Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dropping the Y

No, I am not weighing in on the controversial decision of the YMCA to drop their other letters in their ads and signage. I'll let the Village People handle that. I have just been thinking about the arbitrary division between Adult Fiction and Young Adult Fiction.

As much trouble as I have organizing my own book shelves, creating something that borrows from but does not emulate either the Library of Congress method or the Dewey Decimal System, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for publishers to decide how to market books and for book store owners to decide how to shelve them. In the "Young Adult Fiction" category, tracing back to S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, some books seem to fit neatly....My Darling, My Hamburger, for example. At other times, though, books seem to be slotted there at the risk of being missed by a large portion of the reading population.

When I was a young adult myself, I fear I might have snubbed anything categorized thus. Back them, I wanted books with heft and substance. What I recognize now is that many YA books have just that.

One of my favorite "YA" books The Book Thief had so much to appeal to mature readers. In fact, its sheer length might be a turn off to YA's, whose selection criteria often begins with "How long is it?" The seriousness of its subject matter, the unique point of view (Death as narrator) all touched my peers who read it. As far as I can tell, it was slotted as YA lit because (1. the protagonist was young and (2. the book had nothing vulgar or sexually explicit. (Why, after all, do we describe profanity as "adult language"?)

Last week, I got around to listening to a young adult novel recommended by lots of high school students I've taught, Edward Bloor's Tangerine. I recognized it at the library, where I am always scouting for a good audio book I haven't check out yet, and gave it a try.

Nothing about the book, on the surface, seems to indicate it as a choice for me: the protagonist is a seventh grade boy. The novel, though, was compelling enough that I found myself listening in the garage or in parking lots, long after it was time to get out of the car. The novel dealt with family secrets and favoritism, sibling rivalry, visual handicaps, soccer, football, class conflicts, and loyalty. Paul Fisher, the main character, was endearing but flawed. The parents were flawed but human. At the center of the story, Paul has lived in the shadow of "the Eric Fisher football dream," since his older brother has the potential for athletic greatness as a kicker, but absolutely no moral character.

When a sinkhole damages the excessive number of portable classrooms at his middle school, Paul opts to transfer to the more ethnically representative Tangerine Middle School, instead of going to the late shift at his own upper class school during construction. Here he earns the friendship and even respect of the coed soccer team on which many of the players' families are citrus growers. They face precarious weather and prejudice, but they accept Paul, grudgingly at first, and play a huge role in his maturity.

This weekend, I was talking to a group of high school students preparing to return to school this month. That preparation for most of them involves summer reading assignments. I recognized all of the titles and had read most--Of Mice and Men, The Count of Monte Cristo, Cyrano de Bergerac, In the Time of Butterflies, and more. The English teacher in me wanted to say, "Come on! Get excited! These are great books!" Instead, I just asked, "Have any of you read Tangerine?" And they were off!


1 comment:

Jessie Carty said...

I still have "The Book Thief" on my to read list. Will I ever get to it is the question!