On genre prejudice

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A guest post I wrote for Kate Gordon's awesome blog in 2011, reposted here for your enjoyment/ranty goodness. Thoughts on genre prejudice appreciated, so comment away!


Goodreads is not a good place to go as a writer. I mean, I love reviews. I love reading other people’s opinions. I love the idea of the world a writer creates being real in the minds of thousands of people. It’s like a psychic link. You see something in your mind, you write these words, someone else reads those words and they can see it too. It’s magical. Reading is a glorious experience. I don’t even mind my own bad reviews that much – I appreciate people’s viewpoints, and constructive criticism, and everyone has a right to their own opinion. But if there’s one thing that drives me insane, it’s people writing negative reviews and adding – maybe as an afterthought, or even in the introduction – ‘well, it is a book for teenagers’. Or ‘It’s young adult, so I didn’t expect much’.

Please excuse me while my head meets my desk for a brief rendezvous.

It bothers me most when it’s YA people are being condescending about, because that’s the genre I read and write and love the most. And of course we’re all aware of pretentious literary types turning up their noses at science fiction and mystery and chick lit writers, which is ridiculous. Also, the popular fiction writers tend to be the ones with lots of money, and you wouldn’t want to insult John Grisham or Nora Roberts or anyone because they could afford hit men, I imagine. This whole genre prejudice towards YA seems to stem from the fact that people think teenagers are less intelligent than adults, and need books written for them that are simplified, dumbed down.

To those people who write reviews that start with ‘I don’t usually read YA, and after this book I know why’ – quit hating on my genre! Now I would imagine if you are reading the blog of the lovely Kate Gordon you probably like books for teenagers. Maybe you’re a teenager yourself. But if one of these Goodreads ‘it’s bad because it’s YA’ folks just so happen to stumble across this post, there are a few things that need to be said:

  1. A single book does not represent that entire genre. Sure, there are plenty of YA books that I think are pretty average. There are some I think are terrible. But there are many that are beautiful, with wonderful characters and lovely writing, books that make you cry and laugh and think about them for weeks afterwards. Same as you wouldn’t meet me and assume all seventeen-year-old girls are just like me (because they’re not. The world would be terrible boring if they were, and I kind of like being a little unique), you shouldn’t read a single book and then discount the entire genre.
  2. Teenagers are capable of comprehending complex issues, ideas and emotions in real life and in fiction. No good YA writer ‘dumbs down’ their book for a teen audience. Books written for teenagers very often tap into emotions that all of us can relate to – when we’re young almost everyone experiences loneliness and confusion, as well as great joy. This search for identity and purpose is something everybody can identify with. And I think a lot of people like going back and remembering how they felt through their teenage years (though I can’t imagine why – as soon as I’m out of the Dark Tunnel of Adolescence I’m never looking back! Ever!), hence why the genre is so popular.

Look, YA-hating Goodreads reviewers, I’m not trying to convert you to being a die-hard YA fan (though if you’d like to join the club, we’d be happy to have you). I’m just suggesting you read a few more YA books before you diss my genre. Be an informed reviewer. Don’t insult the intelligence of the next generation. And next time you consider writing ‘well, it’s for teenagers, what do you expect?’ know that I am watching. But not really. I’d just rather you didn’t.
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