Who knew in 1949 that we would become a nation of Peter Pans by 2012, a country of non-adults who dress like we’re fifteen because we think we can get away with it and read YA fiction because it “speaks” to us? That obsession with clinging to a youth we’ve outgrown is the subject of a book titled The Death of the Adult: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization by Diana West (New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, c2007) which I recently started reading more out of angst that anything else. Apparently I am a rare bird. I like my wrinkles; I find them cute and my husband finds them sexy. It is no small boon that his vision is fading faster than my physique, but I remain adamant: I am proud to call myself an adult. It was a long, strange trip getting here, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
A New Category for a “New” Kind of Adult
Apparently, I am atypical. What a shame, I mumble to myself… (I also mutter now and then as a symptom of getting older, and I like it. It scares the right people.) Anyhow, since I was a kid I couldn’t wait to grow up, couldn’t wait to be an adult with all of the trimmings. And the minute I got there, I discovered that there were almost no other adults in the room. I’ve been looking for them since 1981. The search has been disappointing. So imagine my surprise and unmitigated disgust when I read an article in The Atlantic trumpeting the birth of a new genre: New Adult Fiction. For the New Adult, no doubt… OMG. Must we really condescend to one more slight on adulthood?
According to West:
“More adults, ages eighteen to forty-nine, watch the Cartoon Network than CNN. Readers as old as twenty-five are buying young adult fiction written expressly for teens. The average video gamester was eighteen in 1990; now he’s going on thirty. And no wonder: The National Academy of Sciences has, in 2002, redefined adolescence as the period extending from the onset of puberty, around twelve, to age thirty” (1).
Meanwhile, back in the YA Section, D.B. Grady states in her article How Young Adult Fiction Came of Age that a literary agent with Lowenstein Associates attributes this to “not [a] crisis in the collective level of literacy in the United States…[but as] indicative of the quality and enduring themes addressed by young adult [writers]” (1). Furthermore, Grady asserts that it is the “illumination of viewpoints by emotion in place of experience” that carries the real seductive power, a perpetual adult obsession with “the loss of innocence” (2). Ye gads. Gross. See more at: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/08/how-young-adult-fiction-came-of-age/242671/
Further along in the article, Grady introduces us to literary critic Jack Zipes and his theory: “adults buy YA because they perceive everyone else as buying YA” (2). (Remember your Mom: “Well if every kid in the neighborhood was jumping off a bridge would you do it?” Ah, Mom…you were sooo wise. ) But even Grady suggests this adult buying-frenzy of All Things Teen is a direct result of – wait for it – marketing. It is “the marketing driven metaphysical imperative to remain one with the zeitgeist” (2). But it is also the result of publishers noticing the growing gap between high school and “post high school” (but somehow miraculously not-yet-adult) group that apparently reaches well into the pockets of those up to age forty…You know – those with even bigger allowances. This would be those described in Grady’s article by publisher-at-large Dan Weiss of St. Martin’s Press as “the large crowd of folks experiencing a lot of the same issues of adolescence at an older age. In other words: issues of separation and attachment; individuation; and romantic, sexual, and economic independence…” (3)
Is anyone else out there feeling… disgusted? I’m thinking how nice and cozy it must be in that there bubble. I mean come on – grow up! Enough of the excesses, excuses and self-analysis already… Don’t you think the rest of us can see how old you are? Do you think you can hide behind Botox and Harry Potter forever? Even he grew up! We really are wondering when you’re going to join the ranks...
I Give Up: Where Are The Adults?
Yes, boys and girls, New Adult Fiction is the planned “bridge” category designed and nurtured to carry the teen reader into real young adulthood, and to buffer the egos of those too far into denial to shuffle off to the Big People’s Section of literature.
The experts claim it is the “purchasing power” of young people and young working adults that have propelled this “need” (2). I’m wondering when exactly I can expect these same people to learn how to cognitively process larger, more complex sentence structure so we can actually keep adult fiction being published in this country. I for one, will not follow advice I have seen publishers give to “dumb down” sentence structure and simplify language in exchange for the dream of publication. If it’s simple sentence structure and pretty pictures you want, I’d be happy to recommend some truly marvelous board books. Perhaps some of those pre-teen negotiating skills I’ve seen far too many of my generation exhibit in the workplace will help in prying those gems from chubby toddler fingers. But I write in the Grown-Up Section of Horror, and I make no apologies for using big words.
See? I told you I had angst.
Admittedly, there could be valid reasons for this YA success in commandeering the adult readership:
· YA authors tend to be better storytellers
· The YA Section is easy to find in any store
· “YA is to the written word as PG is to film” (Grady 1)
· YA publishers do a thorough job of promotion and marketing
· Sometimes all you want is a snack
Not that adult writers are not good, but YA writers have to be efficient about hooking the reader (whose attention span we are increasingly warned is – due to the internet and technology – about to enter the nanosecond, negative integer range) quickly and absolutely. As editors have been cautioning for years, this is an imperative talent also for adult writers; however it is the immediacy factor that becomes the territorial dispute. For adult writers that first few sentences tend to expand well into in the first chapter. Few of today’s adults seem willing to invest that much time, and hence YA authors seem in better control of their game. They also understand that they cannot risk leaving their underage audience alone and bored for a moment or they will lose them. So pace tends to be faster, more gripping…Kind of reminiscent of the old bodice rippers of romance…
Once again being able to find one’s authors or section means the purchasing world (if you are in to counting profit). Apparently, young adults/teens are the only ones with The Money, because they are the ones being courted by lavish Marketing Attention. If promotions were sex, somebody would need protection; too bad there are no adults monitoring the situation. Adult fiction readers on the other hand, are directed to the back of the bus – er, store – with a marketer’s annoying wave of the hand and a sour glance; you know the one – librarians used to give it to noisy teenagers in libraries before that became unnatural.
And let’s think about PG ratings for a moment. When was the last time a Horror book or film was ratable as PG? 1980-something? Let’s face it, Horror fans, our genre became a horserace in shock language and visceral gore that made disgust the adjective most likely to define it. For some people that was already offensive. But for many who at least believe that they want a more sanitized, morally acceptable standard even in their fiction (a large chunk of the population if current political polls are to be believed) then nothing could be more pristine, innocent and sanitary than YA fiction. Adult content used to mean Adult situations which meant maybe some sex, but not porn. It meant maybe complicated issues like death or lost love and deeper psychological issues that tend to come with aging’s life experience and older awareness, but not psychotic obsession with body parts. Adult language meant adults talked like adults about adult concerns, not that the book or film included a lexicon of curses and meticulously defined excretory functions. Something happened to Horror and we need to take our genre back from the strip club floor. Horror should never be Pollyanna, so sanitized it is actually another genre. But let’s be honest; adult Horror readers need to communicate their preferences to publishing without defecting to YA.
Yes, yes, there are lovely displays and collectibles to be had in the glossy YA Section… Again with the marketing. But really, Mr. Publisher... not even Stephen King???? Where’s his floor display? Let alone Lovecraft, who just had an anniversary with barely a promotional nod…
And hey, arguably YA is light… a literary snack that one can read between staff meetings and while your daughter is distracted by a boy and leaves her copy of Twilight or The Hunger Games unattended. You can tell yourself you are “monitoring” what the kids are reading these days. But you also need to admit it… You prefer YA for a reason, and it may mean you should perform a reality check on yourself. YA versus Adult fiction is like pizza versus a fine lobster bisque; it’s not that both aren’t tasty and satisfying. It’s that at a ‘certain age’ the bisque becomes a transcendental experience, firing in parts of the adult brain you didn’t know you had…And is it good…Glass of wine by the fireplace wrapped in satin good. Literature is not all Ben-Gay and mysterious phrasing. Really, folks; step away from the kiddie section. It’s like you’re stealing their Kraft Cheese and Macaroni. Let the kids have something of their very own…like their childhood without a parent intruding. You done took their Facebook thing… As the kids in my generation used to say when they were kids: hey! Get your own!
Must Be Over 21 To Access This Ride
So here’s my confession. I like a lot of what is happening in YA fiction. There is some top talent in that genre and it is carrying the day, threatening to save the printed word. But you know what? The talent I encounter on the internet, in underpaid co-workers who write incredible fiction, screenplays, and poetry in between their fifteen minute breaks and scanning your groceries, after working split twelve hour waitress shifts and cleaning your swanky hotel rooms is phenomenal. I’m not saying good, I’m saying Wow-good. I’m saying publishing is spending so much time on finding the next Harry Potter that they don’t even notice the strangle-hold they have put on the rest of fiction and new writers. Can we really afford to waste that kind of talent because we’d rather chase movie deals and merchandising? Has that saved publishing so far? Or endangered it further?
So HEY! Y’ALL UP THERE! We can’t seem to find our section in the bookstore. What happened to our favorite authors? Why can’t you see that if you don’t promote what you publish we can’t buy it and the lens of layoffs cannot help but find you next. Want to save publishing? Grow up and get to it. And you – over there by the YA books and collectibles – get your adult self over to the Grown-Up Section, and remember to use your Inside Voice at the check-out counter where it really counts. New Adult Fiction my @#!#... I’d like to speak to the adult in charge…