An article in Slate by Ruth Graham that appeared last week decrying the popularity of YA fiction among adult readers has created quite the backlash from other media forums (including to name a few, Esquire, Flavorwire, CNN, and the Washington Post). While both sides of the issue—scholarly proponents of a higher culture of readership and hayseed YA apologists—have solid points to make, I was arrested by a particular portion of Graham’s article that I think proves her unquestionably correct. After stating with an almost visible squirm in her belly that she is “surrounded by YA-loving adults, both in real life and online,” a circumstance approximating that of being surrounded by clowns with blood on their razor-tipped teeth and which deserves the deepest sympathy from her readers, Graham produced a passage so telling, so profound, and so well-written, that I am honored to reproduce it here:
There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.
Ruth Graham is right, and she expresses herself with heady eloquence on the subject. May I add before moving on to dissect the nuances of this argument, if people are reading The Secret Garden instead of Dark Places, then so be it, I suppose. If people are reading Paper Towns instead of The Name of the Rose, then let them, if they must. If people are reading Lord of the Flies instead of Bleak House, be it thusly, whatever. If people are reading A Ring of Endless Light instead of The Hound of the Baskervilles, thank God, or something. If people are reading Clifford the Big Red Dog instead of committing violent crimes, that’s better, I guess.
First, we are to understand that the “serious reader” does not truck with YA fiction—but if they do truck with YA fiction, at least they aren’t reading detective novels. Graham is correct, but let’s unpack this notion a bit further so that I can explain why her detractors have gone after straw men instead of comprehending the very valid point she is making: