This week’s guest blogger is Liz Gallagher! Thanks to Liz for doing this. I also have another special treat for you all this week–I’ll have another guest blog on Friday! So stay tuned for a double feature this week. Anyway, Liz has written a fantastic post which I have for you below, and one lucky random commenter will win an audio book of Liz’s fantastic book The Opposite of Invisible. Please be as awesome as last week’s commenters and weigh in on the very interesting questions Liz raises in her blog post! Last week’s winner of a signed copy of Song of the Sparrow is Megan. Megan, please email me your mailing address at email@example.com And now, on to Liz’s blog post:
When I think about my work as a young adult author–a genre that I fell in love with as an adult–I keep coming back to the same food for thought. I call it food for thought because it’s not a thesis, an assertion, a lesson, or anything else that I’m sure about; it’s a question. Here it is: What makes a young adult book different from an adult book about a teenager? And are YA books only for teens?
To me, a novel is a novel. I think. There are books being pubbed as YA that I definitely think every human should read – MT Anderson’s Octavian Nothing, for example, or Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Those books are on the literary end of the YA spectrum, though, which raises another question. What are the categories of YA? And do some have more crossover appeal than others?
I used to think that we might find some kind of rule in this: lots of books about teens that are published as adult books have a tone of looking back at teenhood (such as Curtis Sittenfeld’s runaway hit of a few summers past, Prep, in which the narrator is a wise old twenty-three, if I remember correctly), while most books about teens that are published as YA have an immediate, in-the-moment tone. That idea sounded like a decent rule of thumb ’til I found lots of rule-breakers; a notable exception is Marc Acito’s How I Paid for College, an adult book told in the now of eighties teendom.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about this food, but–to stick with the metaphor–I’m still hungry. I’ve nibbled extensively on the idea that where we classify and subsequently sell a book about a teen is largely a marketing decision (and, tied into that, obviously depends on who’s publishing it). The crux: Teens will find books in the adult section, but most adults won’t shop in the YA section. Therefore, a book with crossover appeal will find a larger audience (of both teens and adults) in the adult section.
But something interesting is going on right this moment! A trend! A new item on the menu, if you will. Last week’s Entertainment Weekly (May 16) included an interesting article, “Teen Nation” by Jennifer Armstrong. It’s starts like this: “Anyone who’s a teenager — or one of the many adults whose pop culture tastes lean in that direction — might want to blow off that summer job.” Teen entertainment out there that’s super-popular, and not just among teen audiences.
The article breaks it down into TV (Gossip Girl, THEWB.COM showing old faves, the forthcoming Juno-esque The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the re-envisioned Beverly Hills, 90210), Movies (American Teen, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants sequel, the forthcoming film adaptation of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,and –hello?! — Juno) and Music. I’d argue that music is the last to bleed over (Do any adults out there actually listen to Miley Cyrus, Jesse McCartney, or the Jonas Brothers in the absence of young people? The article thinks so . . . I think they’d do better to point out how many of us watch American Idol.) In any case, the article points out that we’re in a new teen-entertainment boom and that it might not dry up any time soon, as past booms have been forced to say bye-bye-bye.
It’s odd to me that an article with mention of Gossip Girl, Nick and Norah (which they call “the Micahel Cera comedy,” with no mention of it’s basis in the Levithan & Cohn book), and Sisterhood doesn’t begin to examine how books play into this trend. Guess we’ll have to do that ourselves!
Here’s the most interesting quote in the article, from Leslie Morgenstien, who helped develop Gossip Girl from “the popular book series” (the only mention of books I remember in the whole article) into the tv show: “Thing have shifted. Children are better informed, more sophisticated. There used to be a trickle-down effect: Properties would start for adults and then trickle down to teens. I think now it’s reversed.”
That’s almost the equivalent of adults shopping in the YA section, isn’t it? Will this phenomenon spill over to the book world? And will it say in the pop culture — “properties”– arena? Or bleed over into less effusive books, too?
Let’s talk! Adults, how do you feel about the questions? Do your adult friends seem more open to teen entertainment than they once were? Or are only those of us who are already YA-minded watching Gossip Girl? Do you know anyone who’s read the books because of the tv show? And teens, what do you think? Will you stop shopping the YA section once you’re “grown up”? Where do you hear about books? Why do you read YA? Who do you think it’s for?