Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Writing: An Academic Inquiry

   I'm working on a critical essay comparing YA literature with “adult” fiction that features teen protagonists (ie, John Searles' “Boy Still Missing” and the like).
   I was hoping you could help me out by answering a couple of questions. I'd be more than happy to send you a copy of the essay when I'm through, and I'll certainly let you know if anyone wants to publish the thing.
   My thesis is that the central differences between the two are a matter of perspective and tone. YA tends to be written in present tense, showing the “youth experience” as it happens, warts, pain and all. Adult fiction with youthful protagonists tends to be told in a older voice, usually a main character looking back from a distance of years. As such, it casts the youth experience in halcyon colors, giving it a kind of those-were-the-days tone.
    Question 1: What have you seen, read, or written that would support or invalidate my thesis? Specific titles would be helpful, but a general sense of the media would work just fine.
   Question 2: Given that a growing number of adults, readers and writers, are dipping into the YA pool, what do you suppose is the attraction?
    Question 3: In what ways do you see writers of adult fiction, recognizing YA's appeal, adopting the tools and themes of the YA genre?
    I appreciate any assistance you can give. Even a sentence or two per question would be a great deal of help. I thank you for your time and wish you, yours, and writing, well.


  1. Question 1: I immediately think of Marguerite Duras' The Lover. Definitely adult fiction, teen protag, adult looking back on her first lover/experience at the age of 16. The perspective and tone definitely make it adult. You might also consider Junot Diaz' BWL of Oscar Wao. Adult fiction with a teen protag.
    Question 2: I think the attraction is longing for a simpler time, particularly for readers. Using The Lover as an example, we can all reflect on our first love from an adult perspective, but if it were written from the teens POV for a YA audience, it would put us back in that time, how we felt then, instead of our current perspective/how we perceive it now.

    Not great answers, but something...:)

  2. I don't read a lot of adult fiction, so I can't really answer question #1. Though, I think that it is somewhat generalizing that all (or even most) adult fiction paints in such a good light. I think, in fact, that as adult fiction it would allow the author to really portray the darkness that is contained in some childhoods.

    As for the attraction to YA... I personally am drawn to YA because there are limits to what is considered "socially acceptable" for a YA to read. I don't like a lot of cussing or sex in my novels, and I know that if I read YA I won't get it. It also has a tendency to have a more optimistic world view, which I enjoy. I'm an escapist reader, after all.

    As for the third, I don't really have a direct answer to that either. I see that more YA has become less YA and more like adult fiction minus the sex and cussing. I've recently read two "Young Adult" books that I wouldn't let some of the younger teens in my life read: "The Enemy" by Charlie Higson and "The Maze Runner" series by James Dashner. Both are zombie books.

    Hope this helps?

  3. Hmmm. My friend and I were talking about this other day. We both prefer young adult over adult fiction because we feel adult fiction might have more "flowery language". Adult fiction seems to have longer, in-depth descriptions and young adult is more direct.

  4. Question 1: Funny you mention John Searles; last semester he had me read THE WAY I FOUND HER by Rose Tremain, whose protagonist is 13-year-old Lewis Little. An English boy uprooted by his mother to spend the summer in Paris, Lewis falls in love with Valentina, the Russian writer for whom Lewis's mother is doing translation work. It's a first person narrative, framed in the present tense voice of grown up Lewis, who recounts this summer his life changed. This book would perfectly validate your thesis, especially considering the language grown up Lewis uses to tell the story, as well as his more mature perspective.

    Question 2: Reading has always been an escapist activity. We want to forget about our reality, our responsibilities, for a while. Being an adult these days is hard, with this bleak economic outlook, increased stress levels, high unemployment rates, etc. Seems to me a lot of adults want something easy to read that doesn't remind them of the daily difficulties with which a mature person is forced to deal.

    Question 3: Clive Barker just released the third chapter of a five-book series entitled ABARAT. Typically known as a horror writer with very strong sexual themes and plenty of gore in his work, Clive has seemingly been targeting younger audiences for years now. In an interview with Horror Bid, he stated that the shift happened "organically," and that his only goal was to write something that people of any age can enjoy. The whole discussion is pretty interesting, and may be of help to you: http://www.horrorbid.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=286&t=17090

  5. As per question 2: I've noticed that there tends to be a lot of simple visual style to YA, almost as if it's a more lavish movie or TV script. A lot of the chapters tend to end on high notes where you'd expect a commercial break to be. It's a format that new readers can relate to and can help draw back other readers who may have lost their way reading "adult" novels. I can see someone putting down a Phillip Roth book and saying, "You know, this isn't fun," and then years later picking up one of Westerfeld's novels and realizing that this is why they used to read. It's supposed to be fun, damn it!

    If anything, YA is teaching people how to write to entertain again and there's so much good, basic knowledge/structure to learn from writing/reading it.

  6. #1. Many books that I do read, involve adults but aren't really adult fiction. One example would be My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. It changes the perspective a lot, so it can go from the teenagers and the parents. Another would be The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult.
    #2. I think crime novels and political books are getting the attention of adult readers and writers. I've personally seen my parents into politics currently than they have in past years for some reason. I also know that my dad enjoys crime tv shows, so to get him to read, I get him crime books from authors like James Patterson.
    #3. I see them using the same structure as other YA writers. Following the outline of it and just having their own material helps them connect to other readers. It helps them enjoy their writing again and make it more entertaining for the readers.

  7. Interesting and helpful stuff, thus far. The "boring" part of the essay is complete (readings, research MLA format). As a recovering journalist, though, no piece of writing seems worthy sans people. The story is never really about what's happened. It's about who was affected.