Thursday, August 17, 2006

Putting the A in YA

Last night we watched "Autopsy Room Four," an episode in TNT's Stephen King series Nightmares & Dreamscapes. Entertaining if too artificially drawn-out, the show was about Richard Thomas watching helplessly as doctors prepare to autopsy his body as if he were dead rather than a victim of snake-bite paralysis. Showing my age, I suppose, I was shocked that the happy ending relied on John-Boy getting an erection while the lady doctor was feeling his leg. On free cable. (I've long gotten used to the naughty bits on the premium channels.) They didn't show it, just everyone's reaction (including that of his fiancee, happy that her boyfriend's back and happy that the impotence problem that's plagued him in the past has at least been temporarily banished).

It was perfectly legitimate tv drama, but I was surprised to see it where it was. (Just as I was always nonplussed that my beloved Friends was shown during "family hour" at 8:00PM.) I'm similarly surprised about a great new book, Thomas M. Yeahpau's X Indian Chronicles: The Book of Mausape, coming out this fall from Candlewick. It's a stunning, mordant collection of linked short stories about young Indian men in "NDN City," a myth-shot modern city of gangs, booze, drugs, and sex, where the atmosphere of alienation and disaffectedness is anything but cosmetic.

But it's really, really (brilliantly) raunchy, and I'm having trouble seeing it as YA, although I'd love to be argued otherwise. It's not that it won't appeal to teens, quite the contrary, and Candlewick grades it for 14 and up, rather than the standard 12-up, so they're acknowledging the sophistication of the material. But why not publish it as an adult book? (This is not a question for Candlewick, which doesn't publish books for adults.) One, I'm afraid a lot of adults (and teens who feel themselves beyond YA) are going to miss it; and, two, I'm afraid that the children's buyers and librarians aren't going to know what to do with it. It's one of those books--again--that has me pining for the old lost cause: adult books for young adults. One of those books that deserves being discovered by a young reader rather than presented to.

10 comments:

Rosemary Graham said...

But being published as “adult” as opposed to “young adult” is no guarantee of connecting with those readers you fear Yeahpau’s book may not reach. And being published as YA does not preclude the possibility of a teen reader discovering the book in question. (As opposed to being presented with the book.) Or of the book having a strong crossover into the adult market.

Roger, I've never understood why, if you're all for (so-called) young adult readers reading a book like Yeahpau's (which does sound great), you're so bothered by YA publishers publishing it? (Aside from the stated concern about adult readers missing a deserving book.) Is it that the YA label somehow diminishes the book's stature?

And why not both? Why don't more publishers do what the English publishers did with The Curious Incident?

Incidentally, I know of two instances where books (both of which are short story collections) that were not written as YA were eagerly acquired by YA editors after unsuccessfully making the rounds at adult imprints. Story collections are notoriously hard to sell. Perhaps the strength of the YA market is emboldening YA editors to go where some adult editors fear to tread.

gail said...

I asked a similar question just yesterday about Love Curse of the Rumbaughs. It's not that a YA label diminishes a book's stature, but if absolutely anything is published as YA, then what is YA?

Rosemary Graham said...

Hi Gail. I haven't read either of these books, and I can't tell from your entry about the Love Curse whether it is primarily about a YA-age character. That is what we're talking about, yes? Books that feature teens as central characters? I'm not saying "absolutely anything" can/should be published as YA.

Then there's the reverse phenomenon: "adult" imprint books that try so very hard to make Serious Literary Fiction out of Your Basic Coming of Age Story.

Roger Sutton said...

Rosemary--I don't think labelling a book YA diminishes (or otherwise) its status; I just think the label is helpful for some books and not for others. By "helpful," I mean getting the book the placement and attention it needs for the readers it wants. Part of the appeal of adult books for kids is that they are adult books; kids read them to prove they aren't kids anymore. And while some books benefit from being "books for kids like me," that is, YA-labelled books, others succeed in large part because they represent a reach into the adult world.

gail said...

I think YA books need to be more than just books with a YA character. After all, adult books can have child or YA main characters. I think for a book to be classified as YA, it should include themes, storylines, etc., that are associated with that time in life.

That's not to say that YAs can't read other things. All the adult books published are available to them. But if books that are primarly character studies of adults or that deal with, say, mental health issues that aren't particularly associated with teenagers, why publish them as YA? What's to be gained?

Rosemary Graham said...

I wonder how aware your typical YA reader (of right now) is of whether a book is published as YA or not. My hunch is that they aren't thinking in those terms necessarily. Borders & B&N and many indies now have separate teen sections, filled with books whose covers are often every bit as sophisticated (and sexy, if not more so!) -looking as many adult books. Likewise libraries. YA lit is marketed (to the teen readers) more as part of youth culture, akin to music and movies. We know that these books are published by childrens' publishers, but do they?

And now here we're getting circular--with so much of today's YA dealing frankly with sex and sexuality who needs a (so-called) adult book to prove she's "not a kid anymore"?

Is today's YA fiction really a "nest" readers need pushing out of?

Gail--It sounds like you and Roger are asking the same question about two different kinds of books. (Again, I say this without having read either.) Yeapauh's--from Roger's description--is a teen-centered but "raunchy" book. The question there has to do with its raunchiness. It sounds like your ppoint with the Gantos' book is that it seems to be more about the mother. I'd be interested to know how it's received among its target audience.

To me what makes a book YA isn't about content, but point of view. A truly YA book is fully immersed in the moment/time of life. There's no retrospection, no sense of there being "life after high school" or escape from the family you're trapped by. No older, wiser narrator looking back.

gail said...

Adults and obsession play a large part in Love Curse, which is a very good book. The child and then YA character is "fully immersed in the moment/time of life." It's just that that moment/time of life isn't one that many teens will relate to. They may like the book, the way any person may like the book, but not because it's connected to their time of life, the way a book set in school, home, a summer job, etc. is.

Rosemary, your question about whether YAs are aware that particular books are published as YA is an interesting one. In the long run, though, it may not matter. As you said, YA is marketed to them as part of youth culture, whether they know what it is technically or not.

rindamybyers said...

I got this quote off Candlewick's page promoting the book:

"Mausape belongs to a race that is losing its culture and to a generation that is losing its mind."

I haven't been able to get the book to read yet, and hopefully, it is NOTHING like this promo quote--hopefully something authentic to read. So, I'm hopeful from Roger's review of it to find something good.

This publicity blurb, though, makes me feel queasy,as someone with Native American genes (Chickasaw). I think most Native American tribal members struggle to hold on to whatever they can of their heritages and cultures, and in my book, they ain't losing nothing. They're preserving and passing on their cultures and heritages with great creativity and energy, and hopefully, this book does some of that.

A terrible, TERRIBLE publicity blurb: I find it racist. They ought to fire whoever wrote it at that house. It's, bottom line, just plain incompetent writing--and creates a bad image for the company. I'll wait to read the book before I sort out my feelings furhter on it, though.

Roger Sutton said...

I dunno, Rinda--essentially, you're claiming that everything is a-ok in Indian Country and only a racist would say otherwise. While I agree someone should have schooled the copywriter in the use and meaning of the word "race,"I don't think you can deny the book its bleakness, nor the catalog copy its attempt to convey the sense of the book.

Thomas M. Yeahpau said...

Actually, I wrote the promo quote and it is within the first few sentences of the book's opening. Sometimes the truth is a bit racist, but what can you do? lie?