'To suggest a book written for young adults has any less merit than the classics is sheer snobbery'

22nd August 2016 at 18:08
Reading
Modern YA provides a link from the safety of children's fiction to the unpredictable content of adult novels, says one young adult fiction writer

Award-winning young adult fiction author, Juno Dawson writes a response to Joe Nutt's 19 August article: Why young-adult fiction is a dangerous fantasy

I wouldn't usually enter into internet debates, because they're usually just a case of rudeness versus reason, but I didn't want to let Joe Nutt's earlier piece go unchallenged for a number of reasons.

Let's first tackle the deeply offensive first paragraph in which he suggests modern young adult fiction is a mealy-mouthed liberal cardigan made up of transgender and autistic wool. Firstly, I read a lot of YA, and I can assure him the vast, vast majority of characters are still white, heterosexual and cisgender. This is something I've been campaigning against my whole career.

Moreover, don't minority characters belong in fiction? Is that really what he wants to be saying? Real life features both transgender and autistic characters – so should books. Also, he does rather seem to be suggesting that readers (particularly young men) wouldn't be interested in exploring characters dissimilar to them. I think that's utter garbage. What is reading for if not to walk around in someone else's shoes for a few days?

As is so often the case with our twice-yearly attacks on YA fiction, I find it hard to believe that Mr Nutt has actually read any. In his assertion that young adulthood isn't a distinct developmental stage, he forgets that being "teenage" is a relatively new chapter. In the early twentieth century, teenagers were working or fighting from early adolescence. Fiction of the time often skipped over this unfortunate truth. It's logical that late twentieth-century and modern fiction would expand to include readers who were educated for longer and provide them with stories relevant to the time they inhabit.

I can't even get into the "boys' books" argument, because it assumes there is one way to be a boy. There is not. Boys like all kinds of books, featuring all kinds of characters. Some boys, unfortunately, hate reading. Some girls hate reading too. At school, I hated football. I still hate football. There isn't a football, or indeed footballer, out there that would get me into football. Such is life.

There is some lovely non-fiction out there too. In fact, my own This Book is Gay has been translated into fifteen languages. Those Minecraft books didn't do too badly either. In the internet age, non-fiction has to stand out (although I note much non-fiction at present is, in fact, YouTuber content).

Modern YA fiction doesn't need me defending it. Look at Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree winning the overall Costa book of the year award in 2015. Look at Patrick Ness' A Monster Calls, the adaptation of which is coming to cinemas this autumn. Look at John Green, Holly Smale and Zoella (and her book club picks) dominating bestseller lists. YA is in fine health, inspiring readers to pick up a book. To suggest a book written for young adults has any less merit than the classics is sheer snobbery, often with hints of misogyny as the interests and pursuits of teenage girls are deemed inferior.

When I was 13, and part of the last generation to be without an abundance of young-adult fiction, I went straight from Nancy Drew to Stephen King. Hardly ideal. Modern YA provides a link from the safety of children's fiction to the unpredictable content of adult novels. Sure, authors like Melvin Burgess, Kevin Brooks and Louise O' Neill have explored some very adult issues, but the key word is "explored". Younger readers are introduced to how awful it can be to be human within parameters.

Any YA author is quite used to being patronised, but we sleep comfortably knowing we're writing some of the most compelling, relevant, inventive, inspiring novels on the market at the moment.

Why not try one? You never know: you might like it.

Juno Dawson is a writer and award-winning author of young adult fiction. 

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