On reading young adult fiction and the meaning of ‘literature’

I refer, of course, to this article at Slate.

I’ll keep this brief. I don’t actually have a problem with pooh-poohing young adult literature. There isn’t a lot of it I like. On the other hand, my bookshelf is about 75% genre fiction, and given this snippet…

YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.

…I feel I ought to offer some sort of defense. What fundamental value, as a story, does an ambiguous ending have over the satisfying sort? None, really. There’s a yearning for narrative gratification embedded in the human psyche. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t spend so much time grappling with the question, “What am I here for?”

It really comes to that. None of the points the article makes in favor of more mature literature are absent in, say, fantasy or YA fiction (unfamiliar characters, weird facts, big ideas), except that it’s less traditional to end genre fiction in a way that leaves the reader hanging. The claim that, to be mature, or literary, or worthwhile, fiction has to drearily reflect the real world, with all its frequent crappiness and messy solutions, grinds my gears. Anyone with an honest ounce of self-assessment knows we thirst for better out of the real world. How is it as flatly wrong as Ms. Graham writes to ask for more than the drudgery of day-to-day life out of our books?

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