Monday, December 1, 2008

In which another adult says silly things about teen readers

I really think Caitlin Flanagan (and The Atlantic) jumped the shark with this ridiculous article about teen fiction, "What Girls Want". Here are my biggest eye rolling quotes:

1. "Divorce in a young-adult novel means what being orphaned meant in a fairy tale: vulnerability, danger, unwanted independence. It also means that the protagonists must confront the sexuality of their parents at the moment they least want to think about such realities."

(News to Hilary McKay, Barbara Shoup, Cecil Castellucci and hundreds of other authors who have written realistic novels about kids from broken homes who do not live like the children in fairy tales.) (And really - when did we decide it was still okay to make sweeping statements like this about any facet of society, let alone literature?)

2. "I hate Y.A. novels; they bore me."

(Which explains why you are writing an article on YA novels, of course.)

3. Twilight is fantastic.

(Sweet Jesus.)

4. "After a friend (toward whom Bella has gently been directing one of her own admirers) finally goes on a big “date” (a lost world right there, in a simple word), she phones Bella, breathless: “Mike kissed me! Can you believe it?” It was a scene that could have existed in any of the books I read when I was an adolescent; but in today’s world of Y.A. fiction, it constitutes an almost bizarre moment."

(Because apparently modern YA fiction is full of porn. I'm sure this will be news to Sherman Alexie, John Green, Chris Crutcher and pretty much every other YA novelist on the planet.)

5. "This is a vampire novel, so it is a novel about sex, but no writer, from Bram Stoker on, has captured so precisely what sex and longing really mean to a young girl."

(I've heard Bram Stoker credited for many things but never that he was attempting to capture what "sex and longing" meant for young girls.) (And really - ew.)

6. "As I write this, I am sitting on the guest-room bed of a close friend, and down the hall from me is the bedroom of the daughter of the house, a 12-year-old reader extraordinaire, a deep-sea diver of books. She was the fourth person through the doors of the Westwood Barnes & Noble the midnight that the series’ final volume, Breaking Dawn, went on sale, and she read it—a doorstop, a behemoth—in six hours, and then turned back to page one as though it were the natural successor to the last page."

(This would be the part where we see why Flanagan is qualified to write this article - she knows a 12 year old! Of course she thus knows every single thing there is to know about teenagers and books!)

And the one that particularly addresses our concerns here at GLW:

7. "The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room, or even just when she’s gazing out the classroom window while all of Modern European History, or the niceties of the passé composé, sluice past her. This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading." (emphasis mine)

(No comment from me - just the sound of my head hitting the desk over and over again.)

[See Finding Wonderland and Miss Rumphius for more discussion of this truly inane piece of journalism.]


Khy said...

Why did you have to post this? Now I'm reading it and losing brain cells because of it.

--K. said...

Seriously... oh look, there goes another one. That article ticked me off in so many ways that I'm speechless. This Twilight blog post by an actual teenager made me laugh and feel better. May it do the same for some of you.

jhank623 said...

perhaps those who know nothing about literature, let alone YA literature, should remain mute! Thanks for the "Sweet Jesus" comment. I laughed!

Colleen said...

Thanks K - it really is disturbing that Flanagan actually wrote this for a major magazine isn't it??

Tricia said...

Thank you for articulating what I could not. I have to wonder if she actually believes this nonsense, or if she writes this way to provoke.

Barbara Shoup said...

Now there are two heads hitting the table. It seems the only possible response. Brilliant post! It cracked me up and made me furious--a very satisfying combination. And thanks for the nod.

Unknown said...

I think you're being a little unfair to La Flanagan, although lord knows she deserves it most of the time. :) The divorce quote is just about how divorce is a useful way to set up a YA novel, just like being orphaned is a useful way to drive the action of a fairy tale.

True, she does call Twilight "fantastic" and "marvelous", but she also calls it "trash fiction"...which about sums it up for me. I love trash fiction.

I'll bop her on the head for the thing about how nobody appreciates books like a teenage girl, though. Also saying she hates YA novels, when she only discusses the YA novels of her girlhood (also my girlhood...I can imagine the ones she's remembering, and yes, they were schlock. Someone get this woman some John Green, stat!).

I do think she has a point in saying that Twilight is very much in the mode of those 1970's and 1980's teen romances, though. More realistic contemporary YA books about relationships (Hard Love, Stoner and Spaz, and many other wonderful books) bear very little resemblance to it.

Colleen said...

I know I was snarky in my response but the whole article seemed to demand that kind of snarkiness, Jennifer. Where she really lost me was when she wrote that she hated YA novels. At that point, it just made no sense that she was writing the piece in the first place!

A Paperback Writer said...

Oh, this is hilarious!
Obviously this person knows everything about educational psychology and child development as well! My goodness! We should all step back in awe and worship!

Anne Spollen said...

It's entirely possible that Flanagan is a frustrated YA novelist...

Leila said...

"3. Twilight is fantastic.

(Sweet Jesus.)"

Ha ha ha ha ha. Good lord.

mordicai said...

HAaaaaa. Ha.

Chelliminal said...

"Edward puts the young girl into a state of emotional confusion and vulnerability that has been at the heart of female romantic awakening since the beginning of time."

How old is our concept of "romantic" love? I think she is closer when she admits Twilight is like the books she read as a teen. Now that style is "old-fashioned" for a reason. A few things have changed for females since then.

Nostalgia colors our perceptions quite thoroughly. I think she "hates YA novels" because she wants them to recapture how she fondly remembers her youthful "world of sensation." I don't think that is the goal of much of today's YA lit.

Anonymous said...

I just found your site, and I discovered this post. I was trying not to wretch. These quotes are insulting to teenage girls and boys--particularly boys. Give me a break!