Who’s Up for a Labor Day Rant?

I’ve read a few articles lately and been involved in a few conversations that have gotten me thinking about the topic of audience age. And then, the other day, a wonderful conversation about writing, readership, the “intended audience,” etc. erupted on the blog of Sarah Prineas, the author of The Magic Thief. The conversation is here, and here are some of my favorite quotes:

“As Gorky once said, ‘Writing for children is the same as writing for adults, only better.'”

My all-time favorite writing quote is this one by Madeleine L’Engle: ‘You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.’

Like Prineas, I don’t have a rant in me about people who think it’s easier to write for kids. I also don’t have a rant about people who think that writers “for adults” are somehow objectively better or more serious than writers “for children.” I know too deeply that that is wrong to be able to get worked up about it (okay, I get worked up about it sometimes, but only when I’m cranky and haven’t eaten breakfast yet). People love to stick books in categories — often books they’ve never even read — and then rank the categories based on vast and inaccurate assumptions. Back when I used to google my book in search of reviews, I found a reviewer of the North American, Harcourt Graceling (which is being published as YA) who, after the requisite “the only other YA I’ve read is Harry Potter,” basically said, “I think this book should have been published for adults, not teens.” Later, I found a reviewer of the British, Gollancz Graceling (which is being published as adult) who basically said, “I think this book should be published for teens, not adults.” Whatever. Knock yourselves out, people. Categories are necessary for publishers, libraries, and bookstores to function smoothly, but beyond that, they are crap. I don’t write my books for an audience of a particular age. I write them for me, and by extension, for readers who are like me. And by me, I mean the timeless me. I have been 13 and I have been 31, and both the teen me and the thirties me like books published across all genres and for all age levels, and I know I am not the only person on earth who is like that. Any book can be for anyone and every reading experience is new and unique.

Ahem. As you can see, I don’t have a rant in me about this particular topic.

However, there is something I do have a rant in me about, and it’s closely related to this particular topic — and it’s related to both those reviews of Graceling I mention above. Because I know from the context what both of them meant. The first one meant, “Teens shouldn’t read books like Graceling because we need to protect teens from mature topics like sexuality and nontraditional relationships.” The second one meant, “This book isn’t quite deep or complicated or dark enough — this book isn’t mature enough — to be marketed for adults.”

Listen, person, if you think my book isn’t deep or complicated or dark and would be a better book if it were, that’s fine. Maybe you’re right. But blame me. It’s the way it is because of my failings — because of me, the writer — not because of my appropriate audience. STOP CONDESCENDING TO YOUNG PEOPLE.

This is where my rant is: the condescension to young people that is the basis of all of those belittling attitudes toward children’s writers. Writing for children is inferior to writing for adults because children are less smart, less sophisticated, less discriminating than adults. Putting aside how magnificent so much literature marketed as “children’s literature” is — do people really not remember what it was like to be young? And do people really think grown-ups are smarter? (Ever read the news?) Do people not realize that the readers with the best bullshit censors are the young readers? And the attitude of “material inappropriate for young people” just makes me want to jump screaming out of my skin. Um? YOUNG PEOPLE LIVE IN THIS WORLD. Not only do they see the terrible things that happen, but they are involved in the terrible things that happen. Not only do they see the “mature” things that happen, but they are involved in the mature things that happen. What is it that you imagine you’re protecting them from? Might it not help them to cope with the complications of life to read it expressed somehow in art? And okay, so it’s usually true that older people have more bills to pay. But I just don’t buy into that “adults have greater responsibility” thing. Maybe when I was fifteen I didn’t know about car insurance or retirement planning and I wasn’t paying my own way. But hell, I had very real responsibility — as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend, as a student, as a person in the world. So does every other young person. Don’t belittle that responsibility just because it doesn’t come attached to great earning potential. No, I didn’t have as much experience as I do now, nor had I developed certain kinds of empathy. Sure, in many ways I was immature, I was self-centered (as I’m sure my parents could attest!). But life was coming at me just like it comes at an adult, it was coming at me just as fast and hard. It was deep and complicated and dark. And I was as smart as I am now. And not only was I capable of reading things that were dark and deep and complicated; I needed darkness and depth and complication in what I was reading. I needed it to grow and mature. We all do, whatever our ages. STOP CONDESCENDING TO YOUNG PEOPLE. The only certain difference between any particular young person and any particular old person is a number.

That is all.