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.
I can’t speak to those in their 30s, 50s, and other, being 24 myself, but I can say I relate more to YA than I do to adult fiction. I’ve found that from the many adult books I read, I’m falling in love with the stories, not the characters. I can’t relate to them. One of those reasons I’m betting is because emotions can sometimes be more bottled up, or I don’t see the motivation behind actions. I relate to YA because of that feeling of not really knowing where things will go. I’m still there. Yes, I have a job. I pay bills. I don’t feel like an adult when I spend all night watching netflix. I don’t feel like an adult when I lose time because I’m consumed by a video game. Heck, now that I’m out of school, I have less worries and concerns than I did before. Yet, I am still as lost in this world. I’m still trying to find my place, just as YA characters are trying to find their place. So I can relate to them.
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That’s a good point, Ashley. While I don’t believe “adult” means finished (whatever that might mean), they say the brain is still growing and developing until age 26 (more or less). So at 18, 22, or 24, you aren’t a kid, it does feel different when you’re older, and those differences aren’t limited to responsibilities. We’re at opposite ends, you and I. I can appreciate and even enjoy certain young adult stories, but I don’t relate to them.
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I love the music, too, mrs fringe.
Your post is an interesting one. I’m looking at this topic through a different lens. I never had kids, the closest I got was teaching little ones. In truth, the only experience I’ve with teens was my own, and that, I never want to revisit. I was a miserable teenager. Still, there are aspects of my younger self that I miss. I was more adventurous then. More of a risk taker (which could have killed me, I know. Sometimes I’m surprised I made it through as unscathed as I did). I was slim and lovely, I didn’t need a drop of enhancement. I didn’t appreciate it then.
As to young adult fiction, I wonder about that, too. It’s everywhere, a strong, strong demographic and I often wonder if the novels I write, the characters I know so well are going to find a home with somebody. The stories I tell are less about young adults–discovering who they are, making their way in the world–and more about broader themes: good v. evil, maybe. Innocence v. whatever the hell is the opposite of that. Acceptance of oneself. Choices we make, why we make those choices, what the fallout from making them is. I guess all those things can be presented from a young adult’s viewpoint. I’ll let somebody else do that.
I have to trust that there’s an audience for the novels I write, a niche just waiting to discover my characters and their stories. Just as I trust there’s an audience for yours, mrs. fringe.
That’s why I always enjoy and appreciate your characters, kk–regardless of age, they are more about the broader themes. I think as not young adults, we see and appreciate the more far reaching fallout of the decisions made–good, bad, or indifferent. It’s hard for me to describe to younger people, it isn’t that we finish growing and evolving at a certain age/number, but there is a certain sense of self that develops over time–even with so many questions left unanswered. Like, say, when will you receive an offer? 😉 And thank you, as always. ❤
You’re welcome. Hell, we’re two peas in a pod in a lot of ways. I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m not as unsettled as I used to be. I’m not as concerned with trying to figure out what being a grown-up means, but where that will take me. More importantly, I have a greater sense now of where I want to go.
That’s something that resonates in my writing, what I hope to achieve there. The weirdest part for me is the fact that I haven’t really been writing serious fiction for all that long. Just four years or so. Before that, I did other things. I give younger writers like Ashley so much credit. I couldn’t have done it at her age. I wasn’t ready.
But I’m ready now. I’ve reached the point where I have confidence in my abilities to develop stories and write them well. I’m thinking they might actually take me somewhere. It’s possible, right? For both of us, I think. Just gotta keep plugging along, mrs fringe; keep our eyes on the prize, as they say.
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Agreed re the point in life, and def agree on giving younger writers credit. I wish I would have taken myself and my writing more seriously when I was younger. Well, maybe not myself, just my words. 😛
I have watched Buffy for the first few seasons but go tired of it after a while, just thought I would say that.
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I always appreciate your thoughts Joanne, thank you! 🙂
I expected your song to be Boston, you fooled me 😉
I loved Buffy when it came out, I watched it religiously for years (frequently on the phone with my brief best friend in high school). Then I got a job and frequently was working when Buffy was on, and that was that.
Adult books angst too, unfortunately, and it’s apparently only a certain flavor of angst I stomach well. In my reading, I’ve always read widely and deeply, hitting up Dickens and Twain when I was 10, frequently loving John Green nowadays.
😀 I thought about Boston. lol, don’t get me wrong, I loooove angst, but there’s a specific flavor to teen angst that stopped resonating for me a long while back. 🙂