Fisking Joe Nutt on YA Fiction

I came across this gem of click bait on reddit. (Warning: click if you want to head desk.) For the record, I love r/YAwriters, and this got posted so that a bunch of us could tear it down. Joe Nutt (I love that this guy’s name is also Joe Nutt) is fretting about the state of young adults fiction and teenager’s reading habits. He’s got a lot to say, and I maybe agree with one sentence. Let’s do this.

Can I read past this first line? This piece is going to be hot garbage.

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.

That book? I’d read it. Instead, I’m going to read this shit post.

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.

Funny, this is why I remember most of my classmates hating the ‘classics’–it’s just a bunch of authors proselytising. In all books? Certainly not, but let’s not forget that books we now today consider essential parts of the English language canon started out as ‘pulpy trash’.

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.

We have not been reading the same books.

She also told me how there was a complete absence of non-fiction being published for schools or for teenagers today.

We found Wikipedia.

This isn’t about education ministers asserting their youthful passions for Shakespeare.

If it was, I’d be fine with it. Reading every play by Shakespeare in high school and college was informative. Instead, there’s a wordy paragraph about ‘cultural inheritance’ as if that means something grand. I’ve read ‘the classics’. I’ve liked some and detested others. Not at any point have I felt like I’m ‘inheriting’ a culture.

I would be asking them where are those vital books for teenagers that introduce them to the real, adult world?

Teenagers are reading those books. They’re just not shelved where you think they should be, the stories not told by the people you think should write them.

Books through which someone on the cusp of growing up gradually comes to appreciate what that means in terms of roles and responsibilities?

As a teen, I turned to fantasy to escape responsibilities I couldn’t grasp, couldn’t emotionally understand. I write YA because some of those emotions still don’t make sense. The difference is, as an adult, I’ve had practice dealing with them. And I still read YA because I relate to those complicated feelings–yes, even the ones I don’t intellectually agree with.

For far too long publishers and others have patronised or turned teenagers off reading entirely with books they think are good for them, instead of helping them seek out and enjoy books that matter.

Like you’re doing, right now, in this piece?

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