Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Unspoken Ageism in YA

Today, I ran across an article by written by the New York Daily that said that in order to sell YA books you need to write about threesomes. Because I don’t want to generate site traffic for them, here’s a safe link: http://www.donotlink.com/gaus

Not only was that article biphobic, written by someone who didn’t know the first thing about YA and also didn’t know how to honestly quote authors, but it was also incredibly ageist.

There is ageism in the YA community. It’s not talked about often, but it should be. There, of course, is ageism against YA, too, but today I’m going to talk about the ageism that occurs when teens decide to read and write Young Adult fiction.

I just want to throw a disclaimer out there that this is not an attack against any YA adult writer or reader. I love how YA is a wonderful reading experience for every age group. I love that adults read YA and stay active in the YA community. The YA community has been thoughtful, sensitive, and engaging in many social issues, and some of the books themselves are incredibly relatable. But the ageism and the way some people conduct themselves has gotten to a point where teen readers I know, including myself, are not sure if we even belong in the YA community or not, and it’s ridiculous to think that teen readers feel so distanced from the books that portray teenagers. I’ve talked to teen readers, and some of us have concluded that, frankly, sometimes we don’t see ourselves in YA anymore.

Don’t know what ageism in YA is? It’s:

-When adult school boards decide what Young Adult books teens should be denied to read, and teens don’t get a say in it.  

 -When I’m in a room at a conference and there’s a panel of adults instructing YA writers how to “write YA”, but you know they’re thinking of how to write for YA trends and how to write for the industry because there is not a single mention of what teen readers want to see on shelves.  And I, a teenage YA writer who does not identify with anything that's being said, shrink behind my conference badge. Because the adults Must Be Right. 

-When several YA authors try to deny and shame a teenage reader’s sense of discomfort regarding an author.

-When teens I go to school with and the friends I have care about grades and AP scores and tenuous friendships. They cry about family troubles and college apps and fear for unknown futures and unknown careers. But many protagonists in YA, incidentally, just overwhelmingly care about kissing that hot person. (Relationships are major, but they're not the only thing teens think about.) 

-When adults write articles saying that all teens want are threesomes, and out of all the woefully misquoted people in there (who may or may not share the same opinion as him), none of them are a) YA readers or b) the very teenagers who open YA books in an attempt to see some of themselves in the author’s words.

I think Kate Brauning tweeted the other day that teens shouldn’t be grouped and written about in a single narrative or manner, because teenagers are diverse. And it’s absolutely true. It’s infuriating when adults decide how teens should be collectively be portrayed in books. When they arrive on a consensus on How All Teens Should Act And Do, they inadvertently co-opt our voices, and tell US what we should read and what we should write. There is no dialogue.  

And that should change.

We are not your perfect high school fantasies. We are not your constantly witty, gorgeous, and sexually confident characters. We come from all races and from every type of social situation. We develop all kinds of identities of sex and gender. We can love boldly or hesitantly, or not at all. There is no one “right” way to write YA. The next time you write about teenagers, listen to us. Respect us. And please, please don’t try to speak for us without considering our voices.    

And Allen Salkin, the next time you decide to write about “What YA Readers Want”, maybe you should consider also including a teenage reader to purposefully misquote as well. And for your information, New York Daily News, I’m a Young Adult reader, a young adult, and I’ll still like a book even if there isn’t a threesome in it.