Mark Haddon (no significant spoillers)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Sat Feb 21 14:26:19 EST 2004

On Fri, 20 Feb 2004 13:07:37 +0000, minnow at wrote:

>Charlie wrote:
>>If they think they'll sell more by putting *To
>>Kill a Mockingbird* under YA I can't really see why they shouldn't. I loved
>>it as a young teen myself, along with Sherlock Holmes, and the 5th Armada
>>Book of Ghosts, and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, and
>>Wuthering Heights (and in those carefree days I wasn't too bothered about
>>which of them were children's books). What's the objection? Is it to do with
>>using up the limited children's shelfspace? Now *that* I'd have more
>>sympathy with.
>I think (from previous discussion here) that the objection is probably that
>YA persons are supposed to be protected in some way from having to face the
>issues that are present in TKaM.

No, the objection on my part is that it *isn't* a young adult book.  (Which
is exactly the same objection I had during that previous discussion.)  As
I've said before, the YA category is about far more than the age of the
people who read it--otherwise we should all be in therapy for being adults
who enjoy DWJ.  YA is a *descriptive*, not a proscriptive; books in this
category share certain characteristics of writing and subject matter, just
like "science fiction" or "romance" or "literary fiction."

One of the primary characteristics of young adult fiction is a protagonist
who is a teen or a pre-teen.  Because of this, books like _To Kill a
Mockingbird_ or _Ender's Game_ sometimes get classified as YA simply because
of the age of the main characters.  This is pure laziness.  I think the
young adult category has great value in itself, and I don't want to see it
confused by people who have no idea what it really means--who either think
it's "just for kiddies" or who have some misguided notion that adult
literature can't possibly have young protagonists.

I can't repeat this often enough:  AGE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.  What
kinds of books were we given as teens in English lit?  Adult classics.
Books written for adults long before anyone had ever thought of "young
adult" literature.  At about the age of thirteen, humans reach the stage of
mental development where they are capable of understanding literature in the
same way as an adult of forty.  The only difference is experience.  While
another purpose of young adult literature is to provide that needed
experience, teens don't have to be restricted only to "age-appropriate"
material; they can read literally anything they want and be enriched by it.

If you think the young adult category is somehow meant to protect the young,
look again.  YA books cover the widest range of challenges of any genre.
There are YA books that talk about sex, death, abuse, torture (yes,
torture--remember _The Queen of Attolia_?), love, neglect, racism,
homophobia, divorce, and a host of other social and personal problems--and
in recent years they have been more and more open (read: graphic) in their
descriptions of said problems.  What distinguishes these books from their
"adult" counterparts is not subject material, but approach, writing style,
perspective, just to name a few.

I do not want the young adult genre to become all about the age of the
readers.  Nor do I want adult works of other genres to be classed as YA
simply because some fool thinks, for example, that no thinking adult would
ever read science fiction.  (I saw this just yesterday when I ventured into
the city library for the first time.)  In either case it speaks to a
profound lack of understanding of what exactly YA fiction is.

I happen to agree with Charlie about the difference between bookstore
shelving policy and libraries; bookstores have to appeal to readers who are
walking in off the street and browsing in their favorite sections, and they
have to put books where they think they will sell.  I don't really like the
policy for myself, as it means a lot more searching and in some cases a loss
of birthday presents, when my friends didn't know to check the YA shelf for
certain books on my wish list.  Libraries, on the other hand, have far
better search systems and (should have) more knowledgeable staffs.  Where
they shelve books says a lot about who they expect to read them.  Putting
_To Kill a Mockingbird_, for instance, in the YA section comes very close to
saying it's not for adults--I imagine the logic is "well, grownups already
know about it," but my own mother only read the book for the first time two
years ago, so this is unwarranted confidence.

There are adults who in their fear and zeal to protect the children would
like to restrict their reading to "safe" books.  (I'm not talking about
individual parents and their own children, for whom they are responsible,
but about larger groups who seek to influence policy for the benefit of all
children.  This parent is already doing a lot of restricting on her own,
thank you.)  But doing so by only allowing them to read YA titles is already
a failure.  Even if it were true that not wanting _To Kill a Mockingbird_ in
the YA section is based on not wanting kids exposed to those issues, there
are hundreds of legitimately-classified YA books that are chock full of
those issues and worse.  So yes, I agree with Minnow's assessment that it's
a Bad Idea.  However, my objections to the misclassification of certain
books has nothing to do with this.  They're the same kind of objections I
would have to putting Star Trek novels in the Western section based on Gene
Roddenberry's "Wagon Train to the stars" pitch.  While there may be
superficial reasons for putting an adult book into the YA section, I see no
point in honoring those reasons when they're based on ignorance. 

Melissa Proffitt

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