Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Young Adult Literature" is Not an Oxymoron

A while ago I was talking about The Hunger Games with a friend of mine. After strongly recommending it to her she had read it. Her response: she enjoyed it, even though it wasn't "great literature."

That got me thinking. What is great literature? This isn't a new question. People have asked it and asked it again and again, and there is no good answer because people never completely agree.
I suppose there's a difference between great literature and good writing. Good writing should be graceful, entertaining, and it should show rather than tell. That's what I try for in my own writing, and I'd like to think I accomplish it at least some of the time.
But I don't try to write great literature. I tell my students that great literature is timeless. Shakespeare wrote great literature because even now we can connect with the beauty/poetry of the language, and the timelessness of his themes.
Which could mean that Romeo and Juliet was the first piece of young adult literature. There are others that have been written more recently, like The Diary of Anne Frank, the Harry Potter series, and yes, The Hunger Games trilogy.
I'm sure there are people out there who will disagree. But I believe all of these books will stand the test of time, because they're about more than the surface plot, they were written with eloquence and originality, and they express universal themes of loss, hope, and love in a way that people, especially young people, will connect with for years to come.
Which leads me to mentioning my favorite young adult author, Sonya Sones. Her books, What My Mother Doesn't Know, and What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know, may not be timeless, but they are beautiful in their simplicity. I always show examples of her writing to my creative writing students when I'm introducing language devices to them, because she uses them frequently and naturally.

An example:
"My mind know this is greedy
my mind knows this is messed up
my mind knows this is just plain wrong
But my body

has a mind of it's own."
(from page 65 of What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones)

I tell my students it's an example of anaphora, which is repetition of leading words. I think it's more than that though. It's simple, it's easy, but it's also graceful and dare I say, poetic?

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