Laura Miller gave the audio version of Libba Bray's new book, The Diviners, a great review at Salon. But while doing so, she managed to damn the YA genre with very faint praise.
Right off the bat, she starts talking about the difficulties for audiobook narrators who are dealing with books with a large number of characters. "However," she continues, "this isn’t a challenge that often confronts readers of YA
(young adult) audiobooks, given that the genre specializes in quirky,
irreverent first-person narration. Once you get Holden Caulfield’s voice
down, you’re set." Personally, I agree that a lot of YA novels sound alike. But I'm going to try to remember not to open with that, if I ever have to write a review of a book I like. A nice compare and contrast para somewhere in the piece seems appropriate, but knocking an entire field? Not so much.
Miller also describes YA as "a genre dominated by shy, bookish heroines" and that The Diviners' main character "makes for a refreshing departure" because she's "so bold, confident and fun-loving (Evie
is not above asking a new acquaintance if he’s got any hooch on him)." The shy, bookish heroine probably is a children's lit cliche, but I'd really like to see some support to the claim that it dominates contemporary young adult literature. I don't think it dominates your more popular YA, like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist or The Hunger Games. How many shy, bookish characters are in the rich kid books?
The most disturbing part of the article is Miller's contention that using "familiar tricks" is acceptable in YA. "...that’s one of the advantages of YA; the intended reader hasn’t yet had
the chance to grow tired of these old reliable gambits, and the genre’s
adult readers are inclined to be indulgent about borrowings." There is some validity to this point, just as there is to her statement about so much of YA sounding like Holden Caulfield. However, how is that an advantage? An advantage to whom? To me, it's an aspect of YA that makes it difficult to judge it. Yes, the adult who has been reading for decades does have to take into consideration that a sixteen-year-old hasn't seen this material used over and over again the way she has and to try to make her assessments on the quality of the writing rather than its originality. But doesn't there also come a time when an editor or reviewer has to say, "No, it's not okay to use this old reliable gambit just because teenagers won't notice it's been done before. The world just does not need another (fill in the blank with a familiar trick) story right now."
Congratulations to Libba Bray and January Lavoy, the narrator of The Diviners audiobook, on this terrific review. Sorry the YA genre had to take a hit, though.
More on Libba Bray: A Conversation With Libba Bray, which I stumbled upon on Facebook.