Really the Only Thing That Has to Be Said About the YA Thing
Posted on April 27, 2009 Posted by John Scalzi 115 Comments
Observers of the science fiction field will note the Nebula Award for Best Novel was won this year by a YA book, that the Tiptree Award is co-shared by a YA novel, and that in the Hugo Best Novel category, two and a half of the books nominated are also YA (the “half” in this case being Zoe’s Tale, written to be YA-friendly but shelved with the adult SF). This surge of recognition for YA has caused some consternation and grumbling in certain quarters. Here’s what I have to say about that:
Yes, how horrible it is that some of what’s being hailed as the best science fiction and fantasy written today is in a literary category designed to encourage millions of young people to read for the rest of their natural lives. Because God knows the last thing science fiction and fantasy publishing needs right now is whole generation of new and enthusiastic readers who might actually get hooked into the genre until they die. It’s a goddamn tragedy, it is.
What is to discuss? You are spot on. I’ve never understood the apparent division between YA and “serious” literature, it’s all just a marketing ploy anyway.
I wonder if these are the same folks who grumble about both science fiction being a literary ghetto and when mainstream authors win awards and recognition for writing SF.
I mean, what’s the contrary position? That it’s not real SF until someone’s been violated with a tentacle?
Mr. Scalzi – are we feeling cranky today? ;-)
Seriously, good point.
I don’t see the problem. Better than half of the SF I pick up these days is in the YA category at the bookstore; it’s often much better than what is released and displayed in the “adult” SF section.
Is someone honestly attempting to state that this is an issue?
There wasn’t yet any such beast as YA when I was the target age range (or it hadn’t hit the shelves of my rural Oregon middle and high schools back in the 90s), but I would have been damn glad had there been. Sure, I made do, but reading about people closer to my age with my kinds of immediate concerns would have been good for the lonely, geeky kid I was.
I’m glad there’s much more such now, and nothing is stopping now-me from reading YA, or stopping YA books from being fine reads.
I don’t remember where I read it, last week, following a review of Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl (a children’s picture book, originally written for the mother of a newborn), a commenter declared — paraphrasing, but not much — that if Neil wanted to avoid complete irrelevancy he’d better get to writing novels for adult men, damn quick.
Yes. Because we all know what voracious readers adult men as a class are. What with their Tuesday evening reading discussion clubs, and how they all disappear every weekend to bury their noses in the Barnes & Noble “New Discoveries” list, and I can barely get into my local library most days for all the muscle cars and pimped-out trucks hogging the parking lots.
I agree with your thoughts Scalzi. But what about this: I read YA all the time, and I’m adult. And sometimes, I’m embaressed. Don’t get me wrong, I love the books that I read. Most recently, I fell in love with The Hunger Games and I am currently reading The Mortal Instruments series. But sometimes I think people think I am stupid because I am an adult reading YA. I think I even posed the question to you, do you read YA? I picked up The Graveyard Book after reading about it winning all these awards and I am very excited to start it. Mostly, I don’t care what people actually think. I love my books, and I think more people should read them. I think that the literary categories are just suggestions and people should get over it.
I feel your pain.
YA doesn’t mean “kid’s book.” I confess that, at one point, I thought that’s what YA meant. But after glancing through some of the books my 12 year old has gotten from this section and seeing Ender’s Game shelved there as well, I learned that YA doesn’t HAVE to mean “kid’s book.”
Congrats to the winners.
I believe the phrase you’re looking for here is “gateway drug”
I seem to recall that the Earthsea trilogy was YA – remains my fav le Guin book(s)
You know how you pop over to someone’s blog and find they said something you wish you’d said, especially since they used the EXACT SAME tone you would have (and frequently do) use yourself?? Oh yeah, I just HATE that.
Also @#3 Pete: my week will not be complete unless I can work “violated with a tentacle” into casual conversation.
Also, also: it would be fantastic if people can stop making the mid-90’s sound like a long time ago, seeing as how I started my adult life then and refuse to believe I’m OLD! *cough*@#6 Renatus*cough*
Well, even at 20, the books that got me interested in science fiction would definitely be classified as YA books now. Specifically, the Heinlein juvenile books (_Have_Spacesuit_Will_Travel_ is one of my favorites), the Ender series by Card, and the Pip & Flinx novels by Foster were what catapulted me into the SF realm.
My tastes have matured (somewhat), just as I have matured (somewhat), but I still find the books as enthralling as ever. I don’t understand why there is a debate here – good fiction is good fiction, no matter what demographic it is ostensibly aimed at. In all honesty, I can only see one reasons to claim that YA books winning these awards is a problem: the Science in the SF is simpler.
To this, I can only say, who cares? Even if the science is simpler, the principles are still there. SF isn’t supposed to read like a college textbook, I get enough of that as it is. SF, in my opinion, is designed to act as a sandbox for the author to play with novel ideas and subjects; if they don’t feel it necessary to flesh out all of the concepts, so be it – use it as a springboard for your own ideas, and go see if you can do better. The operative phrase here is “Imagination”. Use it.
That said, the only complaint I have about YA books is that they will occasionally deus ex machina the hell out of the story in order to resolve it with a “happy” ending. I find it nice that the authors are kind to their characters, but even with the suspension of disbelief that you have to have to read science fiction, this seems contrived. However, if the work is winning literary awards, I don’t see this as being an issue, so this is probably a moot point.
Anyone who thinks it’s a problem that “Knife of Never Letting Go” co-won the Tiptree can go ahead and read it.
And then twist in the horrible suffering of knowing the next volume won’t be out in the US till September.
Great voice, great ear for dialogue, social commentary and introspection skillfully woven in with a riveting suspense plot — it’s certainly one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read this year, and probably the best at questioning and exploring gender.
Agreed 100%. Of course the RAH YA books had a big influence on me, but I just had “a moment” when commenter #8 (Stephanie) said that The Hunger Games was YA. Really?! Now that I think about it, yeah it could be.
Incidentally I just finished The Hunger Games on the weekend. I’ve been gushing over it on Twitter to my meager 16 followers. That said, 4 of them have gone out to buy it, and we’re all over 30 and male.
THG is one of the most compelling reads I’ve had, and I consumed it in a matter of 4 days, one of my fastest reads since OMW or TAD.
If this is YA, then I’m going to that shelf first next time.
“This surge of recognition for YA has caused some consternation and grumbling in certain quarters.”
Can you link to any of it? I’m really curious to know what grumblers are saying. They think only adult books should win the Nebula? Or they think the books aren’t that impressive and only won because SF was patronizing the kids’ stuff? Maybe they think YA already has its own award and shouldn’t come snatching theirs.
I know I was a fan of the cartoon series Avatar: the Last Airbender. Yet, I also didn’t mention this much, outside of the fannish circles of the Internet, because the target audience was something like one-half to one-third my age. Well, until my cousin (five years senior to me) and her husband — she’s a college librarian and he’s a film student, and neither are particularly fannish — mentioned it as an example of Good TV. I think the last time we stayed over, we geeked out over the Season 2 finale, taking about the choreography of the fights and the general creepyiness of the finale’s plot.
It’s kind of like that. Something can be good, regardless of age of protagonists, or the amount of sex, ‘bad’ language and gore. But, if this book with younger protagonists is shelved with YA, it’s automatically ‘for kids’ and ‘dumbed down’.
“Certain quarters” aren’t happy unless they’re grumbling.
YA works are as relevant to general categories of literature as being young is to being human. Those who disparage YA are likely to be same people rushing to put as great a distance as possible between their innocent, pre-adolescent selves and their mature, ‘complete’ adult selves. Further, they tend to *treat* young adults the same way, discounting the richness of their life experiences, moral challenges, and problem-solving. I can think of other population groups who get, or used to get, the same treatment. Oddly enough, illiteracy is a primary tool in imposing and maintaining these social divisions.
Or I could just respond with three words: “Le Petit Prince.”
Congrats to the winners, too.
As someone who got into sci-fi reading the heavy hitters like Asimov and Clarke at the age of 14, I don’t sympathize much with the thought that kids need YA-geared books in order to appreciate sci-fi.
However, that being said, had there been the abundance and quality of YA SF back in the early 90s when I was starting high school as there is today, I would have exploded from the sheer awesomeness of the situation.
So I envy the kids of today. And, yes, if this will make for a fresh new influx of eager, willing, and credit-card waving 20-somethings into bookstores a decade from now, then hoorary for SF! Win-win situation.
Given the subject matter, only two sentences of pointed sarcasm was pretty weaksauce. I was hoping for something as thorough as “your political party sucks.”
This is *not* going to facilitate Scalzimug distribution.
Doesn’t “Young Adult” mean that it’s aimed at adults who happen not to be old? Because I thought that kids books were called things like “Juvenile” and “I Can Read By Myself!” and similar. Where are books like “Harriet the Spy” generally shelved? Because I’d put that at “old juvenile” but not “young adult”.
Those danged YA novels, with their baggy pants and that noise they call music. Tell them to stay off my lawn!!
Damn Kids. Get off my bookshelves!
I need my books.. I don’t need no books w/ rockets on the spines that I would look for in elementary school to read.
Oh those books were good. Not YA at all. .. … .. oh.. wait. Frak… were they YA?….
Noooooo…. Those Rocket Ship books were for me.. not YA! noooo.
Ok I guess YA has its place.
Guess YA is important. Got me interested in the field….
Well at least I can say. Damn Kids, get off my lawn.
I agree completely. Let’s see, my 13-year-old can read Twilight or Zoe’s Tale. Hmmm, which one would I rather he or she read? One leads to a future of Anne Rice, black lipstick, and Vampire: The Masquerade, and the other Heinlein, Battlestar Galactica, and GURPS.
Do you think the grumbling is because YA books aren’t considered to be REAL literature by the grumblers?
I don’t know about you guys, but early on I jumped out of young adult and into mature fiction precisely because YA sucked so bad. I began reading adult fiction (Tom Clancy, Stephen King, and Robin Cook, to name a few) in my early teens, and I’m sure the adult content discomfitted my parents. However, I was definitely done with YA because there just wasn’t anything out there for a geek like me. I was too old for Goosebumps (although I read Stine as a little kid, years before GB, and was pretty happy for him when he hit it huge), and I was never interested in Sweet Valley High (blech!). Animorphs came out in my twenties (I think), otherwise I would have been all over that at 13.
Nowadays there’s all sorts of YA that I would have LOVED as a youngster (Harry Potter, Bartimaeus, the Abhorssen series, His Dark Materials, Big Brother), and these days I have no qualms about stepping into the YA section because there’s stuff there worth reading. So what if I’m 34? Hell, I bought the Spiderwick series because the books were so beautiful, and it was a fantasy setting. (I found out later that Tony DiTerlizzi used to work at Wizards of the Coast, so I guess that helps explain why I, a D&D player, thought the books were so cool.)
Oh, I also own the Mouse Guard graphic novel, and I just bought the Mouse Guard RPG, because I feel the need to financially support things like this. This is all stuff I would have embraced as a youngster. I purchase them now not because I have kids, but because I want other people’s kids to continue to have access to these types of things. If the products sell, then people keep making them.
Also, I’m still a kid inside, and I just want to own them ’cause they’re neat. :)
Manny, “Young Adult” is the marketing category for teens – middle school and high school, older than “Harriet the Spy.”
People are whining about this?
Goddamn, we’ve got it good if we can find the time to bitch and moan about this.
agreement with #1 gregory and #3 pete (chuckle). and with you of course, john. here’s the part that i find disingenuous and contradictory — transfer the discussion over to movies, and there IS no “YA” genre to speak of. rather, such films are “coming of age” stories, and are perfectly legit adult fare. we all yearn to learn more about our own growing up years, that we weren’t alone in our confusions and uncertainties, and we all like seeing how others handled things differently. not to mention recapturing all those hormone-laden moments of innocence about to be transformed. this applies to film genres across the board, from drama to comedy to fi-sci. drawing a YA distinction for books seems more than a bit contrived. i mean heck, i started reading “adult” fiction when i was 12 years old, and have never stopped. which dovetails with your point about encouraging life-long readers. oh yeah, #7 jeff you are so right about the crowds of muscle cars in the library parking lot. i HATE that.
There’s a reason lit fic has no YA section. And why, no matter how many times they get assigned in avant-garde high school English classes, kids loathe them. The further science fiction and fantasy stay away from that vortex of suck, the better.
A good natured ttthhbbbpppt to alex@11. The person I was at 15 is universes different to the person I am now at 30, so subjectively, it was a long time ago. Of course it isn’t going to seem like all that long to someone who was done making huge cognitive and maturity leaps by then.
To echo what John VP@18 says, some folks hated being a teenager and want to distance themselves as much as possible from that age range, down to disparaging anything with teenaged protagonists. I don’t know if it’s some bizarre combination of self-loathing of the former self and curmudgeonliness, or what.
But as Jeff@7’s anecdote shows, some people just aren’t happy unless books are written and marketed directly to them. Sigh, eyeroll.
So, what is the criteria for a book to be considered YA? Do the publishers define this?
I assume it is somewhat based on language (cursing), adult topics (sex, drugs?) and maybe reading level?
It’s mostly the intended primary audience, marketing considerations, and where the book is shelved/categorized in bookstores. Lots of adult readers read YA, and of course vice-versa.
Becca Stareyes @ 16, my husband and I LOVE Avatar! We’ve been watching it from the beginning (he worked on the TCG back in 2005), and we own the first two seasons of it. I really hope Shyamalan doesn’t screw up the movie. (I’m not too happy with the casting of white kids for Aang, Katara, and Sokka. They only cast the kid from Slumdog Millionaire as Zuko because the white kid they’d originally cast had to drop out since his concert tour conflicted with the schedule. Sigh. Casting for a movie based on Asian culture: You’re doing it wrong.)
I read a lot of YA these days because I am finding some of the best fantasy there. Maybe that will change but for now, I’m happy.
JS – got ya. But do the publishers impose any kind of restrictions on what you should put in it? I have not read twilight, etc but I assume they are not heavy with sexual themes, language etc. Harry Potter for example did not have these things, but could they have without pushback from the publisher?
It really depends on the book and the publisher. Some books for older teens have sexual themes, harsh language, etc. YA’s not monolithic in terms of how topics are presented. That said, I suspect that when there are older-skewing themes, they have to be better justified (i.e., be relevant to the story) than they might be in adult work, otherwise an editor might say “now, wait a minute.” But that’s speculation on my part; you’d have to ask an actual YA author about that.
Wikipedia’s article on YA is actually useful for the basic questions about the format.
I guess that is the reason that in the U.K. the Harry Potter books had an adult cover and a kids cover. I liked the kids covers better. They were more colorful. I am 51 and whenI went to my local B&N to pick up a copy of The Graveyard Book, I did not feel weired going there and getting my copy. While I know that some people for a problem with the YA label, but I say “big deal”. We need to get these kids reading SF and keep the genre going.
Re: A:tLA, one of my favourite memories of last summer was sitting on the couch next to a SF writer and watching “The Blue Spirit” with him. The surprise that dawned on his face in the final moments was a joy to behold. I’ve since reproduced this moment with another writer and Fullmetal Alchemist, Stand Alone Complex, and Cowboy Bebop.
And people wonder why all the kids are at anime and videogame conventions, now…
Mr. Scalzi is right. As the Jesuits used to say, “Give us a child for five years, and we shall have him for the rest of his life.” Sometimes in order to maintain a market, you have to create one, first.
I always assumed the difference between YA and mainstreem was that the characters were not allowed to “hump like bunnies”.
But times change as they say.
We all agree that YA is simply a marketing category?, no? It is rare that my local bookstore is inhabited by grumpy, bearded (or not) men and women painfully squeezing into teeny-tiny YA books and whining about how small they are.
I believe that the coverage I read and hear about literacy among young people is not often speculating about why so many are reading three and four grades above their level.
Why can’t YA be an all ages show? For those who haven’t been, all ages shows are usually played by bands who are dumber, faster, louder, and less pretentious than we drinking and (non)smoking adults tend to archly nod our heads to. There’s usually no less than 3 bands and still the shows often clock in under 2 hours. Sure, the crowd is mostly of the acnephilic, but there’s always a decent amount of folks who were able to drive there themselves, and didn’t do it as chauffeurs. So-called YA fiction is at least as enjoyable and without doubt more polished and thoughtful.
I can only nod my head in admiration at Scalzi’s foresight in wisdom (not the last time, I’m sure) in emphasizing the pliable nature of the younger, potentially YA reader’s mind. To sharpen the point, I ask parents of jr. high and up kids to perform a simple experiment and ask their special ones if they are able to buy both coke AND pepsi at school. The answer will be ‘no’, because titans of global commerce are well aware of the future results of a young person incorporating consumer goods in their lifestyle, and the proprietary contracts are free money for schools.
Seriously, the memories of my first reading of Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’engle are golden and primal. No doubt, a wish to re-enact that euphoria is to blame for endless consumption of ‘genre’ lit since.
Most of Terry Pratchett’s YA stuff, especially from The Amazing Maurice on, has been consistently smarter and more inventive than the “adult” books. Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is a fantastic book, and accessible to both teenagers and adults. And there was that Harry Potter thing that morphed into a YA series as it went on (regrettably, it also morphed into a poorly edited series).
I’m wondering: Are these “certain quarters” that are kvetching about YA “invading” science fiction the same people I often hear kvetching about the “graying of fandom,” and that it seems like nobody you see at conventions is much under 50?
As to whether YA is “serious” literature or not, all I can say is: neither, apparently, is adult SF. If you don’t believe me, go to your local university’s English department, and ask a literature professor. Or for that matter, just ask Margaret Atwood.
I know those “certain quarters” types. They befoul the Green Room at Arisia every year, grumble about the food, start fights, harass my staff, and forget to bathe for the entire con.
One thing that doesn’t exclude from the YA category, Amazon notwithstanding, is LGBTQ content.
I just finished reading Robinson’s Green Mars, waiting for Blue Mars in the mail. It’s embarrassing not having read them when they were first released, but . . . I was busy reading Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle and Anathem, as well as Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale and Gibson’s Spook Country. It’s one of the downsides to living abroad in Northeast Asia . . . no libraries, no SF bookstores like White Dwarf Books in Vancouver . . . no fully realized SF books a short ride away. I like YA novels, love the Artemis Fowl series, hate the Twilight series. Upon hearing that Le Guin had won the Nebula Award for best novel for the tweeny Powers, I was like huh!? Love Le Guin, but the Nebula!? In what parallel world were the judges deciding on this . . . oh yeah . . . the world where YA is the fastest growing genre in publishing history. You’re the man, Scalzi! I can’t wait until your next book comes out in . . . late 2010 was it!? I’m looking forward to spending the next thirty, forty, fifty years being pulled through the extraterrestrial jungles of your imagination, your neurological safaris . . . adieu
And yet, hugh57, I’ve seen high-toned literary types at an elite college fawn over Margaret Atwood after a reading of Oryx and Crake. Seriously, the line for autographs was so long I had to give up because my babysitter had to go home.
Does this mean Eoin Colfer is going to win the Nebula next year for The Time Paradox?
No problem with the books being up for awards, but I’m not really comfortable with the marketing category. When I started reading sf and fantasy, back in ancient times, YA was not singled out, and I would have found it patronizing if it had been.
If it’s solely an artificial distinction, then it just means having to search two sections instead of one. If it’s a distinction with substance (teen protagonist, happy ending, light on sex and profanity), then we’re back to patronizing. Apparently, though, teens today don’t see it that way.
Clearly, the problem with SF is that it is insufficiently ghettoized.
Grumble away, b****es. Then get over yourselves and go read some.
I’ve been loving Le Guin since I was reading chapter books. Adult, kids, whatever — it’s all good when she writes it. YA in general is in a golden age right now.
@14: yes, THE HUNGER GAMES is a YA novel. Does Scholastic even publish adult books?
Put me on the Avatar fan cruise, as well. One of the best television shows I’ve ever seen.
And people are complaining… why? Man, some people just live to bitch and moan.
Dude, when I saw the Hugo noms and saw ZT and Little Brother my first thought was “Two YA novels! Hell yes!” Then I went and read the description for The Graveyard Book and practically danced around my room.
Starweaver @46: this is why I’m only so happy with splitting out F/SF in general. When I was growing up all the fiction was in the same place in the library, so I read a lot of Asimov (because he was in the As and had rocket ships), and scoured the sheves for more stuff. . . and found Ian Fleming and John Gardner’s Bond books, which I would have never laid eyes on otherwise.
I think this is what Neil Gaiman talks about when he says that categories like that just give people more opportunities to ignore books they don’t think they want to read. (Paraphrased, and poorly at that.)
Maybe the objecting authors feel that, without — say — excessive violence, gore, or explicit sex, they won’t have anything to write about. Because, after all, those were hallmarks of the works of Asimov, Tolkien, and the like.
Perhaps the most depressing part is that the objecting authors may feel they have nothing to say to younger readers.
On the whole, YA books seem to be more heavily edited for conciseness and readability. It’s rare to see 800 page YA books that don’t go anywhere (though you could make a point for later Potter books), but adult fiction is full of them. On average, I think this makes them better books; you see the cool idea, you finish the book in a day or two, and you move on to another book. You are excused from trudging through the chapters that feel like they are lifted from the author’s senior thesis. It’s not that I have a problem with big words, complex sentences, or complicated ideas; I just think they shouldn’t be there for their own sake and be reserved for when they are truly needed.
But then, my tastes tend towards briefer writings. I also like short stories and shorter books from pre-WWII.
Eh, I’ve been complaining for years now, that half the best SF/F was hiding in the YA section! (Thankfully, it’s not hiding that well.)
filkertom @52: Scalzi didn’t specifically say that the grumblers are authors, just that they are “certain quarters.” But that would make sense, in that there may be some authors of adult SF/F who consider the Hugos and the Nebulas (Nebulae?) “theirs”, and don’t appreciate these YA types muscling in on their turf.
Many of the YA novels I read growing up can still stand on their own today with the best adult stuff I’ve read–I’m thinking John Bellairs for horror, Lloyd Alexander, Natalie Babbit (read “The Search for Delicious” and “The Eyes of the Amaryllis” if you haven’t yet), and some of Brian Jacques’ stronger work–“Mossflower” and “Martin the Warrior,” to be precise.
Ok, the above comments are just a little too ‘me too!’ so I’ve gotta pop in and stir things up a bit. Keep in mind as you read this that I actually agree with Scalzi that anything that gets kids to love reading is good and I don’t have an issue with the nominations… but I would like to explore the issue vs just nodding and feeling all good because I agree with Scalzi.
Part of the reaction is, I think, that the YA sections in many bookstores are part of the children’s books section. So let’s extend this a bit… how would people feel about an actual children’s book being nominated for the Hugo/Nebula/etc? Yes, I mean a book written for 6 year olds. After all, it gets young kids reading! That’s good, right? Everything John says about the intent of YA is also true for children’s books – so why not make them eligible?
Are there some wonderful children’s books? Yeah. Do we seriously consider any for major literary or genre awards? No – because we realize that their intent is very different… part if it is helping to teach kids TO read and to improve those early skills whereas YA isn’t that at all. So… why shelve YA in the same area of the store as the childrens’ books? By putting YA in the same section booksellers are furthering the perception that YA books are for kids.
Booksellers won’t shelve YA with the genre fiction for space reasons, but do they really expect 35 year olds to regularly wander over to the YA section? Sure, some might, but most of us won’t (and I’m older than that… sigh…). Part of the reason is that it feels odd, but much of it is simply that we would never think that the fiction over there might appeal to us. As Renatus says above he/she is a very different person at 30 than at 15… so why expect 30 year olds to shop in a section explicitly labeled as being for teens? As people have already pointed out a lot of the early stuff by Heinlein etc would be marketed as YA today and a lot of the stuff that IS marketed as YA is perfectly fine fiction. One big difference back then was that if you wanted those books you explicitly went to the SF section so you were exposed to the whole gamut of SF. There was no fooling yourself that you weren’t [i]really[/i] reading that geeky SF stuff. In my case, it also got me to pick up the books next to the stuff I was looking for and to give some of them a try which led to discovering new authors. While people reading [i]Zoe’s Tale[/i] and [i]Little Brother[/i] can go on to read ‘regular’ SF by those authors, is this generally true of YA authors or will today’s teens need to either move to new authors or continue reading the YA output of their favorite authors? If they need to find new authors… how will they do that since they’ve not been shopping in the SF section (yes, I realize they might wander over there…)? More directly… are these kids becoming SF fans or fans of a given author?
Finally, a plea to any booksellers reading this… please don’t put YA in the Children’s Books sections. Put YA out in the adult area as its own ‘genre’ on an equal footing with Mystery, SFF, etc. If you want it to be taken as seriously as any other form of fiction give it that treatment.
It’s not the tentacles you have to look out for.
It’s the beaks. (NSFW)
Actually, I think one of the first sci-fi stories I read as a YA was “A Boy and His Dog”. Yeeeehaaa! It sure kept ME reading.
Louis Armstrong was once asked what kinds of music were good in his opinion (or something to that effect) and his response was there were really only 2 kinds of music; good and bad. While this may be a bit subjective, I have always had a certain fondness for that response. I certainly understand what he was saying.
Oooh, Snarky Author is Snarky!
To rescue this from being yet another “Hi, I agree” post…
I first found Diane Duane’s (post Trek) work in YA. This means I found The Door Into Fire there because the librarians and the bookstore drones saw the name and assumed YA. The two male protagonists having a PG-13 love scene in the first chapter would have caused them to plotz if they had actually read the book.
@ 58: And why did we post a link with an octopus doing something sexually explicit?
As for everyone else, thank you! I am not alone. :) I also suggest Graceling. Not the BEST but certainly a good tale. I can’t wait for the next book. :)
What are some of the best YA SF/Fantasy novels out there today? From the comments I see:
The Hunger Games
The Graveyard Book
Zoe’s Tale (If you are here you should know about it)
What shouldn’t be missed?
There are definitely people complaining about YA winning awards. They seem to only remember sub-grade-5 books from the 80s, harp on how YA isn’t worthy of an “adult” award. In the best case they comfort themselves with how YA as a genre is still, with “a few” exceptions, a ghetto.
I can only assume they think that all the Nebula, Hugo, etc., voters are infantile idiots. Despite these voters being among the most devoted of SF/F folks.
Makes me very tired. So this curt and to-the-point post is appreciated.
For examples of whinging: buzz around the older SF/F fora.
Actually John, we editors hover with baited breath for the chance to say “Now wait a minute . . ”
After all, if we weren’t poking our authors with sharp sticks, what would we do all day?
Some of the whining I have seen has been from people who think that SF books ought to be full of complex mathematical proofs and lectures on astrophysics. Books aimed at kids generally don’t come out sounding like school text books, so the hard SF crowd probably isn’t getting what it wants from YA.
On the other hand, I’ve been seeing various tweets recently to the effect that if your book has edgy controversial themes then it is much more likely to get published as YA because kids are more receptive to new ideas than adults. That would certainly help explain why YA books are winning awards.
YetiStomper@63: Ursula Le Guin’s Gifts/Voices/Powers. Scott Westerfeld (and perhaps Justine Larbalestier, although she wasn’t to my taste). Megan Whalen Turner (hers end up filed with kids’ books because _The Thief_, well, was; the next two are very much YA, though).
“Things that get nominated for awards” is also a not unreasonable starting place.
Find an online synopsis of Breaking Dawn, the 4th book in the Twlight series and you will agree that it is not the sex and violence that puts a book on the adult shelves rather than the YA shelves. I think I agree with Stan @53 that YA has to be more concise. Or as some friends of mine have said, “I read children’s literature because it doesn’t suck.”
The problem with YA literature is that it is shelved in closer to the juvenile section in the local library the shelves are lower to the ground and I have to bend over a considerable amount and this hurts my back and no author should be out to injure his audience and there YA is stupid!
I wonder if some of the issue is misplaced anger that SF, once again, must be shifted into a “respectable” or “hot” category in order to garner sales and/or literary notice.
What I, personally, don’t dig about the trend is that it reinforces the stereotype that SF is something for kids, not adults. Sure, it’s great if those kids grow up up to read SF as adults, but it’s depressing to see nothing’s changed in the battle for how SF is perceived by the general public.
Most of what I read when I was 12 was SF and fantasy intended for adults (my shelves are full of 30-year-old Del Rey paperbacks). I don’t quite understand why there’s been an explosion in this special category (YA), other than a crowd of marketing dorks chasing the Harry Potter phenomenon.
I have felt, ever since the YA category appeared, that it really was an American thing – an inheritance from the Puritans, and one which swoons in horror at the mere possibility that young persons might be exposed to anything implying romance, and that is “hotter” than the persons in question holding hands – and being mortally embarrassed at doing so.
While at the same time it might be gory enough to give me nightmares.
(Note that I _don’t_ recommend that children should read porn – it is only my impression that the American attitude of anything that might touch on sexuality calls the censors out of the bushes, while blood and gore is OK)
Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras (scott westerfeld)
Peeps and the sequel Last Days (scott westerfeld) (if you only read one book by westerfeld, read Peeps. Despite the name.)
The Mortal Intruments Series (City of Bones, etc)
That’s all I can think off the top of my head. But that’s at least a month’s worth of reading, maybe two. I don’t care what anyone says, I still loved the Twlight series. Also, The Host by Stephenie Meyer is also very good. It’s not YA, and not technically SF, but it’s got aliens! :)
Please people, create some lists here. :) I have already found a few books I haven’t heard of otherwise.
Mark @ 68: In regards to the sex in Breaking Dawn, there is none to really speak of. Think of a PG-13 movie… the camera moving away from the “action” to the curtains blowing in the window. Then *poof* it’s morning. I’m not going to say anymore without giving away the plot, but you should get the picture from that.
As far as violence, it’s American society all over again. Violence is acceptable in PG-13 movies, but no boobies. I think that YA books tend to be more PG-13 by AMERICAN standards.
I believe in two kinds of YA books – good ones and bad ones. So long as it’s the good ones getting nominated for awards I couldn’t care less where they shelve them in the store. I still read kids comics (Tiny Titans and Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam – Gotta love having a six-year old for an excuse) and have teens in the house so I’m not afraid of YA cooties.
There are some YA books I don’t like but that’s because I think they’re bad, not YA. (I’ll also admit to finding bad YA harder to read than bad adult fiction, but I’m well past my teens too).
I don’t believe anyone’s mentioned Tamora Pierce yet, one of my favorite YA writers. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan got a lot of buzz last year, and is a lovely story that happens to start off with rape and incest. Robin McKinley has written many wonderful YA books. If you don’t mind heading towards the children’s racks, Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop series is great, and his short story collections can make me cry. And Jane Yolen is a wonderful tale spinner.
And I agree with Stan, the YA books tend to be leaner about their plot, which is often an advantage.
I remember when Goblet of Fire won the Hugo by a large margin, not only a YA but a fantasy book, people were surprised and generally not happy.
At 53, I still read YA books — I’m a pretty omnivorous reader. I can remember though when I was a teen and I discovered there was a secret code (YA written in pencil on the inside back cover) in the Aurora, Colorado library. An older woman librarian wouldn’t let me check out Phillip Dick’s Ubik because it didn’t have the secret code inscribed. I just went back the next week and checked it out when the cool, young, male, SF-fan librarian was working.
re: HP4 winning the Hugo in years past – I can only imagine the amount of angst and drama that must have produced.
Did Coraline‘s Hugo and Nebula novella wins also inspire the gnashing of teeth?
i’m a new YA librarian, less than two years at it. i was dismayed at first, because i rather be at the “back of the house” where the cataloging and computers are. however, i was so pleasantly surprised to find good entertaining reads in YA. (i shouldn’t have been, i’m like a big 33-yo teen myself)
my timing is so good, that i got to read Zoe’s Tale AND Graveyard Book AND Little Brother, and have it count as “work”. Congrats to all of these for recent nominations.
small note: i put a lot of thought into what i bring into my YA collection. not necessarily “selling” books to the kids, but trying to figure out where kids are coming from these days and trying to fill this corner of the library with lit they could relate to. sometimes “Juvenile”, sometimes “Adult” books find their way in.
I agree with John.
It is just terrible that the poor teens and YA nowadays get to read good science fiction! I just curse the day I discovered Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy, fell in love with science fiction, and read it to this day!!!
O woe unto the new generation of readers!!!!
I just hope many young adults read the good sci-fi out there and embrace the genre.
fantasy is my first love as far as genre goes. and when i began writing my debut, i was sort of amazed by the snootiness within certain writing circles that i wrote spec fic. i was proud of what i wrote and proud of what i love to read.
Silver Phoenix being sold as young adult was a surprise. i was thrilled, and began reading excellent books written by YA authors. i guess i wasn’t surprised when i saw disdain from other quarters for the genre.
but please, not from fantasy circles. we should know better. we’ve been mocked and disdained before. as writers, we know how difficult it is to write, the dedication it takes to craft a good story. it’s not “easy” for ANY genre. so hurrah for fantasy. and hurrah for awesome YA fantasy.
thanks for this post, john.
Writer/reader of YA, making sandcastles in my own little corner of the playground. When a bunch of seventh-graders scuff their toes in the dirt and mutter about how my sandcastle is stupid or ugly, it doesn’t bother me a whole lot. I didn’t ask them to come to playground, or to help me build the castle. I’m not forcing them to stare at the castle, and I’m not asking them to like it.
Now, if the grumblers go so far as to change the rules to the awards, to keep YA out of the running, then they’re kicking sand. And THEN I will have a problem.
YA is a fascinating category and right now it is where the money is so of course some of the best stuff is being published there. Since savvy SF readers don’t care about labels many read teen (oops YA) novels the same way that kids and teens read adult SF novels just because they are good and they like them. Mainstream adult SF readers read Little Brother (a very important book) because they know Doctorow and Tor. Fewer read Hunger Games because Collins is not known to them and it is published by Scholastic, a house that doesn’t publish for adults but it is a darn good book. Should have been on the Hugo ballot. I was surprised that Zoe’s Tale wasn’t published YA but I guess it has to hang out with the other books in the series. I’m just happy that so much good SF is coming out again and I don’t care what category it is published in as long as I can find it.
I believe the phrase you’re looking for here is “gateway drug”
You’re on to us. What few people realise is how much we librarians are like drug dealers.
We deliberately go out to get little kiddies hooked on our product at an early age. We let them think the hits are free, knowing that it will lead to an expensive and time consuming habit in the future. And we make a point of constantly pushing new product at the young and vulnerable.
YA doesn’t mean “young adult”. It means “you’re addicted”.
The only flaw in our business model is that we get shafted pay-wise while freeloading publishers and authers such as Scalzi make out like bandits on our efforts. That’s why we invite them around to sign books in our libraries – so we can burgle their houses when they’re away.
In defense of the YA section of the bookshop:
1. The YA section is the only part of the bookshop that transcends genre. So a teenager looking for something to read is just as likely to pick up a romance title, or sci-fi, or fantasy, or literary fiction (and there is YA literary fiction), even though said teenager might not think of going to that specific section of the adult titles.
2. Similarly, authors are allowed to play with genre in YA in ways they aren’t in adult fiction. If an established sci-fi writer decided that she wanted to write a crime thriller, or a romance, it is likely she’d be dissuaded by her publisher. Because that book would go in a different bit of the shop, and all that author’s titles wouldn’t line up together on the shelf. But in YA, it’s just YA, regardless of what genre.
3. Books for teenagers aren’t easier, or dumbed down, or less rude. But they are about things that reflect the experiences of teenagers. They are generally tighter, and put a bit more value on plot than on language (although of course a good writer does both – see Margo Lanagan). If there were no YA section, these books would be alongside the general fiction and the genre fiction. Adolescence is the most critical time in the development of a lifelong reading habit – if you stop reading when you’re a teenager, it’s (statistically) unlikely you’ll ever start again. So we need to be doing everything we can to make sure that the books teenagers pick up are books that will make them keep reading – books that are relevant to them and their experiences. And making those books as easy to locate as possible.
4. Which is certainly not to suggest to that adults can’t enjoy those books too. After all, we were all teenagers once. Plus YA is awesome.
5. Let me also applaud the various speculative fiction literary awards for deigning to include YA in their considerations in the first place. It’s the only place where it does happen. You’d never find a YA novel shortlisted for the Booker or the Orange or the Commonwealth Writers Prize or any of the mainstream literary awards.
I have no problem with a YA book getting a top award. Anything that encourages people to read is okay in my opinion and if its Science Fiction even better.
Having said that I get to vote on the Hugos this year and I’m going to vote for the book that I have read and enjoyed the most ignoring the audience it was intended for and if that’s a YA book I can live with that.
Holly’s Blacks Faerie books (Tithe, Valiant, Ironsiders) are YA, but definitely not squeaky clean and G-rated. Also, they rock. But they are definitely targeted at a teenage audience.
@ #24 Keri: Twilight would never, ever lead to “a future of Anne Rice, black lipstick, and Vampire: The Masquerade”.
Edward, sparkles for goodness sake.
@ #24 Keri: It might lead to a future of Buffy & Angel though.
I just went to Barnes and Noble and picked up the mass-market paperback of Zoe’s Tale. I got into science fiction and fantasy when I was younger through YA, and I still love to read it. Hopefully I enjoy this one as much as the other OMW books.
I’m a librarian who runs programs for teens, including book discussions, graphic novel discussions, and an anime club.
It seems to me that if you don’t get young persons reading for pleasure by the time they hit junior high, then you’ve pretty much lost them as readers.
I cannot comprehend why anybody would complain, though I’d be curious to read dissenting views. I admit that I actually haven’t seen or heard anybody complain about the YAs getting on the major F&SF awards lists. I for one was thrilled to see those YA titles on the lists, and hope to see more quality books on those lists in the future.
The problem that is perceived isn’t that the books are in YA or that YA is in the kids’ section of the bookstore. The problem is that while Harry Potter brought a lot of new readers to adult SFF as well as YA stuff, the titles also crowded the New York Times bestseller list so fully that publishers and authors lobbied the Times to reinstate their former children’s list, to keep Harry Potter and friends “over there.” YA has exploded in the children’s part of the business and takes up a much larger part of the bookstores than it used to.
So for many authors, YA titles are seen as unfair competition that are taking over. They appeal to a wider age range than “dark” adult stories so adult stories are seen as not getting a fair break in consideration. And yes, they believe that YA titles are less complicated, have happier endings, etc., so that nominations and awards going to YA titles is the equivalent of the standard Hollywood blockbuster winning while the moody, twisty, daring indie is ignored. There’s a great deal of anger leveled at YA SFF for being seen as the new in-thing, and authors who have done adult titles and then do YA are seen as sell-outs, doing it for a buck (though I doubt anyone would level that accusation at Ursula LeGuin at this point.) The proliferation of YA titles in award nominations is not seen as a result of good fiction in that sub-category and that quality being recognized, but as a category muscling its way in undeservedly and taking away another marketing option from adult titles that are struggling as it is.
And since most of those titles are fantasy, including romantic horror or comedy geared toward teen girls, there’s a lot of grumbling from the SF contingent that the flood of YA is just another assault of fantasy on SF’s pure and holy mission (and market share.) Which conveniently dismisses some really interesting YA SF that’s being written as not real SF but just dressed up fantasy — another nail in the coffin of SF’s supposed long death parade.
All of which I consider nonsense. I think it’s great that talented SFF authors who do adult stuff also are doing YA stuff, just as I feel LeGuin’s Earthsea made a major contribution to children’s lit and to SFF way back in the day. I think it’s great that they are writing stories for boys and teen boys (which of course the girls and adults will read too.) And I’ve never suffered the illusion that the moody, twisted indie of written SFF will disappear. In fact, it’s just as likely to get made into a movie at this point. Books don’t sell unless people read them. We need YA. And YA’s success helps adult SFF be more successful without sacrificing a bit of darkness.
I usually lurk about reading other comments, but this entertains me because we were just talking about this at work today. I’m an elementary school Teacher Librarian, and the grade 6/7 teacher was commenting on how weird it is that her whole class loves to read sf. I pointed out that there’s a lot more good kids’ and YA out there than there used to be and it’s what appeals to them.
I’m 34 and she’s probably 15-20 years older than me, so we represent a sliding scale of knowledge on what’s been available over the years. I’ve always read sf, but not necessarily stuff aimed at my age group while I was growing up (I don’t think there was that much) and she doesn’t really read sf herself. There’s now so much great stuff out there.
I tend to wave a lot of good new sf and fantasy books at the kids when I’m showing them new books and if I’m going to recommend something as a book I’d like to read it tends to be in that category. The classroom teacher thinks that might be influencing her class’ book choices. This pleases me as I didn’t think they paid that much attention to what I like.
Oh, and I’m a female who picks books for the library that the boys like. I also don’t dismiss the stuff they like to read as ‘light reading’ or less worthy than the so-called realistic fiction.
I tend to wave a lot of good new sf and fantasy books at the kids when I’m showing them new books and if I’m going to recommend something as a book I’d like to read it tends to be in that category.
God damn the pusher ma’am…
So the major SF awards are dominated by YA titles, eh? Proving once again that “the Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve”…
Some of the best writing I read last year was in the YA category. And as a judge for the YA Edgar awards for MWA, I read a LOT of it.
A. Jericho @ 79
You should have heard the outcry in the SF world when Watchmen won the Hugo!!! When I went to the DeepSouthCon the next year, there was a panel called if I can remember correctly, “Now that a comicbook has won a Hugo, is this the end of science fiction?”
Watchmen won he Hugo in 1988 at NOLACON II. I just wanted to aid this bit of info. to my post of #98.
*scratches head* Why can’t I find Tender Morsels on Amazon besides for Kindle or an outrageously priced, $59.99, hardcover due for release in July???
OK I googled it and how it’s showing up on Amazon… please disregard my technical error… (I posted this and THEN it shows up… Scalzi’s Law)
Other excellent YA fantasy/SF published recently:
The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Mary Pearson)
Unwind (Neal Shusterman)
Graceling (Kristin Cashore–someone else mentioned this, too)
Why does SF have such a perennial pessimism streak about its continued existence, or at least, continued existence in the approved hard sf written by guys for adults only about physics category? It’s been going on since the 1960’s, looks like. I did an article about it for SFFWorld, in which I was looking at the death misperceptions caused by changes in the book market, but it clearly is a viewpoint that runs much deeper than that. Why is every new development in SF a threat that will cause its death for some fans? It was clear that YA SF was developing into a vibrant, strong market, and one that can bring in more boy readers too — the holy grail of schools and librarians everywhere — but now that’s a bad thing? I’m not going to try and top the brilliant sarcasm of Scalzi and Jeff Hentosz, but add me to it, please.
That’s funny–correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds to me like the folks denigrating YA SF and fantasy are sounding a lot like the people who denigrate adult SF and fantasy.
Why does SF have such a perennial pessimism streak about its continued existence
Cause half the stories in SF are end-of-the-world stories and the other half got lousy reviews?
Cause “dystopia” is more often published than “utopia”?
Cause SF writers are a bunch of pessimistic bastards?
@#85 Phoenician in a time of Romans
My kids are on to you. When I found I could place books on hold at the local library from home via the internet; the library would autodial our phone number to let me know the books were available. My sons (teens then) would always give me the message by saying “Your pusher called.” Now they e-mail me but my now-teen daughter, as well as her brothers roll their eyes (and we get nagged by the firefighter about the dangerousness posed by these books) at the stack of books on the stairs and the nightstand and….
Yay John! I’m 15 and I’ve been hooked on sci-fi/fantasy since I was 7 (literally). Zoe’s tale was the first Scalzi book I read and now you’re my favourite author. I love YA fiction because A. With sci-fi and fantasy it’s normally a good place to go for an easy read when I’m getting sick of epic fantasy and philosophical sci-fi (2 things I love btw) and B. It normally deals with highly relateable characters (like Zoe who is the best character in anything evar!). I couldn’t read ONLY YA because (like I said) it lacks the epic and the heavy philosophy of adult fiction but I’d hate for it to become less popular.
John, have you had a chance to look over Andrew Wheeler’s list of genre bestsellers of 2008?
Looking at those numbers, I imagine the older sf/f crowd is burning with envy.
I took a two-semester series in college on YA and Children’s Lit.
I read some of the BEST books I’ve ever encountered in that class. The people who took it thinking the reading would be easy, or the reading list shorter, were quite disappointed. I clapped my hands when I found my cache of books from that class the other day and immediately socked about five of them on the shelf of to-read-agains.
I’m 28 years old and I read Justine Larbalestier and Louise Rennison with a fannish fervor. Why? They write good books with characters I care about. Is being a grown woman who reads about freshmen in high school a bad thing? I don’t think so. It hasn’t stopped me from reading anything else I like, and it’s my quick and easy reading. And sometimes it kicks me in the ass by being not easy at all. I was on my couch just the other night crying like a baby over the end of “Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush.” I don’t remember the last time a book aimed at adults was able to do that to me.
YA was just starting to be a genre when I was a kid. But I am frankly envious of everything that kids growing up now have to read that’s aimed at them. Feed by M.T. Andersen? Kicked ass. Didn’t know it was a “teen” book until after I got it home.
I personally love the fact that my bookstore lady has “award-winning” YA to point out to parents who know little Susie really likes Harry Potter and Twilight but want her to broaden out her reading some. So much more the better if the awards aren’t for outstanding books for kids but outstanding books, period. Because I’d dearly love to see little Susie not drop the whole “reading” thing as a fad now that Meyer isn’t going to release her last “rape is love, aren’t vampires nice & sparkly” epic.
Hey Pope! Train posse REPRESENT!
“And yes, they believe that YA titles are less complicated, have happier endings, etc., so that nominations and awards going to YA titles is the equivalent of the standard Hollywood blockbuster winning while the moody, twisty, daring indie is ignored. ”
If that is really how the argument goes, then I can understand the grumblers’ position. I could even agree with it . . . if I didn’t know so much YA that was more the moody, twisty, daring, indie stuff and if it wasn’t exactly that kind of YA that’s snagging the awards.
And to Rick all the way back at 58
I know you are trying to play devil’s advocate, but I’ll pick up your gauntlet. If someone nominated Shaun Tan’s book The Arrival for a Nebula, I’d vote for it. Not in the novel category, but I bet there’s somewhere it would fit just fine.
CosmicPhoenix 107: This comment gave me a much-needed lift. Thanks for posting it!
“If that is really how the argument goes, then I can understand the grumblers’ position. I could even agree with it . . . if I didn’t know so much YA that was more the moody, twisty, daring, indie stuff and if it wasn’t exactly that kind of YA that’s snagging the awards.”
Exactly, Hope. It’s a fallacy that denies a wide range of styles and subject matter in both adult SFF and YA SFF and refuses to see that wide range as a good thing. It’s easy for people to consider sub-categories not just as organizational conveniences but as stereotypical types — all romances are the same, all SFF stories, all mysteries, all YA, etc.
I have not read LeGuin’s Powers, for example. It’s LeGuin, so it’s not like it’s out of left field to be nominated or win, YA or no. I have some regret that Brasyl didn’t take the award instead, and I can understand that some people would be annoyed and feel that the two works are not comparable to each other. But whether short or thick, YA or adult, dark or not dark, a story is a story and should have an equal chance at the major SFF awards. And having a lot of YA SFF that many are finding intriguing and valuable has innumerable benefits for adult SFF, not the least of which is that many authors write both.
I’ve only read one blog post and already I like you. You’ve inspired me to create a “Convert an Adult: YA SFF” reading list. Got anything you’d like me to throw on it? Off the top of my head, I’m thinking:
-The recent award-winners, of course!
-The Goose Girl
-The Hunger Games
-The Forest of Hands and Teeth
-The Golden Compass
I haven’t read Octavian Nothing yet, but I have a feeling it belongs on the list, as well.
I know I’ll probably be excoriated for saying this but I strongly feel that one of the reason more YA’s don’t pick up on reading SF is because many high-school librarians don’t know diddly about SF, about getting kids interested in reading and about getting kids interested in reading SF.