Thursday, January 12, 2012

Love/Hate Relationships and Why I Can't Quit YA Fiction

I had a boyfriend, when I was in my early 20's, who drove me crazy. He was one of those guys who swept me off my feet with declarations of undying love and extravagant gestures who became indifferent once he had my undivided attention. When I would express my frustration by breaking up he would suddenly become my dream guy all over again-- and the roller-coaster would continue.

Reading YA fiction reminds a lot of that relationship.

I'm not altogether sure why I am so attracted to YA fiction. As a *cough* older woman my tastes should have evolved by now. But when I see a shiny new book with an attractive cover (and YA has some fabulous covers) I turn into a schoolgirl all over again. I tell myself that this time will be different-- and yet I am most often disappointed.

Like the girl who bounced back to an old boyfriend too many times, I am forever on the rebound with YA fiction and I have come to a conclusion: it's all my fault.

Here's the thing: YA fiction is what it is. It should not change to please me-- who am I but one reader among millions? And when YA is good, or my definition of good, it's fantastic. Two of my favorite books from last year fell under the YA category.

Whether I'm in an unhealthy relationship, literary or otherwise, I often step away and try to gain perspective-- but inevitably return because I only remember the good times. If there's anything YA fiction does well is to appeal to the emotional triggers that allow us to abandon our logical side. The ups and downs don't seem that bad in the beginning-- we must suffer for love, right? And I do have the capacity to learn. I know to avoid books that including phrases like "the new boy she is crushing on" in the description-- I'm not that blind to my own preferences.

Sometimes I feel as if I am still caught between a literary childhood and adulthood. I'm not shy about trying to read adult fiction-- I don't blush when I read a sex scene; but I'm not terribly impressed by them either. (Read this article for some examples of just how bad fictional sex can be.) Most of the time I feel like the sex and violence are thrown in for effect and have little to do with moving the story-- and then I wistfully look back to YA fiction to satisfy my craving for a fantasy that doesn't try so hard to prove it's grown up, only to be let down by stories that don't appeal to my adult need for logic and consistency.

I can't seem to rationalize my dysfunctional relationship with paranormal fiction, whether it's the adult or the YA variety, but I can't seem to tear myself away either. Maybe I'm addicted to the chase. And when I do catch my ideal fantasy-- it is heavenly. But there's always the knowledge that my satisfaction is destined to be short lived. And then the hunt begins again....

Maybe I'll never get off that darned roller-coaster. Who knows... Maybe I don't want to.


Jim Haley said...

I understand, and I've got two ways in which I relate. While I've been fortunate in that what YA stuff I've read has already generally been vetted by nieces/nephews (or recommendations from friends) and proclaimed good (think Harry Potter) and became generally accepted as being "good" (though there have been exceptions -Eragon- which failed to impress me) I've mostly been delving into "kids" literature at this point (with my kids being so young). And even then, it's amazing how much crap there is - it's great when you find the really worthwhile books to read to/with them.

And I can understand your feelings of comfortability - I think that's why I enjoy tie-in fiction so much. When it's great (and it can be) it stretches the boundaries of what you'd expect from tie-in material, and even when it's not so great, it usually fits into a formula that I enjoy and it won't offend me with things that I might find in original fiction that's trying to be all grown up. I appreciate it when I'm challenged by tie-in fiction, but it provides it for me without the shock value.

I suppose in both cases though it's not much different than the rest of literature which is filled with crap, and where we are all constantly in search of the "good" stuff. I suspect that YA (like Urban Fantasy) is in a bit of an upswing right now, and because Fantasy is considered fairly mainline for YA, you've got an abundance of those types of titles (with lots of people trying to be a part of that rising tide) which also means more than it's fair share of crap - and too many titles to sort through to find all the gems. The good news is, as these trends fade, there will be plenty of books to go back to and try in the future - giving us that much more options and possibilities of finding those gems.

SQT said...

What's frustrating about the "consensus" on what's good is that I frequently don't agree with it because what I look for doesn't match up with what a teenager might look for. I'm more intrigued when a book gets a lot of negative reviews for being "too complicated" or "too dark." Those are the ones I pick up.

I think every genre has possibility for a love/hate thing, but YA triggers those feelings more than any other genre for me.

Michael Offutt, Visitor from the Future said...

I don't read much YA so I may be in a similar boat in that I should try to broaden my reading horizons. However, if a book doesn't grab a reader, I think that the reader doesn't need to feel obligated to continue turning the pages.

You are in a little bit of a different situation. As a book reviewer, you are an authority on what is good and what isn't. In a sense, what you decide is bad will inevitably guide another's personal "taste".

It's all very interesting when I examine it this way. You express that you would like to break free into other genres but that your taste brings you back to YA...but by virtue of are influencing others to love YA as well who may in the future, also feel unable to read other genres.


Addicted2Heroines said...

Great post! I can't tell you how many times I've vowed to quit reading YA novels just to come back again when I notice one that everyone is raving about. I eventually discovered that dark, dystopian/post-apocalyptic YA fiction works best for me and I try to avoid any that have a synopsis that includes things such as crushing on the new boy in school. I left my teens behind a long time ago and certain YA books occasionally cause me to feel like I'm venturing into territory where I don't belong.

SQT said...

@Michael-- Actually I don't have a hard time reading other genres; I read lots of straightforward fantasy, horror and thrillers all the time. YA (and sometimes paranormal fiction) is simply the genre that frustrates me the most. When it's good, it's the best. When it's bad, it's cringe worthy. I don't really look to influence people to read a certain genre or discard any others. All I can do is offer an opinion and leave it at that.

@Addicted-- I think the recent trend of dystopian titles in YA fiction has a lot to do with why I'm reading so much of it. I love that kind of subject matter and the adult titles tend to be more straight-up horror-- which isn't always what I'm looking for (though there are times when it's just the thing). But, like you, I'm not looking for high school romance. That doesn't make the teen-angst books bad, especially for the intended audience, they're just not what I want to read.

Elfy said...

I still read a bit of YA, and books that are considered appropriate for younger audiences as well. I'm often reminded of a comment made on a book show down here that in a lot of ways 'childrens literature' is far more inventive and fun than mainstream adult literature. A lot of YA seems quite fresh and there's a recapturing of the sense of wonder you first got when you stumbled across a new concept or idea, which most likely happened when you were in your pre teens or teens. Even now when I think back on some of the books I read growing up and occasionally pull one of the shelf and have a flick through I'ms truck by how stunning some of these ideas are, and some of them have never been replicated or superceded. Tove Jannson's Thingummy and Bob in The Finn Family Moomintroll has never been topped for mine. And my favourite book of 2011 Cat Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, was largely written and marketed for kids, but speaks to everyone with a soul.

SQT said...

@Elfy-- I've noticed the same thing. YA fiction is wildly imaginative. I think kids are more likely to buy into ideas that would have most adults shaking their heads in disbelief. I think we're more adaptable and receptive to YA fiction because we never really left the genre, we just started reading stuff with more adult content in addition to the stories we loved as kids.

Heather Sunseri said...

I can so relate to this post and many of the things being said in the comments. I'm constantly trying to put into words why I love to read and write YA. A lot of it has to do with the amazing writers in YA who make the unbelievable believable. That kind of writing makes us really think, and it makes us believe anything is possible.

The Happy Booker said...

You have pretty much summed up my feelings about YA too. I have never found the words to explain my obsession with this genre. As an *older* woman, I too sometimes feel that I should be reading more age appropriate books, but they just don't capture my imagination the way some YA does. And you're so right, when its done right, its the best. I also agree about fictional sex in adult books, I'm not really impressed either.