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The Rise of Young Adult Fiction

The other day, while reading the NY Times online, I stumbled across this brief, interesting article by Patricia McCormick, a young adult fiction author:

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/

The article begins:

If “Harry Potter” made it safe for grown-ups to read kids’ books, “The Hunger Games” has made it cool.

Why are so many adults reading young adult books? No need to page Dr. Freud. This isn’t about the guilty pleasures of communing with one’s inner child. It doesn’t signify a huge baby boomer regression. It isn’t even about nostalgia.

The author goes on to theorize that the rising popularity of young adult fiction among adults is due to the creativity of YA authors. Writers for children and teens are more willing to take risks, mainly because it’s so hard to capture and maintain a teenager’s interest, especially with all the technological distractions of the age. So a story about twelve teenagers fighting to the death in a simulated environment that’s also out to kill them, or a story about vampires and werewolves falling in love- those are risks that will pay off (to the tune of millions for Suzanne Collins and Stephanie Meyer). And somewhere along the way, these creative plots captured the imagination of adult readers as well.

I agree with this theory, but I also think it’s a bit unfair. Mainstream adult fiction writers can also, and have also, been endlessly creative. What about Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key, who intercut a WWII story about a girl forced to leave her brother locked in a cupboard to escape the Nazis with a present-day story about a woman desperate to find roots for her family? What about Chris Bohjalian’s novel Trans-Sister Radio, in which a woman falls in love with a man, who feels he should have been born a woman, undergoes a sex-change operation, and winds up with her lover’s ex-husband? What about Meg Cabot, who writes many of her adult novels in the same format as her YA novels- via journal entries, emails and texts? And does anyone think that Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy for children?

I like a creative, risk-taking story as much as anyone, and it doesn’t much matter to me what section of the library I find it in. But I do think the rise of YA fiction raises an interesting point to adult fiction authors, because when those young adults start shopping in our section, what are they going to be looking for? Will the more subtle literary novel be pushed aside for the more wild romps of futuristic adventure and beautiful-people sex? Or does the audience mature with its reading material? What we should be marketing toward? And should a writer even consider that when she puts her pen to the page?

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