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Young Adulteration

By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  September 21, 2011

Later that month, Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix, co-authors of a YA series called the Magnolia League, wrote a lighthearted piece for Slate in which they talked about how comparatively easy and profitable it is to write fiction about magical Southern debutantes for preteens — or, as they put it, getting "good money to be literary predators and come for people's children. Only we do it with a nice marketing campaign." A significant number of commenters lambasted the writers for being irreverent and suggesting that the task of writing YA fiction wasn't always a deathly serious undertaking.

Of course, there are few things more compelling in American life than Our Children and The Market. To talk about YA literature as an adult is to engage meaningfully with both.

In a way, this gives it a leg up over the some adult commercial fiction — when a grownup reads Nora Roberts, she's just another romance reader. But if she picks up Twilight, she's tapping into the zeitgeist.

Eugenia Williamson can be reached at ewilliamson[a]

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14 Comments / Add Comment


I just want to comment that in "Room" the girl wasn't raped by her father, but a stranger who kidnapped her and fathered her child (via all the rape).
Posted: September 22 2011 at 2:23 PM

Megan Frances

Thanks for this fascinating and insightful analysis of the YA genre.

<a href="">On Beyond Words & Pictures</a>
Posted: September 23 2011 at 2:21 PM


So Ya Lit is not a genre. Rather it shares certain characteristics but crosses genres-- science fiction, fantasy, romance, contemporary fiction and more. How many of these books have you read? I can name many literary YA titles, but it doesn't sound like you are interested.
Posted: September 28 2011 at 1:46 PM


Oh, dear. You dared criticize the YA world- prepare for a firestorm. *Runs for cover*
Posted: September 30 2011 at 2:57 PM

Elizabeth Coon

You mention The Tempest as an example of the formerly high standards of literature, but Shakespeare was essentially pop fiction in the 16th-17th centuries - the same with Austen and Dickens - so why can't YA fiction be the Shakespeare of its time? Just because something is easy to read and intriguing does not mean it is of lesser quality. I guarantee that not all of the great books for which our generation is remembered will be literary fiction; YA will be there too, along with every other category.
Posted: September 30 2011 at 2:59 PM

Elle Eschner

Just like any other form of writing, there are good and bad examples of YA literature. But I know many people, young and old, find YA lit engaging, interesting, and just as in-depth as any classical literature. John Green's novels, for example, are laugh-out-loud funny, intensely real, and read on many different levels. His book Paper Towns can be read on the surface as an interesting and engaging story, but it's more than that. It talks about our failure to understand other people complexly, the way we understand ourselves through other people and our connections with them. It holds a mirror in front of you and shows you so much about human nature. And in a completely different way, it is more complex to analyze from a literature standpoint than a TS Eliot poem, while still being made up of characters so real that they feel like your friends and scenes so known to young people that you can imagine sitting with the protagonist, Quentin, in the cafeteria with his friends, teasing one of them about the fact that his parents own the world's second-largest collection of black Santas.
Posted: September 30 2011 at 3:07 PM


Some people like to watch Jersey Shore. Some people don't even own a TV. Such is the nature of CHOICE. This argument is tired and old and you aren't really saying anything new. YAWN.

Also, I think you're revealing a bit of how out of touch you are concerning media today in calling the #YASaves hashtag a "game." Twitter (which is hardly new in the fast-paced, ever changing world of social media) is about conversation and users add "hashtags" to their tweets in order to find other people who are talking about the same topic. World of Warcraft is a game. Words with Friends is a game. #YASaves was/is a rally cry.
Posted: September 30 2011 at 3:12 PM


Your first mistake is assuming YA Lit is a "genre." It's not. It's a category in which there are many genres represented. Just as there are categories in all writing: fiction, literature (what you would assume is meant by an E.D. Hirsch reference), theater, poetry, and biography, YA Lit is a similar category. As such, the category merely denotes some similarities in structure - such as age of protagonist and other characters (notice that "adults" almost never play a significant role in YA novels, a salient point you missed), combining of genres, and intended audience.

You, in criticizing all these new forms of criticism, seem to be participating in some of it yourself - does authorial intent mean nothing? Next time you want to write on YA lit, do a bit more research - such as, oh I don't know, NOT assuming that Twilight is at all representative of the category.
Posted: September 30 2011 at 3:17 PM


I don't think this is a fair analysis of YA lit, and I have to wonder how many recent YA novels you've read. Like Elle Eschner says, John Green is a great example of a YA author that writes complex and real books - no vampires, no magic, just real teenagers. Other authors like Stephen Chbosky, Melina Marchetta and Meg Rosoff (who does use magical realism) write about "real" characters as well, people teenagers can identify with, which is where, I think, #YAsaves comes into play. To describe the hashtag as a "game" completely writes off the impact YA lit has had on countless teenagers and adults.

While The Hunger Games and Twilight are both extremely successful YA lit franchises, they are not the be all and end all of young adult literature, which is kind of what this article suggests.

Also, have you actually read the book Room? The woman in the novel isn't raped by her father, she's raped by her kidnapper - the distinction completely changes the dynamic of the novel...
Posted: September 30 2011 at 3:28 PM

Ashley Schwartau

Yeah I feel like the author didn't really research much and is INSANELY out of touch. A #hashtag is NOT A GAME. It is a way of tagging a conversation on Twitter. And calling it a game, while not necessarily insulting, just shows your age and out-of-touch-ness.

YA is not a genre. It is just another medium like plays, or high literature, or poetry or non-fiction, or commercial fiction. And within YA there are tons of other genres including sci fi, fantasy, romance, adventure, etc.

And can we PLEASE stop using Twilight as the penultimate YA example? There are only 100 *better* books out there. Anything by John Green, Maureen Johnson, Libba Bray, Scott Westerfeld, Meg Cabot, Ally Carter. And that's just a few I can think of off the top of my head.

I really wish people would stop assuming that because a book is written with a teen protagonist and with teens in mind that the book is less "worthy" of being read or taken seriously.
Posted: September 30 2011 at 3:33 PM
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