Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why Young Adult Fiction Is a Dangerous Fantasy

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why Young Adult Fiction Is a Dangerous Fantasy

Article excerpt

It's time to acknowledge that publishers have systematically deprived generations from becoming literate adults by favouring gossip over real culture, argues Joe Nutt

I've drafted an outline for a bestselling young adult novel. It features a transgender school dropout with autism who meets a self-harming vampire with a heart of gold, hell bent on bringing peace to the world. Together they embark on a magical quest to find an ancient crystal with the power to render all weapons useless. Oh, and the protagonist's mother makes a living selling legal highs to illegal immigrants.

For almost 20 years I taught English to teenagers and spent a lot of that time experimenting with classics and new books, always looking to find writing that would excite their interest and nudge them that little bit closer to becoming genuinely literate adults. I somehow managed to do this without ever being aware that there was some quasi-psychological state which I was entirely ignorant of - and which I had somehow managed to skip myself - called young adulthood. In that time, I learned a significant lesson. Nothing is more guaranteed to turn a teenager off a book than sensing the writer is proselytising.

So why are the young adult shelves in bookshops and the noticeboards in school libraries crammed full of invitations to read books spluttering and gagging on the foul-tasting medicine of their own good intentions?

Several generations of teenagers, especially boys, have been effectively prevented from ever becoming literate adults by a publishing industry that has decided young adult readers have an insatiable appetite for what amounts to nothing more than gossip fodder, the endless recycling of petty anxieties and celebrity confessions that choke the pages of magazines placed strategically at the supermarket checkout. So much young adult fiction is little more than a florid expansion of those headlines about the new love in Jennifer Aniston's life, Taylor Swift's dietary obsessions or Kim Kardashian's latest sex tape.

Connecting young minds

I recently met a sales director for a major UK educational bookseller who was in despair at the way school libraries no longer held any of those crucially exciting, factual books, and were emptying shelves of those oddly shaped volumes packed with superb illustrations and fascinating facts so often responsible for connecting children's minds to the real world and the privileges of a civilised culture. She also told me how there was a complete absence of non-fiction being published for schools or for teenagers today. It seems as though we have communally decided these young adults are either too stupid to be addressed respectfully, or too obsessed with their own anxieties and bodies to engage with the far more demanding world of ideas. …

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