Tuesday, 14 October 2014

YAFiction - A Journey or a Destination? Anne Cassidy

I’ve written a lot of YAF. I’ve visited a lot of schools and chatted to people about what YAF is.

‘Children’s books’ have always been seen, I think, as a kind of treasure chest. Adults view the books nostalgically. If you ask adults about what they remember about their reading as a child they’ll become dreamy and smile because the things that they read encapsulate what ‘childhood’ should be: going on Bear Hunts, cavorting with the Wild Things, boating up the river, camping with the Secret Seven. It has its dangers and perils but it will end well and children will be better for their fictional experiences. I think Harry Potter was so attractive to adult readers for this reason. Sucked into a good story they were able to relive many of their own childish pleasures.

Young Adult Fiction doesn’t bring about quite so much of a glow when you talk to people about it. YA fiction is viewed, I think, as something teenagers have to get through in order to get to real books, grown-up books. I used to feel grumpy about this but I don’t now because I’ve realised that it’s not just books that have to be ‘got through’ it’s adolescence itself.

When people think of the golden days of their childhood it’s usually with pleasure and a sense of some perfect land where they once lived. I’m reminded of Houseman’s poem.

What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content……

When people think of their teen years it’s often a mix of memories; embarrassment, injustice, desire, confusion. Adolescence is a battle. A bigger body with a more grown-up mind is trying to struggle out of a twelve year old. It’s hard work, it’s painful sometimes, it’s a metamorphosis. The memories, concertinaed as they are, are often negative. 

(How I remember with shame the love affairs that never happened, the work I let slip, the money I spent on cigarettes even though I couldn’t inhale without coughing; then there were the friends I dropped for boys, the hot pants, the false eyelashes top and bottom, the lies to my parents, the lies to my teacher, the lies to myself.)

I think most adults tuck those five or so years away in the ‘to be forgotten’ drawer.  They see it as a time that had to be ‘got through’ to get to the point of being an adult. That’s how they view young adult fiction. Teens have to ‘get through it’ until they get to proper grown-up books.

I think this is a shame on both counts. How I wish I could go back and tell my twelve year self to take it easy, enjoy the growing up, the sense of being on the edge of a big experience.  I can’t do that but I can write about it in books.  The best young adult books do this, examine the teen experience as it is being lived, not as if it was a tube stop on a journey somewhere else. The best teen fiction celebrates being a teenager with all its difficulties and joys. 


Sue Purkiss said...

What an interesting take on the subject! Mind you, I still think there's a place for escapism. I remember asking a class about this when i was teaching. Some of them wanted to read books about people like themselves, but others said they didn't see the point of that - if life was difficult, they'd rather escape from it for a bit. Room for both approaches, I think.

Nick Green said...

I think you can have both escapism and 'real teen issues' all in one. That's what I really loved about Lee Weatherly's book 'Angel'. At one level it's a seemingly standard sort of set up: a hunter of angels (who are evil) falls in love with his half-angel quarry. But what makes it different is that fact that their relationship is a very deftly handled treatment of ANY adolescent relationship. The young man and young woman are 'different species' in the story - perfectly reflecting how it feels for any couple newly in love. They are impossibly different, so how can they be in love?

Sometimes I think you need the fantasy element to throw the mundane into relief, and show it afresh. And readers realise: Oh! But I thought I was the only one who felt like that.

Stroppy Author said...

A really interesting post, Anne. But is part of that attitude from adults because there wasn't any specfically YA fiction when we were growing up? The parents of today's teens didn't read YA because there wasn't any (or much), so there isn't any model. There are quite a few adults who are nostalgic about the books that filled teenage years - typically John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, Tolkien, Kerouac, etc

Paul May said...

A thought provoking post! In the end YA is simply a marketing tool isn't it? But your post made me think of Disraeli, quoted by Jane Gardam at the start of 'Bilgewater': 'Youth is a blunder'. And Jane Gardam is one of those rare authors who have managed to write YA novels and (almost) avoid having them categorised as such.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

Very interesting, Anne. I loved my teen years, despite the dark events that filled some of them, which is perhaps why I'm so drawn to writing for the YA age group. It such an intense age where everything matters so much. I tend to go for the escapism angle, which is also wish-fulfilment or at least trying out other paths, isn't it?
I've written about portraying teens in historical fiction today over at The History Girls, and as Sue Purkiss pointed out there, there's some overlap between our posts.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Great post, Anne -- really made me think about both the reactions I get to telling people I write YA, and about my own teenage years which were neither better nor worse than other people's, and certainly neither better nor worse than earlier childhood. When I'm asked why I write YA, I often use what Marie-Louise suggests in her comment -- that it's the INTENSITY of it all that makes for good stories. I don't go in for fantasy and escapism at all, and I often think I'm glad I'm not one of my characters, but there isn't one of them who could have existed without keen memories of my own teens.