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The YA Renaissance

As promised, a second blog post in two days. And this one will likely make a few people anxious or irritated or whatever. But now I've opened my big mouth, I'm gonna keep opening it a little while longer. So the other day I was talking to a guy at a party and said something about children's publishing propping up the industry for the past several years. The first thing out of his mouth was, "Yeah, because of that Twilight book, right?"  The same day I saw an article about how YA is making a comeback, mostly thanks to <<cringe>> Twilight. I have, in fact, seen more than one article, crediting Stephenie Meyer with stimulating the current renaissance in YA literature. Okay, that just makes me mad. Because, while I totally agree Twilight is a major phenom (without exactly understanding why, but that's another blog), the upswing in YA readership began long before Stephenie Meyer ever dreamed up her sanitized vampire romance.

I don't want to sound snippy or envious. I think it's great that a YA author can find the kind of following and crossover appeal that Stephenie Meyer has. But it bothers me that other (and in my opinion, better) YA authors aren't more justly rewarded. Laurie Halse Anderson (whose recent Wintergirls has definitely received much-deserved attention) sparked audience interest in 2003 with Catalyst. A year before that, Patricia McCormick's Cut drew wide praise. Chris Crutcher was writing controversial YA at the time. Tamora Pierce had been writing YA fantasy for a decade. Annette Curtis Klause was writing more horrific horror. Neal Schusterman's problem novels appeared in the late '80s. Meg Cabot's teen novels first popped up in 2000. Sonya Sones's first verse novel, Stop Pretending, published in 2001. Libba Bray's lush Great and Terrible Beauty debuted in 2003, as did Gail Giles's intense Shattering Glass.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. By the time Twilight hit bookshelves in 2006, the YA renaissance was well under way. Yet somehow it remained under the public radar. Granted, those gorgeous black and red covers, on obvious display in every bookstore window, drew broad attention to themselves and the stunning sales figures that followed could not go unnoticed. But I find it sad that literature in general, and YA in particular, is judged on $$$ rather than the quality of the writing. YA does not belong to Stephenie Meyer alone. There are dozens of brilliant authors publishing brilliant YA. I doubt any of us would say we wouldn't like to make the kind of bank Twilight has. But my guess is that making a positive impact on young lives, and thereby helping to shape a brighter future, is more important for most of us. And that is what the YA renaissance is truly all about.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 1st, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
I agree. It's annoying when one author is credited and believe you me, I'm yelling in the wind all the time since when it comes to kiddie lit books by Black authors if you're not Walter Dean Myers or Sharon Draper you ain't nobody. That's why I was sure to mention Rita Williams Garcia and Laurie Halse Anderson among others in the article, but ya' know you just can't get away from the phenoms.

As proof that it happens everywhere, a little side note: I've always worked in PR. Years ago, I had one of Baltimore's largest healthcare systems as a client. We had doctors doing great and wonderful things and I'd pitch all the great and wonderful things they were doing to local news outlets. On a regular basis, I'd see a story I pitched end up on the news using a doctor from Johns Hopkins simply b/c Hopkins has the name. All my work down the drain since my client wasn't even called upon. It's the way the cookie crumbles and the way the PR person gets an aneurysm. But hey, thems the breaks. If it makes any difference I love you more than I love Stephanie Meyer. ;-) I've never even read Twilight. *shrugs*
Sep. 1st, 2009 05:21 pm (UTC)
You are so right...

Holly Black
Melissa Marr
Maureen Johnson
John Green
Ellen Hopkins ;)

The list goes on and on.

One writer doesn't sustain an entire genre.

And really, the best thing about YA is how diverse it is. But instead of sectioning off the books by genre, they're all grouped together, which I love.

YA is a rich and full genre. To focus on a single author and one series of books is to deny the real impact YA has in the publishing marketplace.
Sep. 1st, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC)
Amen! I particularly agree about the influence of Anderson, Pierce, and Klause. I was reading them (and still do) far before TWILIGHT, and they remain much higher on my mental bookshelf.
Sep. 2nd, 2009 01:14 am (UTC)
Thank you for this entry. I couldn't agree with you more, and this needed to be written.
Sep. 2nd, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
Thanks for the friend Ellen. Just for the record, my local SCBWI Shop Talk was discussing the hot thread on Verla's Blue Boards about responsibility in writing YA and your book and Laurie's were a big part of the discussion, but Twilight was no where in sight LOL! Thanks for paving the way for those of us who need to write about what is deeply important to us. :o)
Sep. 2nd, 2009 05:04 am (UTC)
It so needed to be said "thank you" for saying it. The quality and diversity of YA fiction has grown so much in the past couple of decades and it truly is coming into it's own. And hopefully more and more writers will get the recognition that they deserve.
Sep. 2nd, 2009 09:31 am (UTC)
We were discussing this at work recently (I'm a teen librarian). Focusing on teens is kind of a new phenomenon in libraries . . . creating space just for them, spending more money buying young adult fiction, hosting teen programs. There was nothing like this when I was a teenager and suddenly it is a major thrust of youth services departments across the country.

I think it's interesting and wonderful that teens are not "those crazy kids," up to no good and looking to cause trouble, from the perspective of libraries and bookstores. There are sections just for them where they can find books and magazines they're interested in, and where they can hang out. (Our teen room is even glassed in with a door so they can be a little bit louder without worrying about disturbing other library patrons.)

I also thank the children's bestseller list, many thanks to J. K. Rowling. People seem to be taking YA more seriously than ever before.
Sep. 8th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)
Thank you. I totally agree. I was into reading Young Adult books way before twilight was released. I read them because the storys seemed interesting and they were really good. Some of my favorite books have never seemed to achieve widespread money success, but are some of the most beautifully written books in the YA genre.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )