store are you in? Young adult.” I can hear the forehead slapping right now.

 I’m not sure the definition and categorization is correct here.  For one, I don’t believe young adult fiction is written specifically for one audience, let along one that is a less mature age group. Publishers Weekly reported in late2012 that 55% of people buying and reading these types of books are 18 years or older. I’ll buy that. A lot of my friends read young adult fiction, a couple prefer the stories to some of the “adult fiction available. Most of them were reading Harry Potter (not an “adult” fictional series) in high school when the books were just coming out and bursting into a cultural phenomenon, book that are targeted at children and not high school students or anyone older.

The young adult and children’s fiction genres have good quality reading options for readers of all ages. The writing style is generally simple, sure. Description of the setting, characters, the over physical sights in the novels are not verbose. Vocabulary is simplified. However, some of deepest world building can occur in these adolescent novels.  The narrative is rich. The characters are vibrant, individualized, fully formed.  Even without paragraph-length descriptions, novels like those in the Harry Potter series have wonderful , colorful characters that people fall in love with and the worlds they inhabitant are no less realized. These novels can tackle adult issues, sociological and political and relationships.

Going back to my original question… what aspects of the novel makes it young adult? Again, generally the age of the protagonists makes the difference. Teen protagonist saving the world, dealing with homework, bullies, dating, family issues… yup, that’s a young adult novel typically. If you’re an older reader, immersing yourself in those types of stories is childish by the standards of other people.  Same as wearing capes and tights is stupid and kid-stuff.Except for a few cases, of course.That’s the stigma that separates the genre and leads to hesitation in readers of a more mature age. Is the young adult genre childish, though? I don’t think so.

Orson Scott Card wrote in the eighties “Ender’s Game”. Originally considered an adult novel (first a short story published through the magazine “Analog”). It’s about an eight or ten year old boy named Ender Wiggin who is by all accounts a genius. Ender is sent to a military academy in space so he can learn the art of war and so later he and the other cadets can lead the fight against an alien race of insects that humanity is at war with.  The novel contrasts the lives of children and adults, how the adults treat children, how the thoughts and ideas of children are no less real than an adult’s own because a child can manipulate and destroy as easily as an adult but he or she is also capable more so of creating and helping. Overall, the novel explores compassion and cruelty and how the concepts relate to humanity and humanity’s treatment of each other and another species.

Deep stuff, right?And there is a lot more themes woven into the novel, I touched on only a few Card explored. Remember, though, “Ender’s Game” is about a boy who is about eight or ten years old. Originally “Ender’s Game” was marketed as adult science fiction. Later editions of the novel place it in the young adult category because of the protagonist’s age and that at its core the novel is a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story about a boys’ moral and emotional growth. Can adults enjoy the story? Of course. Can adults learning something from the story? Damn straight! “Ender’s Game” is sometimes suggested reading at military organizations, the United States Marine Corps is one such group. “Ender’s Game” is today enjoyed by adults and younger readers a like without discrimination and despite its categorical labeling.

Another example of young adult fiction with adult themes is the His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. A number of years ago the first book in the trilogy, “The Golden Compass”, was adapted to film and starred Nichole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Box office results did not garner the property a sequel. Too bad since the material asks questions about religion, free will and the right to knowledge and how that plays into freedom and a person’s maturity. Again, main protagonist Lyria is a maturing little girl and developing into womanhood so the series is considered young adult. Its themes, however, contradict the silliness and juvenile perceptions of what most people view as an adolescent novel. If the film had done better, His Dark Materials may have found a wider popularity and acceptance like Potter or Twilight.

Should adults limit their to-read selections to what the publishing industry and general public considers adult? After all, many adolescent readers do not stick to roaming the young adult fiction shelves. They branch out. Those who like horror will find their way to Lovecraft and King and McCammon and Matheson. Fantasy lovers will read Lord of the Rings, they’ll crack open Brooks, Jordan, Erikson, or Martin. When I was in junior high and high school I was reading adult fiction. Reading young adult never crossed my mind.  What’s more is that some of the great portrayals of child heroes/protagonists are in adult novels, stories that spin a tale of how the child establishes his or her moral footing and uses those convictions to face adult challenges.

Why are adolescents allowed to read adult-marketed fiction but adults cannot venture to read young adult? Probably because someone younger reading A Song of Ice and Fire or Tales of Malazan or “The Shining” is considered mature while an adult reading Potter or some other younger title is juvenile.

Labels are the problem. Humans love to label and put things into boxes so we know what to avoid and what is acceptable. We do it to each other, to our neighbors. Genres in fiction are labels.

I always encourage people to read or watch entertainment based on their enjoyment and not popular perception. Fads fade in this fast-paced, internet, information at your fingertips world. Good novels—regardless of being adult themed or young adult themed—don’t transform into bad fiction when the census decides it’s ready to move on to the new/next shiny, noisy attention grabber.  Harry Potter—in my humble opinion—will remain a favorite of so many people because of its readership’s genuine love for the material, because the stories are good, because Rowling wrote something special. That young wizard turned on a generation to reading. Roald Dohl wrote memorable fiction that stand the test of time, regardless of the generation.  Multiple generations know about and enjoy “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “The BFG”, and “Matilda”. Lord of the Rings is another example where generations later people still love the books long after the author has passed and the first generation with him, it is the introduction of many to fantasy novels.

Good fiction is a category of its own, the only category that matters.

 

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6 thoughts on “IAM Guest Post…You’re Never Too Old

  1. Great post, Clinton. I’ve seen subdivisions of YA creeping in over the past few years – New Adult, Mature Young adult, etc, but as you say, in the end the labels mean nothing.

    I read books for the characters and the tales they have to tell me. The age of that character is the least interesting thing about them to me.

  2. Thanks, Tony. It’s funny. When I was a teen I never really sought out “age” appropriate books. I always looked for books with fantastic characters and plots I could relate to. Stephen King’s “It” really spoke to me when I was in high school. I was a misfit and King seemed to speak directly to me through Bill and the rest of the Losers’ Club.

    Joe Abercrombie, the King of Grim Dark, is releasing his first YA novel and he has some good stuff to say about the use of “YA” to define books and how there is not much difference between YA and adults fiction. http://www.joeabercrombie.com/2014/03/10/he-killed-the-younglings/

  3. Great guest post! I love this subject, because when I got into high school, I kind of went straight from reading kids books to adult books because (as a lover of historical fiction) I had a hard time finding anything in YA to satisfy me apart from a few things. However, after I graduated and turned into less of a fuddy-duddy since my brain was fried, I really started eating up YA for the very reasons you mentioned. Now that’s mostly what I read. I will admit it goes in spurts of good and not so good stuff, but there’s always something new and interesting to try.

    • It’s really wonderful how much good YA material there is today for middle schoolers and high schoolers, material that will transition and encourage them into the heavier (seeming) fantasy and science fiction that is actually not so. Those authors who respect younger readers and treat them as adults are helping blur that line.

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