Notes from a bookseller

Hi guys. We’re going to change things up a bit here today.

morning reading

I want to talk to you about something I’ve learned at my job, the one that I work to pay the bills. The one where I’m working hourly and on my feet all day and where I sometimes get off at midnight or have to show up at 7am. It’s a good job, but taxing. But I love it — I love being around books and I love book people and I love getting to be on this side of the business.

My favorite part about this job is that I get to connect people with a book I’m confident they will love and they trust me. There’s a real, genuine joy that just clickin that moment, and I am gratified that I know what they’ll enjoy and know the product well enough to put the right book in their hands.

But what’s hard is when the stigma of a genre slices through the rapport I try to create with them and undermines my recommendation.

Confession: I unashamedly love YA (young adult) and children’s fiction. I always have. Some of my favorite books of all time are YA novels or Newbery Award winners.

I think YA is probably the most interesting genre in publishing right now, because coming-of-age stories deal with issues in raw ways that many pieces of adult fiction aren’t willing to embrace, and because the audience is so unadulterated and sincere in what they love and what they hate. The clarity of affection is a force to be reckoned with when a teenager really, really loves a story or an author or a character.

Adults are more cautious, more cynical. They’re afraid to wholeheartedly love or hate something–it might not be the correct opinion. It might offend someone, it might not be an educated choice.

I think this is understandable — adults know that life is more complex than they thought when they were teens, issues are more nuanced, and shades of grey is a more real approach to morality than black and white.

But that doesn’t mean that a mature approach to reality and hardship and love and life isn’t present in YA, and this is what people don’t know. I’ll hand them a book that I found intelligent, moving, and beautiful, but once they realize it’s about teens or that it’s from the YA section, they quietly discard it or sigh and smile and ask for something else.

What they don’t know is keeping them from a really rich reading experience in this blossoming genre, and I chuckle to myself when I hear teens talking about how adults are prejudiced against them and won’t take them seriously. I understand why this dynamic exists, but they’re right: adults are prejudiced against seeing the world through the eyes of a teen.

I mean, I know high school was traumatic for everyone, but this is ridiculous. YA is where authors are being original, experimental, and fresh. They aren’t out to prove anything, and that’s where creative brilliance can thrive.

So, I dare you: put aside your struggle through Infinite Jest or The Corrections or The Goldfinch or The Invention of Wings, and pick up Eleanor & Park. Be dazzled. And then tell me what you thought.

9 thoughts on “Notes from a bookseller

  1. I’m with you! Some of my absolute favorite books are YA and most people have no idea how deep and profound some of these authors can be. Not only that, but they are so imaginative that I become so easily lost in the worlds they create, much to my delight 🙂

  2. You’ve just encouraged me to keep going with my YA attempt-at-a-novel. I’ve been reading YA books the last two years with my daughter, and I’ve been wowed by what is happening in the genre.

  3. So happy to see this sentiment (not the adult bias though, grrr).

    Admittedly one of my favorite book series of ALL TIME is the YA Young Jedi Knights. Reading that as a kid opened up an new world to me, heck even my internet persona, nicknames etc. originated from that (obviously). So much of my perspective on personal growth, change and the human element came from those specific characters in my early teens. YA fiction really is pretty awesome stuff.

  4. Question. What defines YA fiction? Written for young adult or written by young adult? and if it is simply written for young adult by an adult, how can an adult write something that is relevant to the younger if they are seeing/writing through an adult lens? Or am I missing something?

    1. It’s technically more of a term for who the book is marketed to (which, I think, further supports my point that a good story is for everyone so stop being a snob about genres…).

      YA is fiction marketed to a target audience of 16-18, but I find it’s usually read by 12-16 yo kids, when read by teens. It’s a new “market”–it’s just a new definition for an audience that’s been in existence for decades. The Hunger Games, for example, are YA.

  5. I liked The Goldfinch, but LOVED Code Name Verity — another YA book you might enjoy. I too continue to love good childrens and young adult literature. A good book is a good book, and always will be.

  6. Love this!! I’ve always adored YA – some of my all-time favorite books are in that category. I’m wondering if my novel I’m working on ought to be marketed as YA. Thanks for sharing this post. I’ve been lurking here for a while and love your writing.

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