Why is young adult fiction the defining literary genre of the last two decades? What does its popularity say about modern American life?
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- Thread by @Scholars_Stage on Thread Reader App
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I really dig this analysis, but my theory is a bit more simple: YA is really easy to read.
I read a lot of YA for my job, because I consider it necessary to keep up with at least some of what my students are reading. I don’t love most of them myself, as I’m well outside the intended age range, and because I’ve read so many that the formulas and tropes are so familiar as to be numbing.
That said, even the least appealing YA books are fundamentally readable. They’re easy to understand and process, the plots generally move pretty fast, and there’s often a good amount of “hook swinging” where you’re repeatedly jumping from suspenseful moment to suspenseful moment in a rapid tension and release cycle akin to episodic television.
Compare that to adult fiction, which often requires legitimate effort or patience. One of the sad realities of my life is that I think the paradigm shift in media has inhibited my ability to read adult fiction like I used to. I just finished Olga Tolarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. It’s not a long novel at all (~75k words), and it’s a murder mystery (with a genuinely awesome title). But it moves at a slow pace — one that felt glacially slow compared to YA. As such, the book felt like an absolute chore to me. I had to force myself to finish it, and the sad part is that I did that even though I liked what I was reading and thought the book was well-written! Overall the book gets a thumbs up from me, but the process of reading it was two thumbs fully down.
I think YA books are the literary equivalent of “comfort food” shows on Netflix. They’re not what people start up for depth, but they’re what people start up because they’ll get an easy return on their time. They’re simple and familiar and hit satisfying notes without requiring too much investment.
I do think this could tie into the author’s analysis (for example: why are people so eager for entertainment of that type?) but I think it ultimately is less about any disaffectedness on our part and more that the internet has enabled the entertainment industry to do some wide-scale titrations in the past decade, and they have figured out every medium’s sweet spot.
I do worry about what this is doing to us as consumers of those media. I look at what I read ten years ago versus now, and I honestly don’t think I could get through now much of what I used to take pleasure in reading.
You’re comparing YA to complex adult fiction though. There’s plenty of very readable page turners by the Tom Clancy estate or David Baldacci that would probably be as readable as most YA, it’s just kinda boring if you’re not a boomer.
Agreed. I think YA took what makes those kinds of books work and expanded it to an entire domain across all genres. Even YA books with literary heft are still fundamentally easy-to-read pageturners.
Thought this was an interesting bit of meta literary criticism I found on twitter. Threadreader link for convenience.