On Friday, I went to Ally Carter’s book signing with my sister. During the Q&A session someone asked her why it is that books for young adults are better than books for adults. “I pick up my daughter’s books,” she said, “and they’re more interesting than my own.”
Now, a few minutes before this question, someone had asked what advice Carter had for people who wanted to be writers, and her answer agreed 100% with mine, and was, I admit, fairly predictable to a writer: Read lots and write lots. (I think sometimes people think there’s some secret, since they keep asking, but really it comes down to this.)
Anyway, after hearing this answer, I was sort of nodding along, and I’ll admit to feeling a bit superior that we had this writing thing, at least, in common. But Carter’s answer to the question about YA vs. adult literature took me completely by surprise. Namely, she agreed.
I’m used to having people make fun of me, a writer of “serious” adult fiction, when I confess that I read—and enjoy—a lot of young adult writing, including, in this case, Carter’s Gallagher Girls series (in a nut shell: a series about an all-girls spy school). I’ve defended YA and other genre literature, and worked hard to stop referring to anything I enjoy as a “guilty pleasure,” as if it somehow means less. I was not, however, prepared to hear that tossed at literary fiction by the genres, however (and please note, I’m using these terms because they’re common, not because I necessarily agree with them).
My immediate thought was that, if there are people who think YA is far superior to adult fiction, they aren’t reading the right books. If the comparison is 50 Shades of Grey, okay, sure, we can talk about one being better written (and I think few people would argue), but to toss a whole genre aside?
I had to leave the signing shortly after this question since I had a soccer game to get to, and I left feeling frustrated. There’s so much competition between the genres, so much nastiness and name calling, and while Carter was very polite in her response, I never expected an author to take on a genre not her own in such a public place. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not angry, just a bit sad. And Ally Carter was funny and outgoing and she clearly loves her job and her fans. Still, I wanted to respond.
So here, for Ally Carter and the woman at the bookstore, are five books of grownup fiction (and I limited myself to novels written within the past five years) that I think absolutely rock:
- Room, by Emma Donoghue
- Mother and Child, by Carole Maso
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
- Q Road, by Bonnie Jo Campbell
- Lush Life, by Richard Price
This is just…I don’t know. It’s not that I think YA books are “better” per se, but I do read a lot more of them than I do “adult” fiction. This is for many reasons. There’s just nothing wrong with liking it. Why does everything have to be about which kind of book is “better”? Sorry, my thoughts aren’t coming out as clearly as they were in my mind.
That’s what I was trying to get at. The comparison doesn’t do anyone justice, and to lump all fiction for adults into one label is problematic, too. Plus, I think so much of it comes down to preference. I read a ton of YA, and I love it (and I’m constantly having to defend my love of it to higher brow types).