professornana (professornana) wrote,
professornana
professornana

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A critical eye

I enjoy reading critiques of books, especially YA novels, because we need to be able to hone a more critical approach if we are to elevate YA from where it is generally relegated (fine for outside of school reading for pleasure) to where it should be (respected as literature right alongside those old chestnuts many of which do not speak to contemporary teens and perhaps never did even a century ago). Unfortunately, all too often, the critical analysis I see these days is a rather dismissive one. Take this, for example, "Time for Teen Fantasy Heroines to Grow Up" found here: http://www.themillions.com/2013/11/time-for-teen-fantasy-heroines-to-grow-up.html.

Of course, there are really only two YA fantasies being discussed here: Twilight and The Hunger Games. In part, that is because they have been made into movies and, thus, are reaching well outside of the YA world. However, even before the movies launched, I saw plenty of non-YA readers in airports, bookstores, and waiting rooms. To use only two heroines as a way of pointing out the lack of good role models for young women is too easy. Take this paragraph for example: "Literature may not be about easy answers, but some of the best books bring some level of clarity to the reader within their nuanced explorations of the world — even if that clarity means that they find the answers are grayer than they thought. The problem with Twilight and Hunger Games is that while operating in a seemingly black-and-white world they actually infect their readers with chaos: Twilight by exploiting its audience’s desire to completely escape reality, and Hunger Games by cementing its readers’ fears that there is nothing beyond the darkness."

It is almost too easy to be dismissive here. In addition to sampling only a couple of books, there is little acknowledgement that young women are reading fantasy and authors are writing fantasy for a female audience as well as the more traditional make audience. There is no discussion of the hordes of other titles we might examine for worthy heroines. Nor is there an understanding that the age of the main character is NOT what makes something a YA novel (see her reference to Winter's Bone, for example) any more than having a child character makes a book one for children or an adult character is the center of what is needed for adult books. It is not quite this simple. If one is going to be critical, counting the number of times the word "death" is used does not shed much light on the book or its heroine.

The final longing in this article is for a new Jo March. Might I suggest that, for contemporary YA readers, there are plenty of role models out there, plenty of books that can convey that the world has limitless possibilities? Might I suggest that this writer's Jo March was not the teen I admired when I read (and detested) Little Women? Might I suggest that perhaps the books she so easily mentions and then discards, books by Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley for instance, are still being written and read (just not maybe made into movies)? Might I suggest some more extensive reading of YA fantasy (and other genres, too)? Might I suggest focusing on what these books do so well: create and sustain emerging lifelong readers?
Tags: dismissive analysis, snobbery
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