I came across this blog post a few days ago by Shaun Duke I believe: Young Adult Fiction Can’t Win.

I can’t really respond to Shaun because I’m not really sure what he’s saying.  The post mainly made me want to go off on a tangent… what is YA fiction?  Why is it needed?  I think it’s a stupid idea in the first place!

There might be plenty of definitions, but the one that makes the most immediate sense to me is: YA fiction is fiction in which the main character is a YA, a teenager.

Some might argue that the nature of a story’s conflict also makes YA fiction what it is; the plot must deal with teenager issues.  But such a definition makes me cringe.  What in the world is a “teenage issue”?  (To be perfectly honest, I hate the notion of there being a “teenager” stage in the course of human development at all.)

My own teenagerhood

Maybe I just had a very fortunate adolescence, but in high school and college I was more of an introvert (am and always will be really), and tended to hang out with people who shared my interests and were right around as “nerdy” as me.  I never wanted to be popular or look cool or attractive, and that never made me feel lonely.  I never had any peer pressure to do any drugs or drink any alcohol or do anything risky or stupid.  The world of relationship woes is still another world to me.

That said, I still hated adolescence.  But it wasn’t because of drugs or relationships.  It was because of SCHOOL.  School was a lot of hard work that I still believe was mostly absolutely meaningless.  Society just thrusted upon us because that’s the tradition.  It gave me a lot of unnecessary worry and stress, and took away a lot of time that I would have loved using in more useful ways.  I was not and could not be in control of my life, and that’s what made me angry and moody and depressed.  It had nothing to do with “coming of age” or dealing with drugs or relationships or a “changing brain” that people are now claiming teenagers have.  It was just plain old not being in control.

And the only way out of it was to just get through school.

(I still get extremely angry just thinking about how the generations before me could allow something as dismal and pointless (and harmful and depressing) as the current high school educational system to emerge and sustain!  What complete buffoons!)

Still, I’m 23 years old now, and I don’t think anything magically changed within me from when I was 15 or 16 or 17.  Of course, I have learned more about certain things… I can drive a car much better now, I think I can write music and literature better, I can program in Java better, blah blah blah, but nothing has drastically changed inside.  I never “came of age” or learned some mystical truth that made me pass from “teen” to “adult” … I just got through school.

So maybe I didn’t have the normal “teen” experience?  Did I miss something?  What do teenagers really want?  For me, it was just control and freedom.  For others, is it popularity?  Wanting to feel loved?  Wanting this-or-that person to be your boyfriend/girlfriend?  If so, then yeah, I did (and hopefully always will) miss out on suffering over those things, but I don’t think those are just “teenage” issues, those are life issues that all must learn to deal with; there are plenty of adults who still struggle with those things.

Even “being in control” is really a life issue, but getting older and out of school tends to solve it.  (Though never completely!)

Some confirmation bias

I came across this article about an adolescent Bill Gates which stated:

The battles reached a climax at dinner one night when Bill Gates was around 12. Over the table, he shouted at his mother, in what today he describes as “utter, total sarcastic, smart-ass kid rudeness.”

That’s when Mr. Gates Sr., in a rare blast of temper, threw the glass of water in his son’s face.

He and Mary brought their son to a therapist. “I’m at war with my parents over who is in control,” Bill Gates recalls telling the counselor. Reporting back, the counselor told his parents that their son would ultimately win the battle for independence, and their best course of action was to ease up on him.

Aha!  See?!  Told you so.  It’s about control.  This Bill Gates anecdote proves it!

Conclusion

When I was a teenager, I didn’t care about the age of the protagonist, and I didn’t read fiction to commiserate with a fictional character.  (Not entirely, at least; I guess it’s more about trying to understand your own struggles in different ways, so I don’t mean to say that fictional characters shouldn’t deal with real-world issues.  They should.)  Nor did I much care for the notion of being “written down to” … the notion that there was some adult who could “understand me” and impart wisdom.  One of the first things you learn when you’re a teenager is that adults actually aren’t always all that wise.  (The wise ones will be the first to admit that.)

So I think the whole idea of YA fiction is just a stupid emergent property from this whole “teen culture” that’s been created by a society that infantilizes and seeks control over their youth for far too long, and it’s really not needed at all.  (Or at least the need has been artificially created.)  Teenagers can enjoy any book they want, and I wouldn’t mind it if the YA market vanished completely.  Books with adolescent main characters could of course still be written, and it’s probably only natural that younger folks would be more attracted to those stories, but those books don’t have to be an entirely different subset.  We don’t have “twenty-ish fiction” … fiction about adults in their twenties for adults in their twenties.  Likewise with “thirty-ish fiction” or “senior fiction” … but those stories are still out there.  Every main character has an age.

Eh… so there’s my rant.

By the way, check out Robert Epstein’s book The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen.  Not sure he’d necessarily agree with my opinions, but it was some more confirmation bias for me when I first came across it.

Also, here’s a Wikipedia article on what confirmation bias is, in case you’re curious!


8 Comments

LanthonyS · April 30, 2009 at 6:48 AM

I think there is some truth beneath it… I mean, something adolescents actually experience to which the words and ideas can be based on. And I don’t think it’s native, as you say, to adolescence, or anything.

At least not in a physiological way. What I mostly believe is that our society (the same one that pushes us into school like this…) has placed a large emphasis on the transition to “adulthood”. I mean, obviously there’s some change with puberty that differentiates childhood from adulthood. But as you say, not only do plenty of people go through that without the typical symptoms (even introverts?), also I wonder if the correlation between a changing body and a changing mind is accurate.

I think that in addition to losing control when in fact you become more capable of independence, teenagers are also convinced that they have a lot more responsibility (both privilege and burden versions), that the world either relies on them a lot and they have to do great, or else that the world doesn’t yet and they have to EARN that reliance so they can struggle to do great.

Which results in a lot of stress… and an attempt to justify oneself in other ways, such as the typical “popularity”, “romance”, “spiritual enjoyment of life”, etc.

Maybe… I dunno.

Though I can’t say I agree with the phrase “That’s why” in cases like this… “That’s what made me moody and depressed” — I really don’t think anyone has the authority on how their responses work to stimuli. If you’re on that level, you ought to be able to supersede them and establish control over your mind; however, I think that inability to control goes hand in hand with deficit understanding.

LanthonyS · April 30, 2009 at 6:49 AM

Oh, also, you said you’d want a link to my blog; I realized it’s rather personal to the people who know me. Perhaps I’ll start another one for thoughts like this one of yours, if I want to maintain two, in which case I’ll get back to you.

Anonymous · April 30, 2009 at 9:20 AM

can rabbit week please end now?

S P Hannifin · April 30, 2009 at 2:23 PM

Many thanks for the comments!

I don’t think teens actually lose any control; you don’t really have that control as a child to begin with. But when you become a teen you psychologically get to the point where you’re ready for independence, when you can make your own decisions and manage yourself. But that freedom and control is withheld, while even more school and social responsibilities are given. (More homework, for example.)

I really don’t think anyone has the authority on how their responses work to stimuli.

Yikes! But then, who does? Does anyone? Shouldn’t I be the authority on how I feel, if I speak for myself at least? Can’t I know what’s making me miserable?

If you’re on that level, you ought to be able to supersede them and establish control over your mind.

How could anyone establish that kind of control over their own mind? If we could, we’d be able to be always extremely happy, but I don’t think the mind works like that; surely we can have stimuli that causes us pain, recognize, but not be able to do anything purely cognitive about it.

It may be a bit different for cases like this, emotional pain, but just because I recognize that something is making me miserable doesn’t necessarily mean I also have the mental power to overcome it with thought alone, without having to change external factors. When I had homework which caused me to be worried and stressed, and I could recognize that the homework was making me feel that way, I couldn’t just change my feelings about homework with willpower. Removing the homework factor by either procrastinating or doing it (or deciding I wouldn’t) was the only way to feel better about it. It was the same thing with control, and I think feeling that way when not being in control is very natural. Otherwise, there’d still be people happy to be slaves, and the threat of going to prison would be meaningless to criminals.

I would think being able to recognize what’s making you sad or angry would be important. If you really could never know, you’d never be able to do anything about it at all. If you have a brain problem, with definite chemical imbalances that you can’t control, that’s the only case in which I say someone would have no authority on how their responses work to stimuli, because the responses would be unnatural and messed up. But I think such cases are uncommon. But I’ve read some articles that claim that this is what teenagers go through, natural chemical imbalances of a “changing brain”, and to me it sounds like adults making up excuses to continue to infantilize their young. “Oh, no, it’s not us! We’re not doing anything wrong! It’s perfectly natural for them to be so moody!” And they usually don’t give much scientific evidence beyond some “scientist” (usually with kids of their own) saying so. And in countries and historic periods where there is or was no “teenage” stage, there aren’t many signs of there being a correlated “moody, angry, depressed” stage, which says to me that this whole development phase is largely a societal creation, not some purely biological phase. If adults of any age were put in the environments that teens are in, I imagine they’d behave in much the same way. After all, look at how many immature adults there are … immaturity and age don’t correlate as well as some adults like to claim … and they have the freedoms teens don’t! But we don’t take that freedom away from them (unless they do something illegal).

(By the way, hardly any adults I talk to about this subject agree with me… my beliefs don’t seem to be very popular.)

I certainly don’t have to link to your blog, I didn’t know what kind of blog it was. But if you ever do start a public blog and want a link to it on this one, just let me know! 🙂

Thanks again for reading and for the comments! 🙂

S P Hannifin · April 30, 2009 at 2:26 PM

Hmmm… I went off on another tangent there…

SMD · May 1, 2009 at 4:22 PM

Hey, thanks for the link. And yes, you got my name right :P. I also go by SMD, so, you know, if you want something less personal…

Anywho, I appreciate it and thanks for stopping by!

S P Hannifin · May 2, 2009 at 12:22 AM

Thanks SMD, I enjoy your blog! 🙂

The New Blather » Yet even more long blatheryness about consciousness · March 14, 2010 at 12:34 AM

[…] reminds me of a post I wrote a long while ago in which I blathered about why I hated being a teenager.  (It has nothing to do with a […]

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