Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What Girls Want

So I was reading Galleycat yesterday morning and followed a link to this much-blogged-about Caitlin Flanagan article in The Atlantic. It's really a (very positive) of the Twilight series. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I haven't read the series, so I really can't comment on that beyond saying that I am one of those who feels that anything that gets young people--or old people, or any other people for that matter--reading is a good thing. But Flanagan's article covers a lot more than just the series so I can comment on it.

I didn't read much YA fiction even when I was a young adult. So I'm not exactly an expert. But despite that, I think her essay rings false from the opening paragraph.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS ABOUT divorce—which are unanimously dedicated to bucking up those unfortunate little nippers whose families have gone belly-up—ask a lot of their authors. Their very premise, however laudable, so defies the nature of modern children’s literature (which, since the Victorian age, has centered on a sentimental portrayal of the happy, intact family) that the enterprise seems doomed from the title.
It's rather small-minded to claim that books about unhappy, broken families defy "the nature of modern children's literature." More than that, it seems completely untrue. I can think of many books, going back years, that center around families that are not happy and or intact. To choose just one particularly famous example, L. M. Montgomery's books, with their orphans and motherless children, so often focus on the attempt to create such a family where one does not exist. It seems as if, for Flanagan, an awful lot of children's and young adult literature was just never written.

It doesn't get better from there.
The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room, or even just when she’s gazing out the classroom window while all of Modern European History, or the niceties of the passé composé, sluice past her. This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading.
I loved reading as a teenager. My father used to ground me from reading because my room was a mess or I wasn't doing my math homework and I'd go and hide in my basement, or some corner of my room and read the day away. But I wasn't aware that when I was reading The Son of Tarzan or Deryni Rising I was working out the big questions in my life. I was going on adventures and imagining different lives for myself outside my suburban milieu. I wasn't entering the emotional lives of others but transporting myself. Which seems to me to be an equally valid reason to read. I like to think there's more than one reason for people--yes, even if those people are teenage girls--to read.

And that's really the biggest problem with the article (which is chock full of all kinds of problems). It's generalizations piled on top of generalizations. What young adult books are about, what young adult books should be about, what teenage girls are like, what teenage girls want, and so on. Wouldn't the world be boring if everything and everyone really were that alike?

As a side note, on what was, after all, not a good day in the world of publishing, let me remind everyone that books make great holiday gifts because there's something for everyone. And also that your local independent bookstore is a fabulous place to shop. I'm just saying.

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