It’s the time of year when many people are making New Years Resolutions. For myself, I like to give myself hopes and goals for the year because as soon as I call something a “resolution” it tends to never happen. Instead of sharing my personal resolutions-that-are-really-hopes, I thought I’d make some for Young Adult literature. I think YA literature needs some goals to strive for in 2016. 2015 gave us some great books but I think there’s a lot to improve upon. While I am a realist in many ways, allow me to indulge my idealistic side and truly wish for a bit.
So here are ten things I hope to see in YA in 2016 and beyond.
1. More diverse characters – I want to read the story of the Haitian American girl with a superpower, or the boy in a wheelchair falling in love with another boy for the first time, or the story of a trans teen with a happy ending. The beautiful diversity of our world should be represented and normalized in the pages of YA books. I want the students who have become used to seeing books as a window to a predominantly white, straight, cis, able bodied world, to open up a book and their teen self mirrored there in the experience of someone just like them.
2. More diverse creators – Diversity is not a fad and publishers need to take note of this.I want the beautiful diverse voices of creators, not just characters, to be heard, celebrated, and published. It’s great to see diverse characters and plots popping up in YA books in general, but it’s even better when those viewpoints are coming from writers of color, LGBTQ writers, and others with firsthand experience. We Need Diverse Books is doing great work with their social media campaigns and programs for authors and interns but there is more work to do. Publishers, agents, booksellers, and yes, librarians do more in finding, promoting, and paying authors of color. And there are also many times when white, straight, cis people like me need to step back, listen to other voices, and use the privileges we have to amplify others’.
3. Diversity in genre – I want the next great teen detective to be bisexual, or to see an American Indian boy in space. I want my genre books – mysteries, sci-fi, historical fiction, romance, all of them – to have characters of color, LGBTQ characters, and characters with disabilities in them. Many LGBTQ teens have said to me, and elsewhere that yes, coming out stories are great and can be really helpful, but there’s more to themselves than just being gay. They may also be a person of color, and someone who loves high fantasy, and someone who loves sports. Those three dimensional teens deserve three dimensional storytelling and that means more than an “issue book” about whatever sets them apart from their peers.
4. Less mansplaining from authors who may have never read a YA book before or saving of genres by John Green- Ok, this one may just be picking on that guy with the six figure deal and the #moralambiguity, but come on. Don’t come bursting into a corner of the bookstore or library with all your great ideas and not acknowledge the work of others. Probably someone – mostly likely a woman since women authors seem to be the majority in YA – has done it better and before you.
5. More respect for the loves of teens and teen girls in particular – Don’t automatically decide that if a teen likes it, it must be shallow, dumb, or uninteresting. If it’s something that a teen girl likes, don’t double this assumption. Like Rebecca Pahle at The Mary Sue said a few years back in the midst of Twilight frenzy, “[…] teenage girls face enough pressure in their life without being told—in general and by the geek community specifically, at least with Twilight—that their interests are irrelevant and that they themselves should be discounted for liking them.”
6. Acknowledgement of the writing quality of YA – I am still of the opinion that while YA books do sometimes have some ongoing tropes (the love triangle comes to mind) it’s still more of an age indicator than a genre. Like other books for different age levels, there are good books, well written ones, fast-paced ones, award winning ones, terrible ones, and more. So before you fire off a screed about how YA books are dreck and rotting young minds remember that “adult books” include everything from books written by Rush Limbaugh to ones by Flannery O’Connor and Toni Morrison. There is variety of quality in all levels, not just YA.
7. Less focus on the “girls books” and “boys books” more focus on great books for every reader – The book gender binary is alive and well in libraries and I hate it. I hate that I still hesitate for a split second to recommend a book to a teen boy because it has a girl protagonist. I work hard to not think along those lines but sometimes I’m not thinking or honestly, being lazy, it happens. It would be nice for publishers to help me out in not pushing the heteronormative books with outdated ideas of what boys and girls like to read on the teens, and me.
8. Better YA movie adaptations – Movie studios: read the books, pay attention to the casting AKA no more whitewashing please, and don’t fundamentally change the book to fit into a movie. I’d also love to see actual teens playing teens as opposed to the “adult teens” who play them in most movies and shows. Finally, movie studios, I’m with Angel: please no Hunger Games prequels.
9. Less calls for book removals, more room for dialogue and learning – Every year there are still some people who call for books to be removed from schools and libraries. The National Coalition Against Censorship is reporting a handful of book removals and challenges in the last six months alone. People in various school districts and communities are upset about Looking For Alaska, I am Jazz, The Namesake, and Palomar just to name a few. Many, many of these books are YA books and are often questioned for being “unsuited to age group” or for having the audacity to present the authentic lives of teens who may be gay, have sex, or swear. I hope that people will spend more time reading the books they question and trying to understand those experiences rather than knee-jerk, reactionary removals and challenges. Empathy and a willingness to dialogue – a girl can dream, right?
10. Not one more snobby or ill-researched piece about adults shouldn’t read YA – For the love of Peeta Mellark, please stop. I just can’t even anymore. You’ve made me into someone who writes: I just can’t even. It’s offensive to teens and offensive to adults. YA and the adults who read it are here to stay; find something else to write about.
So movers and shakers and people in charge, take notice. I will do what I can help these wishes and dreams come true on my end. What will you be doing? Let’s make YA in 2016 and beyond a model for diversity, gender equity, and damn good writing.