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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More considerations on YA lit

As promised, I read my former classmate's YA novel over Christmas. As a frequent browser of the Barnes and Noble YA section, I bring you this and other news from the trenches of market-researched girldom:

Vampire sex mush is still in, and now even has an entire sub-section of its own called "paranormal romance." Melodramatic amoral "realism" is also still in, despite having probably exhausted its credibility. You know, the books where an innocent, straight-laced girl drinks one beer at a party and then ends up pregnant, a heroin junkie, and DEAD IN A GUTTER? Do girls still like these books? The convention is already 40 years old--authors too timid to suggest that maybe some adolescent behaviors are bad in principle, that they reveal a lack of restraint and prudence, say that make you a bad person, so they invent incredible (and, needless to say, incredibly unlikely) consequences to warn girls away from them. If conscience doesn't punish you for drinking that beer because conscience is too moralistic and the author doesn't want to seem judgmental, then the wrath of nature must. It seems like this illusion should wear off once girls realize that ending up pregnant or dead from a couple of beers is not, in fact, "realistic." And most girls know this by, what, age 13? So who's left to read these books except 10-year-olds and emotional voyeurs? Which, come to think of it, really encompasses a lot of girls.

Anyway, Sales's book admirably avoids both vampires and melodramatic amoral realism. No one dies from beer or pot. It also avoids the vulgarity, hyperactive sexuality, and adulation of low culture of the other books it shares shelf-space with at Barnes. There is no product positioning and no female characters who are, at the age of 16, utterly consumed by their passion for some guy in the grade ahead. Instead, the characters spend a lot of time doing homework. And, as some of you know, one of my greatest media-related desires is to see intelligence established in some way other than the mere repeated assertion that Character X is really smart, even though she never goes to class, does any homework, reads any books, or otherwise demonstrates the slightest intellectual inclination. Often, such characters will out of nowhere ace their SATs as a convenient testament to their latent genius. Like the outsized lust that would fit better in a novel with a voluptuous woman in the arms of a man with hair that could plausibly be described as a "mane" on the cover, this characterization of adolescence is a fail. Smart girls do a lot of homework. The characters in Mostly Good Girls do too, so I approve of this, although it still isn't all that intelligence portrayed could be.