Monday, November 10, 2008

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

I'm a big fan of Kelly Link whose short stories tend to be fairy tale-fantasy-gothic literary hybrids. She's always attentive to character and language, so she's one of those crossover genre/literary writers. But she's also a crossover between the young adult and adult audiences. And I first saw this new collection advertised as a young adult title (it's her first book put out by a major trade publisher, Viking, rather than by her own small press, Small Beer Press) but when I bought my copy (the book is available in the usual locations but if you buy it from her website she'll sign it--there are also free downloads available on the site) I noticed it doesn't bear any indicator of being a young adult title. I loved the book, loved the stories which are in the same vein as her stories in Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners, but what really interested me was this marketing issue.

In my workshop on Writing for Young Adults we start each workshop with a discussion of what age group the submission seems to be intended for. Sometimes these discussions can be a little perfunctory, sometimes a little like guesswork, and sometimes a little contentious. Because, of course, age is not a solid indicator of reading ability, emotional maturity, or life experience. But kids do tend to fall in ranges, and their interest tends to lie in characters just a little older than themselves, so it's a doable exercise. But is it a pointless exercise? I don't think part because publishers, librarians and teachers (not to mention parents) worry a lot about what is age appropriate. And writers should too--kids change a lot year to year--and I suspect it would be naive to imagine that you can just write a book for this market and simply let it find its audience. Because writers don't always match voice to content... those of us who write for the grown ups don't tend to worry too much about stuff like that. With a collection like this--grown ups like me (who hold a strong attachment to the things they loved as children) can absolutely enjoy it. Though the stories are all about young people, the character-driven stories are not emotionally simple, the scary stories are scary at any age, and the language is accessible to younger readers but the imagery, metaphors, and narrative voices are still compelling for older readers. But I'd say it's a book for high school on up.

There's a movement on lately to label young adult and children's books with a recommended reading age--and apparently a lot of authors are against this idea. I need to educate myself further as to why, but personally I think parents need help finding books for their kids. There are a huge number of books being put out for kids every year and parents generally aren't reading book blogs and reviews and magazines that analyze these books. They're picking them up in the store and the library and looking at the cover and flipping through. And a label might help them make an educated decision. Most parents will know if they have an eight year old who is mature or not so mature, and presumably will adjust according. Though I'd suggest a removeable sticker or band so eight year olds don't have to over think the fact that they're reading books aimed for six year olds or ten year olds. And I also suggest really sensible people make these decisions--a single word--like say scrotum--does not make a book inappropriate for young readers.

1 comment:

Laura Ratcliff said...

This is so interesting - and sad. I won't hesitate to let my children read this book, and the use of medical terminology to describe a body part is no more offensive to me than using the word feces to describe dog poop. Where these librarians should be concerned is if the author is using the podium to describe inappropriate sexual activities or drug references - something along those lines. Mere anatomy is no reason for censorship.