Tuesday, June 7, 2016

YA Guy Remembers... Why YA Matters!

As I've mentioned before on this blog, YA Guy recently signed up for NetGalley, so I've been reading the occasional ARC. Some of what I've read is YA; most isn't. I look for titles that sound interesting, regardless of genre or audience, and I hope for the best.

But I've gotta tell you, the results haven't been satisfying. Most of the galleys I've read haven't clicked for me. And I think one of the main reasons is that, having read mostly YA the past several years, I've come to expect certain things from literature that I'm not getting from non-YA books.

Like strong characters. And interesting plots. And thought-provoking conflicts.

You know, things that matter.

YA has all of these things. Lots of other books ostensibly written for grownups don't.

Take the most recent galley I read, Ezekiel Boone's THE HATCHING. The story of monster spiders that eat their way through various human populations around the world, the book was creepy enough in an Aliens or Roland Emmerich Godzilla kind of way (spiders bursting from people's bodies, egg sacs laid in popular sports venues, etc.). But when you got past the shock effects, there wasn't much to the book.

The characters in particular left me cold. Almost everyone was pure caricature: the tough-as-nails cop, the flighty scientist, the ballsy but beautiful woman president, etc., etc. The occasional side character, like the Scottish guy who writes potboilers, was mildly amusing, but such characters had little to do with the plot. For the most part, characters were defined by who they were sleeping with. And who they were sleeping with just wasn't very interesting.

You couldn't get away with this in YA. I'm not saying that all YA has brilliantly drawn characters--but at least in YA, you have to try to make the characters more than caricatures. In a book like THE HATCHING, the characters are merely there to give the monster spiders something to eat. There's no drama in that, no human interest, no occasion for reflection. There's only gross-out gore and sex scenes. And who cares about that?

Throughout my life, I've read and enjoyed many types of literature. I'm certainly no YA snob. But I do wish that all literature aspired to do what YA aspires to do: to transport and transform readers, not just to terrify or titillate them.

YA doesn't always matter, but it always tries to matter. And that, I think, is why it matters to me.