First, let's be clear that when we refer to adults and young adults here, we almost exclusively mean women. Adolescent boys do not read YA books. I'm tempted to say that they do not read books, but will relent and say only that maybe they read other things - genre fiction and comics, perhaps. They do not squee over Edward the translucent vampire hottie in Twilight, or sigh over Katniss the inexhaustible post-apocalyptic warrior-princess in The Hunger Games, or melt over this new cancer romance that's apparently a Timeless Work of Literature, despite the fact that "Green is male and his first books featured boys as protagonists his new novel seemed capable of reaching both genders." Talbot's reportage tacitly admits that this capacity was never realized when she describes the movie preview:
Thousands of fans had lined up for free tickets, and, after the screening, they screamed when Elgort strode down the aisle for a Q. & A. But they screamed louder for Green. “We love you, John!” they called out...One questioner, who had to apologize for hyperventilating as she spoke, asked the five actors onstage to name their favorite lines from the book. Woodley was partial to “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”; Elgort cited “The world is not a wish-granting factory.” I had never watched a movie in a theatre where there was mass crying—not discreet nose-blowing, or stifled sniffles, but wracking sobs.I've never watched a movie where there was mass crying either, but I have watched movies of mass crying and of shrieking, hysterical fandom like this - think of those videos of Beatles concerts in the '60s - and noticed that hyperventilating mass criers tend to be all of one sex. YA is for girls, and now also apparently for women who recall their girlhoods (too) fondly.
Second, it seems that everyone who is so enthused about this new cancer romance and wants to promote the virtues of YA for everyone has a very short memory for what they're promoting, because they have overlooked the great Lurlene McDaniel, author of eleventy million such books in the '80s and early '90s, all essentially identical except for some variation in the particular disease plaguing the characters. There would be a boy and a girl, both highly attractive and intelligent, but suffering from some horrible and usually terminal illnesses, who meet in the hospital, fall deeply and passionately in love, muse sentimentally on the meaning of their doomed romance, and then promptly die. You read one such book, have a good cathartic cry into your pillow at the end, then chuck it into the pile of never-to-be-reread YA drivel and immediately start in on the next one. Last time our lovers died of leukemia, before that of lupus, but this time, cystic fibrosis shall be their demise! This is not an original or daring foray into the edgy new territory of dying and grief; it's one of several well-worn tropes of YA lit (look at that long list of tearjerking titles on McDaniel's wikipedia page!).
But it's not just that YA is formulaic schlock, but that it's a genre whose origin is in a political effort to undermine parental authority, or at least the authority of insufficiently progressive parents, and reinvest that authority with YA authors, another point that none of these commenters notice. The banner for this effort is YA's supposed "realism," by contrast with the cloying, unrealistic moralism of its predecessors in the children's book industry. Reality is horrible things that happen to some people, while unreality is good things that happen to most people. None of this cotton candy be-good-and-you'll-be-loved stuff. Reality is do-good-and-you'll-be-raped. Books for children must depict rather than evade reality to be educative. Reality's constitutive elements may be summarized as: divorce, drugs, disease, depravity, dissolution, and death - often in combination or all at once. That's both what adults want to keep from children and what children most need to be exposed to, so they can be ready when their own turn to be ground down into powder comes. Have no fear children, YA authors are here to rescue you from the enforced ignorance in which your heartless parents would keep you! I've written about this all so many times that I won't belabor it again here, but you can read my previous posts here, here, here, and here.
Now, Talbot assures us not to worry about all that because The Fault in Our Stars is "tamer" than the average YA book, which I take to mean that it contains fewer items serially copied from the Catalogue of YA Issues and more character development rather than exposure to the rawest depravity of which people are capable. That's probably good. But I still don't see how it makes schlock into great literature; it just makes this into less schlocky schlock than the other schlock with which it shares shelf space. As with musical schlock, you can consume and enjoy it, but you ought not forget that it's schlock, which is to say not simply that it's aimed at a younger audience, as Addington suggests, but that it's objectively bad. There is great literature about love and death, and though I can't say for sure, having never read it, I'm willing to bet this book is probably not an example of it.
Does that mean that it can't still be a good warm-up for children, a gateway to the good stuff? Here we should be careful. Garbage fiction is not on its own going to turn anyone away from better things. Most young readers are pretty indiscriminate. I consumed reams of trash fiction between the ages of about eight and 18, and it didn't prevent me from reading better books both simultaneously and later on. However - and this is the real reason why no one should read YA books, not even the "young adults" at whom they're aimed - adolescents do not need training wheels for literature. They've already gone beyond children's literature, and they're ready for adult books - fiction, but also that collection of everything else that what we call "non-fiction." The real disservice adults do to children is not to hide "reality" as defined by Judy Blume from them, but to hide real books from them by propping up this genre of mawkish, salacious crap in front of them at the moment when they would otherwise move on to something better on their own (well, out of necessity really, unless they want to keep re-reading Little Women forever).
Graham says, "If people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something." I'd only take this one step further to include, among "people," young adults. And she in a sense admits this herself, despite holding out for the value of YA lit for adolescents:
I remember, when I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks; I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a world where all the adults were camped out in mine. There’s a special reward in that feeling of stretching yourself beyond the YA mark, akin to the excitement of graduating out of the kiddie pool and the rest of the padded trappings of childhood: It’s the thrill of growing up.But "the YA mark" is not some natural developmental hurdle you have to leap before you're ready for the real stuff. If you can understand The Hunger Games, you can understand Animal Farm and 1984, which are more politically sophisticated (and logical) dystopias. If you can understand teen girl romances, you can understand at least one level of Jane Austen. If you want to read about love and death, you can read Anna Karenina or even War and Peace, though you should be prepared for a long haul with some boring expounding of Tolstoy's theory of war if you go that route, but the point remains that the books are not beyond the intellectual grasp of a well-read adolescent (girl). If you can follow a bildungsroman, you can follow probably half of all American fiction. Maybe Faulkner and Melville and Joyce will still elude you for a while (or in my case, possibly forever), but that hardly requires crawling back to Judy Blume and the anticipation and exhilaration of...wait for it (and you will be waiting for it, for 250 pages)...a first period! And none of these books may yet render to the adolescent reader the satisfaction of full mastery on first reading that a YA book will, but that's only further evidence of how subpar YA books are.
So basically, I agree with whoever it was that suggested a single standard for evaluating all literature, only I'd make an exception for literature for actual children, like Winnie the Pooh, because I don't know in what terms one could compare it to, say, Henry James, unless we just laud its delightful whimsy and admit this is simply one of the possible good qualities of literature that James lacked. I suppose I could be open to this approach, although it might become difficult to compare children's books against one another, since they'd all be degrees of whimsical.