What an exciting week in the world of commentary about literature for young readers.  First an article in TES  (attached below for anyone who hasn’t read it) and then The Today Programme on Radio 4 follows it up with the author of the TES article having another opportunity to express his thoughts on the world of writing for Young Adults.  (Again link below )

What can I say!  It amazes me constantly that ‘other people’ are sitting around deciding in their great and elevated wisdom and critical ability what is ‘good’ and ‘right’ for Young Adults to read.  That these wise, educated and cultured people have a notion of what is good means that they also have very clear ideas of what is ‘bad’ and bad seems to be anything that the young person might choose for themselves.  Something that engages with the world on issues and concerns that they hold dear and want to address not only in the books that they read but in their lives both personal and political (or is there a difference!)  So much about reading is about entering another world, the world of another person or political situation which allows you to polish and refine your ideas and opinions.  For all of us (young or old) reading is also a way to vicariously experience, an opportunity to polish our opinions through the action of the protagonists without actually having to engage in the acts of rebellion, heroism, self-sacrifice and more.  Through the vicarious sharing in the dramatic actions of Standish Treadwell I might just make a better and more noble choice when facing smaller but no less significant acts of repression in my own life.

So, when someone writes a long article about the risible standard of literature for young adults and seems to have very limited knowledge of what is being read by young adults today I am very keen to know what they think is good. Like the best wish fulfillment fiction my dream comes true the next day when the same commentator suggests that a good book for Young Adults to read at the moment is ‘The Domestic Manners of the Americans’  by Fanny Trollope.  I have never heard of this book but a quick bit of research tells me that it created a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic when it was published in 1832 as the author had ‘caustic views of the Americans’ , and that she found ‘America strongly lacking in manners and learning. ‘  Sounds like just the enlightened, sensible, generous and empathetic literature we need these days to make sense of our fractured world in such troubled times.  Thanks for the tip?  No.  Not really.  But thankfully young adults continue to vote with their feet.  To buy books by wonderful writers like Lisa Williamson, Louise O’Neill, Malorie Blackman, Brian Conaghan, Juno Dawson, Benjamin Zephanian, Alex Wheatle, William Sutcliffe, Laure Halse Anderson, Non Pratt, E Lockhart … someone please stop me

TES Article  

Radio 4 23.08.16 Today Programme the clip with the commentary about YA fiction is at 8:20 am  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07r1qh0


  1. I think Nutt made some interesting and fair points, but certainly not wholly correct. However the reaction (I believe overreaction) of many YA writers/readers leads me to think they doth protest too much… Many YA books do wallow in “issues” and I’ve had many teenagers (my students) tell me that they find many YA books lack a story, which is what many want. Because a lot of “issue based” YA fiction sells does not mean that the publishers and authors satisfy the needs of all.

    1. Publishers and authors can’t satisfy the needs of all the readers all of the time. People’s needs change and the appetite for different books at different times is a wonderful thing. The most we can hope to do is make space for a variety of voices and tastes and interests. I am sure that those who don’t want to read what they regard as issue driven books have much to choose from as there are after all so very many books in the world.

  2. But as a publisher yourself you know that publishers leap on a trend to make money, and whilst I think Nutt was too extreme in his criticism I think it’s true to say there is an overwhelming bent toward angst, issue based fiction (without much story). So whilst there may be an appetite for that, it to a degree, I don’t think there is enough choice of genre in contemporary YA fiction, which is one reason that Nutt went on (too much) about the classics (and his eg, as you point out, was not good). I would have suggested Cormier’s The Chocolate War.

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