Sunday, August 26, 2012

Talking about the future of YA...

Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion on "What next for YA literature" with fabulous authors David Hill, Diana Menefy, Rachael King and Tessa Duder at the Storylines Family Day in Auckland (gotta love the Topp Twins). At the moment a wide range of genre are popular in YA including dystopian, fantasy and steampunk, romance, contemporary realism and historical fiction. I liked Rachael's suggestion that the future of YA might be a mash-up of genres. I think what we want to see as the future of YA as writers is at variance with what is actually likely to happen. I think commercial drivers are eyeing up the success of books like 50 Shades of Grey (currently being read by a lot of older teens) and age appropriate watered down versions of this will be encouraged. A number of Romance Publishers have already created YA lines following on from the success of the Twilight books. Movies based on popular books also influence the success of various genres and extend the life of these. David Hill pointed out that the lag time with publishing made trying to follow or anticipate trends difficult if not impossible. Tessa pointed out that despite the popularity of series such as Twilight, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, some of the best YA are the smartly written stand alones like Kate de Goldi's The 10pm Question and Jenny Downham's Before I Die. Good writing is not disappearing under the weight of commercial imperatives.

There was some debate about what constituted a YA. Content reflecting teenage concerns, the age, voice and language of the main protagonists helped define YA. The lines are blurred however with YA being read by a much wider audience (from a large adult audience to much younger children such as 8 and 9 year olds). This is exacerbated by the fact that children develop and mature at different rates. Concern was raised about the fact that some YA literature is being read by much younger readers and content may not be suitable, although it was also noted that children often don't 'get' some of the more mature concepts and are therefore not necessarily affected by them. TV and movies were often felt to contain an equal if not greater amount of contentious material yet parents and other groups commented more on what their children read rather than what they watched. Those working in libraries tried to guide both young readers and their parents towards age appropriate books. Where YA is shelved in both libraries and shops should reflect the content and audience with some books needing to be shelved in both Adult and YA and others needing to be removed from children's shelves. An advanced or mature reading age did not necessarily mean a child was ready for YA content. It was felt to be important for YA books to reflect teenage issues and many acknowledged it was better to read about these issues and their impact in the safe environment of the pages of a book (I'm a firm believer that books covering more contentious issues show readers they are not alone if they are experiencing these things for themselves and help teens empathise with others going through such problems). Concern was expressed about teen books with difficult issues that ended on a hopeless note. Offering hope or a positive outcome in a YA novel seemed a responsible approach. Tessa reminded everyone what a brilliant YA writer Margaret Mahy was with books such as Memory, The Tricksters, The Catalogue of the Universe and The Changeover (some of my personal favourites).

I am bound to have left some bits out. I hadn't thought about summarising the discussion and was busy thinking of my opinions on the matters raised during the talk so didn't take any notes at the time. If any audience members want to add or amend anything just let me know in the comments section and I will update the post.


Old Kitty said...

Very interesting!!! From my own reading experiences as a teen (many moons and decades ago! LOL!) I never was one to be restricted by "age-appropriate" literature. I was reading Jackie Collins at 13 onwards as much as Mills and Boon and classic literature (fell in love with the Brontes at 15) and gobbled up horror books ala Stephen King. I may not have understood many of these books' adult nuances much but I'd like to think I've grown up normal and ok! LOL! Similarly, I finally read the Alice in Wonderland books when over 21 and enjoyed The Gruffallo at 40!

Anyway! I don't really know what my point is - maybe that this genre divide is just not as clear-cut as thought or perhaps not as easy to "police" as wanted.

Take care

Melinda Szymanik said...

I did raise the fact during our discussion that YA didn't exist as a separate entity when I was a teenager and I went straight from children's books to adults books (with all the qualities that rendered them as appropriate for adults). No one questioned what I chose to read and I think I turned out okay too Kitty. I personally believe that children are self-limiting as readers. They aren't afraid to close a book and stop reading if its beyond them or too racy/difficult or dark/violent. Other times they are actively seeking out material that informs their growth into adulthood.