Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reduce This

Kelly at Stacked posted today on The Reductive Approach to YA. By this she means reducing all of YA to a few titles while discussing the field, always referring back to those few books when describing the whole genre. Stacked appears to be another blog that won't let me post comments, so I'm going to respond to it here.

Kelly was inspired by a recent New York Times review by A. J. Jacobs of Winger by Andrew Smith. In the review, Jacobs gives over the first three paragraphs to discussing John Green and "GreenLit," which he claims is the most popular of the "young adult genres." I'm not sure if he's correct about that, but that's not Kelly's point. Her point is that "Reducing an entire genre to one person's books as a source of comparison is limiting and reductive of the nuances, the depth, and the range of voices that exist within it." Before all discussion of YA was reduced to John Green, it was reduced to The Hunger Games. Before that it was reduced to Twilight.

I think where we see this kind of reduction happening most often is in articles and reviews written by people outside YA. By people like A.J. Jacobs, for instance, who wrote the very review under discussion. A. J. Jacobs is a legitimate, pretty well-known author. (I've heard of him, anyway.) But he writes adult nonfiction of the George Plimpton, "participatory" journalism type. I may be being reductive by comparing his type of writing to George Plimpton, but what I mean to say is that Jacobs doesn't write YA fiction, which was what he was reviewing. People who review a type of writing that they don't work with themselves don't have much of a context for their judgements. If they want to do a compare and/or contrast thing, their breadth of knowledge upon which to draw may be pretty narrow. Thus they have to reduce everything to the one big selling book or author they know. There is a certain logic at work here.

When I finished reading the Winger review, I wondered why the NYT didn't get someone from within YA to review that book. Someone, say, like John Green?


Keri said...

I once read a really great NYT review of a YA book (I can't remember which one). When I finished it, I checked the author's byline and it was by Ned Vizzini.

Definitely makes a difference when the reviewer has read more than one other YA book.

Gail Gauthier said...

I've seen reviews written by nonchildren's/YA people of books written by authors who have already been successful in adult genres. Often the reviewers rave about them, in part because, once again, they have no context. They have no idea that what said writer is doing isn't new and groundbreaking because the reviewers don't know enough about the field. There are so many knowledgeable people in children's and YA publishing and writing. How can publications not find people in the field to review?