World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

YA Writers, Late Night Talk Shows and a Little Passive Aggression

on May 23, 2013
I’m moving some posts over from my Tumblr (stephaniwardrop.tumblr.com) and since this is by far the most popular of them, I thought I’d start with it. 
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I write now to declare myself – officially – a Craig Ferguson fan.

I just watched the clip of his interview with John Green on The Late Late Show (I had to watch it as a clip on Tumblr because I cannot stay up late enough to watch the show live) and the interview was funny and smart.  And you know what I liked best about it?

In eleven-plus minutes, Ferguson did not once refer to John Green as a “YA writer.”

He praised the book as being both “funny” and “moving”, spoke of its prominence on the New York Times bestseller list, joked about prophylactic dentistry and kicking John Green’s ass and spoke, generally, as a fan who respected Green’s work, specifically The Fault in Our Stars, which he did not classify as a “YA book.” 

He just presented it as a good book.

Now you might ask yourself why this would make me happy, especially since I, myself, am proud –ecstatic, really – to be able, at last,  to call myself an official YA writer.Though I would never put myself in the same category as John Green (except in that we are both parents of cool sons named Henry). Why, then, would I be happy to have one of the best YA writers in the world today not referred to as one of the best YA writers in the world today?

Because I believe that YA fiction is … fiction.  That while it appeals, primarily, to young adults, a good YA novel, like any work of fiction, speaks to everyone and is worth being read by everyone.  But often, despite its huge popularity (one could almost say its sales carry the larger publishing industry) and the fact that as the LA Times and other sources have reported, the vast majority of YA novels are both purchased and read by actual, official biological “adults”, YA books are often marginalized as less important.  Lightweight.  Not really “books”, even. 

With my colleagues in a college English department, I’ve been planning recently a series of visiting writers coming to campus and speaking to our students and the community.  One academic colleague, a writer of literary fiction, asked me if YA writers actually go out and speak to people and where they would do this.  Maybe local Barnes and Nobles stores?  And who reads these books, exactly?  Would our students know who these people are?

At first I was perplexed by these questions; then I was angry.  And then I was sad.  Because in missing out on what’s going on in YA fiction, she’s missing out on some really good books – period — whatever their generic category.  And that’s her loss, not the YA world’s.

People seem to assume that YA books are not really books, not serious ones, at least, and that they must be easy to write (though not as easy, they assume, as children’s books, which, after all, are sometimes less than twenty pages long and can therefore be written in the time it would take you to chop up a salad). These are the same people who also assume that young people are illiterate idiots with no interest in art or ideas — but if that were true, wouldn’t they be an extremely difficult audience to write for?  If this were true, how could we even get one of these teenage troglodytes to put down their iPhones and pick up our books in the first place?  But kids do pick up and read these books, in high numbers. And those readers, like readers of any work of fiction, do so because they want to be invited into another world and to inhabit the psychological complexity of a character or two as they navigate those new worlds. Worlds in which teenagers struggle to preserve their dignity and sense of humor as they die of cancer (Green’s The Fault in Our Stars) or figure out how to be true to their emerging selves and sexual identities (A S King’s Ask the Passengers, Little, Brown Books) or to survive as would-be beauty pageant contestants on an uninhabited island where they crash landed because multinational conglomerations and puppet dictators and religious/social conservative politicians are seeking higher profits for their hair removal products and higher ratings for their reality shows (Libba Bray’sBeauty Queens, Scholastic Books). 

YA readers are readers, and YA books are books.

And that’s why I’m glad Craig Ferguson didn’t call John Green a “YA writer. “

My parents are huge fans of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, so I called them this morning and asked if they had seen the episode.  Of course they had, and though they had no idea who John Green was, they found him funny and charming and my mom was planning to download The Fault in Our Stars on her Kindle.  She had no idea it was a YA novel and was surprised when I told her. 

She’s going to order it anyway because it just sounds like a good book.

Anybody missing out on YA books misses out on a varied, nuanced, important, and wonderful world.  The President of the United States knows this, as you can see here on  in his town hall meeting with John Green during which he echoed Green’s exhortation “Don’t forget to be awesome.”  (But refused to name the Greens’ soon-to-be-born second child.)

Clearly, Craig Ferguson does not forget to be awesome.

And I am grateful.

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One response to “YA Writers, Late Night Talk Shows and a Little Passive Aggression

  1. HOLLY says:

    I too feel like people don’t give YA writers enough credit… especially John Green. He is so incredibly amazing, and people don’t realize it because they think that he is only writing for younger readers. Great post!

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