forgive them for they know not what they do

January 5th, 2009

A few weeks ago, I gave a friend of mine my new novel, If I Stay, to read. When she was done with it, she had lots of nice things to say. And then she said this: “It’s so good. You should write an adult novel one day.”


I love this friend, and if she is perchance reading this I know she meant this as a compliment and likely the only reason she said that is that she has not read Patty McCormick’s Sold or Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief or Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl or Rachel Cohn’s and David Levithan’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and I could go on (and I will go on in future posts). My point being that she hadn’t read a whole lot of YA-lit so she wasn’t aware that young-adult novelists are not some kind of farm-team, working on their game until they’re good enough to write for the grownups.

This friend didn’t know better. But there are plenty of people out there who should know better. A few of months ago The New York Times Book Review ran this back-page essay called I’m YA And I’m O.K., which was ostensibly a defense of YA as not just second tier but in the end, so many of the writers interviewed seemed so hangdog about their YA status that the piece undercut its own premise (the notable exception was Sherman Alexie, who I hearby nominate to be the young adult novelist spokesperson). Recently, Entertainment Weekly ran a snarky little comment, expressing surprise that the the screenwriter for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist had managed to craft such well-rounded characters…from a YA novel! It was like, hello, if you actually bothered to READ the book, you’d understand that the screenwriter only had to transfer the well-rounded characters from the page to the screen. Which, btw, is her job.

Sigh. I should be used to this. Young-adult anything gets no respect. (Like I have to tell YOU this.) When I was a reporter for Seventeen magazine, we ran all of these very serious and important stories and did a pretty nuanced job of it. But nobody ever believed that Seventeen did stories like that (and, admittedly, these days you don’t see many 2500-word feature stories on Afghan refugees but the serious factor goes in cycles, depending on the editor in chief and publishing trends and all that). When we would show people evidence of the  articles we did, they’d scratch their heads and be like: “But do teenagers even care about stuff like that?” No, they don’t. We just publish those articles so they can wipe their butts with them in the event that they run out of toilet paper.

Anyhow, for the record, allow me to say that my name is Gayle Forman and I write YA novels. Perhaps I do this because I am in arrested development. I don’t know. I might sometimes write “serious” YA novels, but these are not stepping stones to adult novels. I have no desire to write adult novels, though I should admit here that I am a Gemini and therefore reserve the right to change my mind and write an adult novel—or become a circus clown. I feel I’m extremely fortunate to write YA because you don’t get a readership that’s more engaged than young people (which might explain that while the publishing industry is generally tanking, children’s literature, which includes YA, is doing just fine, thank you very much). And besides, the lines are getting murky when mothers are reading their daughters’ Twilight series. Good books are good books and we all want to read them. 

Okay, now that I’ve had my say, I feel all juiced up, like I might need to dance around the apartment to The Go Team’s We Just Won’t Be Defeated and I highly suggest that you click on this link and listen to it to, and dance around, too. Preferably while wearing your pajamas (see previous post).

Happy reading, all.

  1. rock on.

    but lady, If I Stay is about a million times better than the bloated, self-important, overpraised, ooh-ooh-the-holocaust-and-Death-is-a-character-it-must-be-Important-Literature Book Thief.

  2. marjorie has to say this because she is my best friend. it is in her contract.

  3. And I really liked The Book Thief, btw.

  4. Interesting link at the NY Times Book Review – the YA/ adult distinction seems so arbitrary now. It’s a shame YA stuff gets looked down upon so.

    BTW, I was a big fan of your stuff back in the seventeen days – especially your essay “I was the weird girl.” Looking forward to checking out your more recent books.

  5. I don’t think the important people—i.e. readers—care about YA/adult distinctions. Only the industry does (and increasingly, less so). The only problem is, the industry sometimes makes it hard for adults to find great YA books because of what had been such silly distinctions.
    And Weird Girl? That was a long time ago, but I am STILL a weird girl. Always will be, I’m sure. I should find that clip and put it up.

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