Art Child and I have discovered the joys of Netflix, and marathon-watching tv series. Earlier this week, we finished Buffy. I know it was hugely popular in its prime, but I had never seen it. I wasn’t much of a tv watcher until the last 7? 10? years. I’ll be honest, through the viewings of the first few seasons it was mostly me reading while Art Child watched. With the later seasons it caught my interest more. I don’t think I’d say this is a must-see series, but it was fun, and while I thought Buffy’s character was pretty much a yawn, I value the message of girl/female power and I did enjoy the way Spike’s character was developed.
Why am I talking about this? Because it occurred to me if this was a book–or more accurately, a book series, it would be Young Adult. That demographic of fiction that has experienced such a huge explosion of devoted readers (and writers) but holds absolutely no interest for me. So if Buffy was a written series, would I have enjoyed it? I don’t think so. If a book starts angsting in a way that makes my mind wander, I close the book. If I was watching this show without Art Child, I don’t think I’d have made it past the first season.
Between spending a lot of time, thought, and in conversation about the how and why of Fifty Shades of Grey being such a hit, watching this tv series, and watching Nerd Child navigate his junior year of high school, I’m thinking about this popularity of Young Adult fiction with adult readers. Regardless of what angle I use to approach, my overriding thought is, why?
I want to be clear, I am not bashing young adult fiction or young adults. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I like teenagers. It’s pretty damned cool watching my kiddos and their friends navigate the world, figure themselves out, develop their interests, values, priorities, and become adults. Young adult fiction can be light and fun or serious and thoughtful, general fiction to romance to sci-fi and fantasy, same as children’s fiction or adult. Of the first two novels that jump out out me when thinking of novels I read and loved this year, one had a woman in her forties as the main character, the other is written from the perspective of a 5 year old boy. But what makes young adult fiction young adult isn’t just the age of the protagonist, it’s the focus, the grappling with becoming, discovering who you are, losing your innocence and finding your place in the world–whether that world is in the South Bronx, a suburb in the midwest, or the planet XCTHRGH.
When I was a teen I read and loved Forever, by Judy Blume, and the works of Paul Zindel–My Darling, My Hamburger comes to mind. I wished there were more of these books and authors then, and I’m glad there are more for today’s teens. I haven’t been a teenager in a long time. Tastes change, interests change.
Being a teenager is hard. Dealing with high school is hard. I guess I think about it a lot because I’m-the-mama-that’s-why. Fun as it can be, parenting teens is hard. As an adult, I know this stage doesn’t last forever, though it feels that way. As an adult, I know things change, and growth and maturity have more to do with resilience and flexibility than anything else. I also know there’re a lot of pitfalls at this stage, pitfalls that can throw someone off course for the next 10-20 years (or more), pitfalls that if handled well can set someone up for a better life. Different choices make for some different challenges. Both of my boys went to high powered boarding schools on scholarship–one long graduated, one attending currently. It was a decision Husband and I made because we wanted them to have every opportunity possible, and we believed they could each handle the workload, responsibility, and independence. Along with these amazing opportunities and education is the early knowledge of exactly where you and your family sit on the socio-economic food chain, no parent on hand to provide chicken soup when you get sick, or help you out and run a load of laundry for you when you’re in the midst of finals. Did we make the right decisions? I think so, I hope so, but I still question it every day. As I recently told Man Child, the worst kept secret is that none of us know what we’re doing as parents, we’re all doing the best we can, trying to avoid the out and out worst decisions and not fuck up too badly.
Positive and negative, there’s built in conflict, drama, and emotion with teens. These are also musts with fiction to make it interesting. But honestly, for me, mama-ing teens is enough. Are there things I miss about being a teenager? I suppose. I miss that oddly emphatic combination of hope, swagger, faith and conviction that my adult life would be what I wanted it to be, complete with multi-book publishing contracts and boobs that would remain firm and resilient forever. Can I look back and recognize poor decisions I made, points when I wish I had gone right instead of left? Yup. Would I actually want to go back in time to do so? Not a shot in hell.
And I’m not looking to regularly settle into the head of a teenaged main character when I have me time for reading. An occasional foray, maybe. I don’t need the featured protagonists of novels I read to be direct reflections of me, i.e.: women who are forty thousand years old living broke urban lifestyles. I have friends of different backgrounds, ages, and experiences, so why limit my novels? I do need the protagonists and their conflicts to hold my interest, and for me, most fictional teens do not. When I read it, I loved White Oleander, by Janet Fitch. I wonder if it was published today, instead of in 1999, if it would be shelved as young adult. I think it’s likely, and I would have missed it. Yet I still don’t “get” what is it about these books–well written as many of them are–that is so compelling for many adults in their thirties, forties, and beyond that people are specifically seeking them out. I don’t often feel I have much to look forward to, but looking backwards isn’t my answer. Except, of course, for the music. I’m never growing out of the music I loved as a teen.