Saturday, August 8, 2015

Quick Thoughts - The Promise of YA

So I read YA. Not all the time, but I do reviews for YA and middle grade novels and I figured I would take a week to think about YA a bit. The largest reason for that is probably because I've been thinking about my favorite novels I've read this year, which basically means novels that I've given five stars to on Goodreads. Which means The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Karen Memroy by Elizabeth Bear, and Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. It surprised me a little that two of those books are YA. And I wondered what drew me to those books specifically and what draws me to YA more in general. 

First, I suppose, I should say that I don't have an exhaustive history with YA. I mean, I like YA books but it's not like I have a whole lot of experience with it. I was an asshole when I was younger, and wanted people to know that I read "serious" fantasy and science fiction, which is just terrible. I have no excuse outside my youth and privilege, so I will say simply that I was asshole and I was wrong. I got into reviewing YA as an adult sideways. I was reviewing graphic novels at a site but the person who ran the graphic novel reviews left and I was sort of left out of the new team and was bummed but so it goes. Except that there was a graphic novel for children that the YA and middle grade division of the site wanted me to review and I did that and it transitioned into me working for her doing reviews there on a more permanent basis.

So hurrah, that basically establishes that I'm probably a strange creature, who used to look down my nose at YA before very much getting into it. And the thing that I like about YA, or at least the YA that I love, is that it deals with the idea of generations and the idea of younger people having power and agency and not fucking everything up. Perhaps because I'm a Millennial, which means that I have to see things written by older people decrying my generation as lazy and worthless. Despite the fact that Millennials work more, with more education, for less pay, when things cost more than they ever have. So I have a bit of a bitterness about stories steeped in pessimism about the future. Millennials did not fuck the economy, did not fuck the environment, did not fuck foreign policy. No, those were handled for us and we are just accepted to deal with it and…wait, this is about YA…probably should cut that rant short.

What I mean to say is that YA captures a sense of optimism about the future. Or, if not a optimism about the future, an optimism about the people who will live in it. They identify the tendency of older generations to want to take a big ole dump on the younger people. Parents treating their children like property and like idiots. Society treating younger people like they are all spoiled idiots. What is GamerGate or the Puppies if not reactions to younger people actually showing their preferences, proving that younger people are more informed and more progressive than ever, that what people want is not the same old boy and his dog stories set in space where diversity is having some green people. What people want is stories of love that doesn't fall into line with binary boundaries, that don't follow conventions just because that's what's always been done. What people want is new stories, and what I love about my favorite YA is that it fully believes that it is possible to have agency and power in the face of resistant establishments.

Perhaps what I like, people might argue, in between shouts to get off their lawn, is the fantasy that youth has anything to offer. Because yes, young does not mean wise, and experience is an excellent teacher. But things are more possible to young people, which means that they are in an incredibly good place mentally to find creative solutions to problems people just accept as given. And that's what YA is good for. It kicks readers in the butt. They are fun and optimistic and manage to be just as creative and tightly plotted as any non-YA book. And there is something alive about them, alive and ready to take on the world. And I find something irresistible about that, something joyous and righteous and fuck-yeah!-inducing.

So YA. I really like it. If you're looking for some amazingly great books, definitely go and read The Summer Prince and Shadowshaper. While you're at it, Love is the Drug (also by Alaya Dawn Johnson), is also a very good novel. Me, my adventure with YA is ongoing, and leaves me hungry for more. So excuse me, but I'm off to start reading. Thanks for stopping by!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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