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Boeke | Books > Boekartikels | Articles on books > Afrikaans

Big Book Chain Chat #74 Young Adult Fiction: Give us a good story!


Izak de Vries - 2011-08-10

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This forum has recently published two thought-provoking articles on writing for young adults by two authors of that genre. The first was by Maya Fowler (“Some thoughts on writing youth novels”) and the more recent one by SA Partridge (“Pop culture and context in young adult fiction”).

Both asked, and addressed, the question of pop art in young adult fiction. A summary of their views will not do justice to them, so I urge the reader to read their respective pieces.

My question to them, and for that matter to anyone interested in literature, would be: Is the writing of Young Adult Fiction that different from that of writing Fiction? In other words, when does one have to distinguish between a good book and a good book for young adults?

Maya Fowler’s The Elephant in the room was not marketed as Young Adult Fiction, but I often begged teachers to urge their charges, especially the girls, to read the book. We see the young Lily Fields growing into young adulthood and wilting, rather than blossoming, under the eyes of her peers. Her first sex is so sad, so devoid of anything you would ever want a young person to experience. And why was it? Because Lily did not believe herself to be good enough to have a good time while losing her virginity.

Fowler created a wonderfully atmospheric novel brimming with young adult issues. It was marketed as Fiction, though; and maybe just as well, for it meant that she was able to get on to the short list of the Herman Charles Bosman Prize, something that would not have happened had her publishers slapped the label “Young Adult” on to the text before the word “Fiction”.

And thus my question: Why make a distinction?

Yes, one could indicate on a book that it contains scenes of sex and nudity, and therefore suggest a minimum age. One could even add a sticker saying “Not fit for under 18s” if it really is quite rough (which would have all the 16-year olds reading it), but who really benefits from splitting the market?

I do understand that teachers would need guidance in terms of relevance to their charges, especially for the younger ones, but I find the present system too restrictive. The Elephant in the room was sadly not adopted by many teachers, because it was not written as “youth fiction”.

Roepman, the wonderful (adult?) novel by Jan van Tonder, was (correctly) deemed fit for the classroom and it got prescribed, only to have mommies and daddies throwing their toys because of a single scene containing a blow job. The violence did not bother them, but heaven forbid that their poor grade 11 children became aware of such a thing as sucking the male member.

Jonkvrouw, that rollicking good read about the 14-year old Marguerite van Male, heir to the Duke of Flanders, is all about growing up, falling in love and being a headstrong teenager. Yet the novel by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs is not marketed as Young Adult Fiction, even in South Africa, where the Afrikaans translation (Jonkvrou by Daniel Hugo) is now selling well. Fortunately the editors of Klasgids saw the value of the text and recommended it for the high school.

Or think of the hugely successful Thomas series by Carina Diedericks-Hugo (published by Lapa). I am one of many adults who enjoy reading them (although I may be the only who is willing to say so in writing). They are clearly aimed at the pre-teen and young-teenage market. The themes are spot on and so is the language level. The books even contain some of the techno problems Fowler and Partridge address in the articles, yet they work. Why? They tell a good story well, that is why.

Carina’s undoing came when she attempted a “cross-over” in Die verdrinking van Joshua van Eeden. Interestingly enough, the book contains one of the most beautiful scenes of a young man losing his virginity, but the rest of the book sounded like a grown-up Thomas book. In some ways Die Verdrinking Van Joshua van Eeden is true young adult fiction, as the book is just too innocent and the characters too infantile to be liked by any reader, yet it has lost its wide-eyed innocence that charmed readers of Thomas. Is that not what many teenagers experience? Yes, it is. But who likes reading about it?

The first three Harry Potter books were written for younger children. Look at the number of pages and the types of adventures the kids got into. Number four saw a gear change. No one could deny that numbers four to seven are literature for adults (and intelligent teenagers). Why? The problems faced by the characters in the last four books were universal, and their fights against evil reminded one of Tolkien, Terlouw and Cervantes, to name but a few people who wrote books that are loved by adults and teenagers alike.

Give us a good story (the way Fowler and Partridge do), and we’ll read it – all of us, irrespective of age.


 

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