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>Oh Grow Up, Pt 2

>After railing against young adult literature’s tendency to find and fill with itself whatever gap there might be in teenaged reading, my conscience requires that I give you the link to this year’s Alex Awards, ALA’s top ten adult books for young adults. I’m happy they chose Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which I’m listening to now on my Ipod and it’s completely creeping me out, but in a totally good way.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing says:

    >Well, let’s just rename those the dubious assumption awards or perhaps the people with too much time on their hands awards or the how to mindf*** a concept to death awards. Shewhodoesn’tusuallydothissortofthing is so disgusted that she is going out to teach her arctic rats to bring her bait to ice fish with – a useful pursuit for which, thank you jesus, there is as yet no award.

  2. shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing says:

    >P.S. Welcome home, Roger. You won’t tell us what you ate or what anyone said. It’s a good thing you’re not a novelist.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    >I adored The Glass Castle, which is another Alex winner. In fact, I have been worked with our adult division to get it out to teens–it’s the perfect YA read, but I recommend it for anyone. My mother’s book club, composed entirely of retirees, loved it too, so it’s certainly not just for the young ‘uns.

  4. >I loved The Glass Castle as well, and somehow I don’t think–though I could be wrong–that it suffers from James Frey syndrome, either. At the risk of beating a very dead horse–isn’t the problem Roger cites with so many YA books the problem of the damn gatekeepers? We have a hard time letting good old Anglo Saxon words like “fuck” into the novels, let alone completely honest portrayals of teenage sexuality. It’s no wonder then that this infantilization bleeds into the subjects of the books–though I would also argue that there are an increasing number of great books out there for YAs that aren’t written to any particular gap or need. But alas, it always comes down to filthy lucre. If you don’t think you can sell the book, you can’t take creative risks. And so on. It’s enough sometimes to make me want to give up and join those artic rats, even though I despise rodents.

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >I’m not so sure the problem is the gatekeepers; the problem is expecting a genre to replicate, in some way, a swath of adult literature that’s already ready and waiting for readers. While we can (and should) argue about the height, breadth and composition of the gates, I think it’s fine to let YA be a “gated” literature, a genre whose existence, production and promotion is enforced by those who want to give teens their own spot in the reading universe. But that teens should be free to move back and forth through the gates seems to me a more laudable situation than locking them into “YA versions” of themes and genres that are flourishing just fine already. Teens want to grow up, and “leaving behind” YA literature should be an honorable step in that process.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >I truly don’t understand what’s being railed against here. “Young adult literature’s tendency to find and fill with itself whatever gap there might be in teenaged reading”? WTF? (or, toned down a notch, huh?) You’re talking about young adult literature as an organism, or a market? A conspiracy? Whose expectation is it that YA lit “replicate, in some way, a swath of adult literature that’s already ready and waiting for readers”?

    I’m lost and, as a YA writer, thinking I maybe I should be insulted, but I’m not sure because I don’t understand.

    Is it just that you’re bored with YA?

  7. shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing says:

    >Dear Anonymous Whose Toes Are Now in An Uproar

    When you write your books do you think of yourself as writing FOR teens? do you imagine teen readers? Is the reader even in your consciousness or do you just write a book? Or are the eyes you see through those of a teen? Truly just curious if you want to respond. This seems to be the bulk of my problem with a YA category. The idea of books being for certain groups. It has a nasty big brother feel to me. It would fit in well in Never Let Me Go, books written for girls we want to create an idyllic life for while they still have it before their organs are harvested. Putting books in these categories creeps ME out. It’s not that you can’t have teens as protagonists or write from their view but that the books should be READ by teens that bugs me. I don’t think anyone is knocking YA writers, except the hacks. And we knock all the hacks. Except, of course, the goddess, Judith Krantz. But I suspect the hacks write for markets. The writers just write.

  8. >I don’t see anything wrongheaded about books written for people who are in a phase of life unlike any other. I live with two teenagers and I can vouch for the fact that they are different from other people in many ways. Of course they should reach up to adult books and sometimes they will want to revisit their childhood in children’s books, but why not have a group of books written about and for a period in life that is like no other? That doesn’t mean they’re restricted to reading only those, and because someone finds it in themselves to write about that time of life doesn’t mean they are stuck necessarily either.

  9. shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing says:

    >Okay, I have been asking myself that question all day. What is this problem I have with YA books and I finally figured it out. When people write kids book, I think they have wide open spaces for the “big issues”. And when they write adult books the same. But I think when people write for a YA market, the books inevitably become pimply YA concerns, it doesn’t expand the universe for anyone, it contracts it. Very seldom does YA anything lend itself to taking people anywhere anyone in their right mind would want to go. YA is just not a good time in peoples’ lives. The synopsises in the brain are exploding and I don’t think legitimizing anything that arises from that should be encouraged. Perhaps everyone should be issued a copy of The Catcher in the Rye when they are twelve and be done with it. And you might ask yourself, why the ALEX books are considered adult books that teens might like and not YA books. I’ll tell you why, because they are too GOOD to be YA books because they are expansive and not little and pimply. And that’s my problem with the whole thing. I hate gates. i hate gatekeepers. the universe should be open for all and books should the rivers that take us there.

  10. shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing says:

    >Except, of course, for Judith Krantz, who takes us shopping. (I don’t want to get banned from this blog.)

  11. shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing says:

    >And, I’m sorry, Roger, but if you’re not going to tell us what you ate, then no more ALA conferences for you. Next time we’re going to send Richard.

  12. Andy Laties says:

    >Well, I just hope no-one’s going to ban that fabulous Daniel Pinkwater cult confection, “Young Adult Novel”. Surely the surreal conspiracies of the Wild Dada Ducks, and especially the climactic scene of their horrible humiliation in the highschool cafeteria (Grape Nuts anyone?) put this one right up there with — umm — Aristophanes. (?)


  13. Roger Sutton says:

    >Sorry to have been missing this good fight, but I’ve been learning how to use the new laptop (Powerbook). First, eating in San Antonio: I had some good snapper and steak but M.F.K. Fisher I’m not. The best was the french toast and bacon I had at the post-press conference brunch with my friends, because I never cook either (French toast or bacon, I mean; I roast my friends regularly.)

    I have the greatest respect for YA lit; I’m just questioning its quest to go ever-“edgier,” and, especially, older. While YA used to be a genre almost exclusively for junior high girls (Richard Peck and Sheila Egoff have both asserted this), and I’m glad it has grown beyond that, I believe that rather than doing more to introduce YAs to the universe of adult books (and the Alex awards are a welcome exception) we are inadvertently (maybe) detaining them. The most extreme example is the adult book abridged and repackaged as YA (Flags of our Fathers, The Code Book, Fast Food Nation)–why not just send the kids upstairs? The other is the “edgy” or difficult novel aimed at juniors and seniors in high school–Sonya Hartnett’s books, for example. Why not publish as adult? I won’t even go into the arguments of those who would extend the definition of young adult up to twenty-three-year-olds because it’s just too embarrassing.

    Lastly: I have never been able to see what’s funny about either Pinkwater’s Young Adult Novel or Fleischman’s Fate Totally Worse than Death. But that could just be me.

  14. Andy Laties says:


    No soap, radio.


  15. Roger Sutton says:


    The brick.


  16. Andy Laties says:

    >Roger, (last one)

    If you can’t stand the punch, stay out of the punch line.

    (he runs for cover)

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