Monday, April 06, 2020

The Incredible Whiteness of YA

I stumbled upon Psych402, creative nonfiction by Lily Watson in an issue of Longleaf Review. Cannot recall how that happened, but it's an interesting piece about an African American college student's reactions to the YA reading list in one of her courses. It's not so much about the books, more about the discussion of these books that were almost all very white.

I've read three of the books Watson discusses.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Watson couldn't relate to the characters in this book. As a general rule, I don't feel a need to relate to characters in YA books, because I'm older than mud and that's just not going to happen. But I wasn't a major fan of this book, either. My issue was that it was just women's stories for girls. If the characters had been adults instead of teenagers, it would have been just another women's book. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Evidently there is, as Watson puts it in a footnote, a tragic love story about people named Brad and Patrick in this book. I have no recollection of that. Watson makes a very interesting point about how white depression and black depression are perceived.  What struck me about Wallflower was the lack of adults noticing anything that was going on with these characters. I found it unbelievable that "Over the course of an entire school year no parents noticed anything, not even that their brandy was disappearing faster than it should have been? Charlie has a history of mental illness and ends up seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication. He also has caring parents. They had a child that fragile and never noticed that he'd started drinking and doing drugs? They never even smelled cigarettes on him and realized he was smoking?" 

We Were Liars. This book I actually liked. Watson found it devastating, which I definitely understand. She mentions racism in the book, something that others have noted. I think I noticed it while I was reading the book last year, but I was reading it as a thriller mentor text, that's what I was looking for, and that's what I recall. I was fixated on the ending. If I had all the time in the world, I would read this book over again as a result of reading Watson's essay.

Interesting personal tidbit: Lily Watson attended Wesleyan University here in Connecticut. I live about 40 minutes from there. I also live about 40 minutes from the University of Connecticut. I'm not sure if I've ever driven by the Wesleyan campus. I've been to any number of events at UConn, as well as taking a graduate class there. I am definitely a state university woman.


Test said...

Wow. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was okay, but is now really, really dated. It came out about the time that college students were BORN. I understand why k-12 schools are stuck with older books (no money to buy new copies), but you would think that colleges would update their lists. Hmmm.

Gail Gauthier said...

As someone who was not a fan of the book in the first place, I don't see why it is significant enough for a college course.