Not content to merely be an exceptionally talented writer. Foz Meadows also maintains a must read blog where, amongst other things, she skewers literary tropes, decries injustice in all its forms and shines a harsh light on the various isms of pop culture and genre. As someone who is constantly learning something new from her posts, and finding himself looking at the world in different ways, I am delighted to welcome her here to talk about YA as vehicle for discussing social change.
Is YA an effective genre for examining social issues?
In many ways, YA is the most popular and versatile genre of the moment. Having effectively doubled not only its actual readership, but its target readership, once the success of series like Harry Potter and Twilight made it clear to publishers that grownups were reading it, too, YA has become defined by its ability to appeal to both adults and teens alike. Like every genre and creative medium, it has its fair share of contributions that are meant purely as escapist fun: some trashy, some well-written and others somewhere in between, but all unapologetic about their pure entertainment value. Others are meant more seriously, issues-based works whose primary purpose is to inform, question and educate, discussing the hard realities and tough choices facing teens of all types and backgrounds. But these are far from being absolute or even mutually exclusive categories, because in YA – as in all art – the most successful stories are frequently those which both entertain and make us think.
Some people, however, remain skeptical of the value of YA – not just as a legitimate source of enjoyment for adults, but as a worthwhile endeavour for teenagers. Innumerable columnists and naysayers have set down their thoughts on the danger of YA as a corrupting influence, whether through introducing impressionable youth to dark, disturbing themes or sending bad messages to girls in particular. The issue of book-banning in schools is one that almost exclusively affects YA, as parents and teachers struggle to control what their children and students are reading. Others, though, object on different grounds: that far from amounting to the literary equivalent of a den of iniquity, YA is simply bad. Such detractors scorn, not specific titles, but the genre en masse, accusing it of simplistic writing, repetitive plots, meaningless stories and juvenile characterisation. Maybe once in a while they’ll acknowledge the worth of a particular title, but if so, they’re more likely to view it as a classic or a misshelved adult work than proof that YA as a whole has worth; at the absolute least, they’ll call it an anomaly and move on.
By and large, then, the two most common criticisms of YA as a genre are as follows:
1. It’s frivolous, fluffy, valueless literature; and
2. It’s subversive, propagandising, negative literature.