Emily Bazelon at Slate really, really doesn't like The Astonishing Life of Ocatavian Nothing, this year's National Book Award winner for young adult fiction. I haven't read the book yet, but I certainly understand what it's like to not get what everyone else sees in a particular book.
I've been there many, many times.
Bazelon brings up some points that are of general interest:
"Young-adult books are typically of more interest to preteen readers (or adults) than they are to teens." Years ago this was the conventional wisdom. I was definitely told by a publishing contact that teenagers didn't read YA fiction. However, that's not supposed to be the case any longer. At least, YA fiction is said to be doing very well these days as far as sales are concerned. Whether YAs are the ones buying and reading it, I can't say.
"I wonder, too,"Bazelon says, "if the YA handle doesn't give an author greater license to brand a book around a message." An interesting question. Certainly the idea that literature for the young needs to be improving goes back to the nineteenth century. Do twenty-first century writers feel they need to do it? Or are there twenty-first century writers who just want to do it?
Bazelon speaks of "...another feature of Anderson's writing—its difficulty. Pox Party is replete with too-good-for-the-SAT vocabulary words." I've noticed some really impressive vocabulary in many of the Cybils nominees I've been reading. One book used schadenfreude. Thank goodness the author defined it gracefully within the text, but still. Are middle graders and YAs grilled in vocabulary to such an extent that they're nearly able to speak another language? Different from mine, at least?
Bazelon concludes with "The adult raves aside, I wonder how many of them there are. [Teenagers who really want to read the book.] Pox Party bears all the worthy marks of a book that makes adults swoon and kids roll their eyes." This is probably true of many books published in kidlit.
Well, personally, I think some negative responses to a well-regarded book only enhances it. As much as I like M.T. Anderson's work, I wasn't looking forward to reading Pox Party because I'm turned off by lovefests. This article actually makes the book sound more enticing to me. So at some point, probably long after everyone else has gone on to something else, I'll be reading it.