Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cranial Detonation

Heads are exploding here in District 14 (Minneapolis/St. Paul and environs) over Minnesota Public Radio’s attempt to name the “Best YA Novel of All Time.”


There went another one.

The problem, as most kidlit folks see it, is that despite having all the information available to them, the good folks at MPR failed to educate their voting public as to what is or is not a Young Adult novel. Their list of ten nominees contains only four (or maybe five) books that fit the industry definition of “YA novel.”


Aww, Steve Brezenoff, was that you? Rest in peace, my friend.

Before my own head goes kerblooey, I’d like to weigh in on this issue. Generally, YA novels are books about teens putting on adult shoes for the first time. In other words, coming-of-age stories. In its broadest sense, this would include books like Hatchet, or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, or A Wrinkle in Time—all of which appear on the MPR list. But wait! Young Adult novels are also defined by their audience, and at this point in the history of Naming Things, that audience is mostly kids in grades 7-10. (A lot of older teens—high school juniors and seniors— read YA too, but most of them have moved on to “old adult” literature.)

The three books named above are written for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, and are what we book people call “middle-grade” novels. 


Sorry, Andrew Karre, I’m making this sound simpler than it is. Some editors and authors argue that to be considered YA, and novel must be about the adolescent experience. I don’t know that I would go that far. I can’t think of a book I would call YA that is not about the adolescent experience, but I can think of several books about the adolescent experience that I would not call YA. Stephen King’s Carrie, for example, or Gone With The Wind, or Great Expectations. (I could argue the other side of that, but I’m not gonna do it today.)

Anyway, in an apparent effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience, MPR chose to embrace the broadest definition of YA, and include middle-grade books. I was disappointed (though not surprised), but mostly I was glad they made the effort to deal with YA/MG novels as serious literature. I give them an A for effort, and a B- for execution.

As for the list of nominees—setting aside whether or not the books are “YA”—I think it’s a pretty good reflection of MPR audience tastes, with the exception of the John Green novel, which came out less than a year ago. Don’t get me wrong—Green is a remarkable writer, and The Fault in Our Stars is a fine book, and it will be read and loved for many years to come, but the reason it’s on this best-of-all-time list can be summed up in one word: Nerdfighters.


Not sure who that was. Maybe Kelly Barnhill.


Marianne Mitchell said...

One of YOUR books should be on that list. I nominate GODLESS.

Pete Hautman said...

Marianne, You are a sweetheart!

Anonymous said...

I adore you, Mr. Hautman. Forever and for always.

(Also, my brain exploded YEARS ago. I've found I've been able to muddle through without it.)

Anne Ursu said...

My new favorite thing is Laura Bradley Rede's suggestion that we adopt a slogan: START SEEING MIDDLE GRADE.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I do love "START SEEING MIDDLE GRADE" Why do so many 4th graders want to read The Hunger Games? Because YA books are cool and MG books are largely invisible these days. And there have been such beautiful ones this year: Counting by 7s, Doll Bones, and The Real Boy, of course :-)

Daughter Number Three said...

Thanks for fighting the good fight, Pete! Good to hear your voice on MPR.

A Guy in Oregon said...

Isn't the best YA of all time Tom Sawyer by Mr. Mark Twain?

Pete Hautman said...

Hey Guy in Oregon, Tom Sawyer is a great book, and deserves a place on any top ten list of children's literature. But today it would be considered a classic example of middle-grade (for kids 9-12 years old) rather than YA (12-up). For more of a YA feel, look to Tom's more daring and grown-up friend, Huckleberry Finn.