Monday, August 03, 2009

Musings after a trip to the bookstore

I was in our local indie bookstore this afternoon, picking up some new books to feed my reading habit. After browsing for myself, I meandered into the children's section and looked through the middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) offerings.

It's interesting--writers are always struggling over the difference between the two, myself included. In fact, I have gotten some publisher feedback that in some ways, my current manuscript on submission feels as much MG as YA. I was a little flummoxed by that feedback, as it is clear in my mind--this is a YA book. It deals with themes of agency and choice and the protagonists are High School students.

However, in perusing the bookstore today, I am getting a sense of what they may have meant.

The MG stories felt more gender neutral to me--that is, that the stories would appeal to both boys and girls, and they were tales of some adventure or mystery to solve. The protagonists are often a boy and a girl who work together.

In the YA section, it felt as if the books had a split personality. There were the dark fantasy titles and the books about loner/outsider boys meant to appeal to a male reading audience. Then there were the books about female protagonists at the threshold of growing into their sexual identity and power.

After reading through the jacket copy on at least 2 dozen books, I didn't find a single title in the YA section with dual, opposite sex POV protagonists that seemed to be aimed at a mixed reading audience.

I wish I had taken notes or at least written down titles and authors to give specifics, but I didn't think to do so until after I'd gotten home.

Maybe this is no different than when I was a child. There were Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. (Though I read both). Then, for a pre and adolescent girl, there were Judy Bloom books. I may be wrong, but I don't think many boys read those books. One of the reasons I gravitated to SF and F as a teen, was that the books marketed as YA books at the time held little to no appeal to me.

I craved stories of taking agency and having adventures. Where being the hero/heroine meant saving the planet, or at least the day and NOT being concerned about clothing, make up, or social status.

As a writer, I write the stories I had hoped to read as a young adult. It makes me wonder if I am in sync with the forces of the market. Are there stories out there right now that are this generation's "A Wrinkle in Time"?


  1. when you find this generations "A Wrinkle in Time", let me know. I want to read it.


  2. One of my oft-read authors, Charles De Lint, writes a lot of YA (which I buy and read, there are times for light reading). After reading your post -- you're right. they have as the major theme, finding oneself, growing in stature, etc. Usually he writes as a teen age girl, usually one who's been abused or has lost parents.

    Oh, by the way, I used Judy Bloom to start all of my kid's good reading habits. At least in this area, she's read by every kid, boy or girl.

    The books my kids brought home from school during high school were some of the most forlorn, depressing books anyone would have to read. Don't remember titles, but there was one about a boy and girl who, through irresponsibility, caused the death of a man who befriended him. The boy was an alcoholic and alcohol was the only thing that made him happy. This was given as a statement of how to be happy if you are miserable. Make that story as sad and depressing as you can, with no lesson learned, life just goes on, and you have an idea of how bad this book was. Most of the required reading was in this vein, and I truly considered that the joy and love of reading would be sabotaged by this kind of curriculum.

  3. Yeah--when I grow up I want to be Madeline L'Engle, LOL.

    And wow: "The boy was an alcoholic and alcohol was the only thing that made him happy. This was given as a statement of how to be happy if you are miserable."

    How horrible! Not the kind of reading materials I want to be steering my teenagers toward.

  4. LOL on the Madeline L'Engle!

    Judy Blume's books that my boys loved were "I was a 4th Grade Nothing" and the Fudge books. One son had a teacher who read them a chapter from one of the Fudge books, then gave a copy to whoever wanted to finish it. She probably had the highest reading level of any class in the school. I used that technique with all of my other kids, successfully.

    By the way, how do you have time to post? You must be very, very organized.