There are few things in life that make me truly squeal. When I was younger it was Leonardo DiCaprio, maybe an 'N Sync concert and definitely Graham Quinn (we had Spanish together, I don't think he knew my name). Now as an adult it's, OK, pretty much the same thing.
I'm going somewhere with this. Just give me a minute.
Enter Forever YA, a hit blog of the teen-litosphere that's actually not for teens at all. It's a place online for grownups to gush and chat about young adult books. Leave your Tolstoy at home. These women--yes, women--are all about crushes and perfect first kisses. So when bloggers Sarah Pitre, Jenny Bragdon, Erin and Meghan Miller Brawley agreed to do an interview, I found myself silly excited. Why? I think it's because they remind us that even as adults, there are still things worth squealing over.
I love your tagline: a little less Y and a bit more A. How come us A-ers are still so interested in the Y?
Jenny: For me it's all about the intensity of firsts. At Book Expo America, someone on a panel about YA crossover (I don't remember who, but it may have been Libba Bray) essentially said that since we are all continuously growing and 'becoming' ourselves, that YA can speak to all of us, always.
Meghan: Well, we were all teenagers at one point, and I think YA lit gives us a chance to revisit that period but with the benefit of experience and hindsight. It's a little less painful and a lot more fun to dip into the angst when you're not actually going through it yourself.
Tell us a little bit about how you began.
Sarah: I'd spent the past few years becoming more and more obsessed with YA lit, but when I tried to talk about it with friends at dinner or, even worse, strangers at a party, their eyes would glaze over like a Krispy Kreme (mmm donut!). Trust me, nothing cues "Um, I think I need a drink" faster than spazzing about Peeta versus Gale. So, I did what most ostracized people do-- I sought out friends on the internet! But even though there were plenty of YA sites out there, I couldn't find one that catered specifically to adults-- that wasn't Twilight related, that is. I wanted a place where I could go to dish about YA without feeling any shame AND without feeling the need to restrain my adult tendencies towards cocktails, cursing and frank references to sex.
Being an A-er myself, I know teen books weren't around in the same way when I was young as they are now. What do you remember reading as a teen?
Erin: I've noticed that as well. I think, clearly, that publishers have realized where the spending power lies in a typical family unit, and have started catering to that power in a way they didn't even ten years ago
I was always reading as a teen, but I rarely ever read YA books. I'd read books like "Naked Lunch" and then smugly feel superior to everyone at school, even though I'm pretty sure I had no idea what that book was about when I first read it.
Meghan: It's funny, but I actually read more adult books as a teen. I read some YA (mainly Judy Blume and Betsy Byars) as a preteen, but like most kids jumped straight into the grownup world as quickly as I could.
Jenny: When I really love something, I tend to read it over and over. I read 'The Black Stallion' series and 'The Hardy Boys' books as a tween, then I discovered 'The Outsiders', and quickly went on to read everything by S.E. Hinton. After that, it was mostly historical fiction: Elswyth Thane, Baroness Emma Orczy, the Brontes, Sir Walter Scott, Chaucer, John Keats, Jane Austen, and then Christopher Pike. I was home-schooled by very religious parents who somehow forgot to monitor what I read. Thinking back, I could have gotten a lot racier than Christopher Pike!
Sarah: I'm not surprised to see that all of us mostly read adult books, since we were total Book Nerds straight outta the womb (before it was cool, by the way. Wait, it is cool now, right?). I did read straight-up YA in junior high, specifically the Nancy Drew Case Files, Paula Danzinger and Ellen Conford, but by the time I got to ninth grade, I'd exhausted that shelf of the library. The only YA I actually read in high school were the L.J. Smith trilogies, which I LOVED (Gabriel! Call me!).
What do you think the role of bloggers is in the new publishing model? You guys have a lot of pull these days.
Meghan: I think the trend in general -- in newsgathering and reporting, book and film criticism, and just about everything else -- is a rejection of "experts" and an embrace of everydude. This is both great and terrible, in that it creates a LOT of content to sift through. Part of it's because of the internet, making it way easier for anyone to publish, and part of it is because marketers have picked up on the narcissistic desire of people to feel like they're the most important thing in the universe. The neat thing about blogs is they let people interact in a way you couldn't do with a newspaper; posting a comment, tweeting a post, sharing something on Facebook...
Sarah: Honestly, when I started this site, I didn't truly grasp the potential influence of bloggers on the industry, but now that I do, it both excites me AND weirds me out. I think it's important for publishers (and to a lesser extent, authors) to connect with their readers, and bloggers provide an excellent gathering place of literary opinions and preferences. But y'all, bloggers aren't Spiderman. We shouldn't be given great power, because we don't need the great responsibility. Hello, I write for FYA because it's fun, not because I'm aiming for world domination.
Have you gotten to meet a lot of authors?
Sarah: Yes! We have! And it never gets old! Seriously, every time we get a Twitter response or an email or a comment from an author, we SWIMFAN LIKE CRAZY. You've should've seen the reactions over at FYA HQ (read: our email party line) when Meg Cabot agreed to our interview request. It was like Spazzfest 2010. And during BEA, we actually went on a pub crawl with Natalie Standiford and Bennett Madison, HELLO DREAM COME TRUE. Honestly, drinking with YA authors is pretty much one of FYA's lifelong goals, and we are committed to achieving it as much as possible.
I know you guys are big Hunger Games fans. What draws you to a story?
Meghan: The characters, obvs -- I'm going to be spending several hours of my life with this person. Do I want to be stuck on an airplane with someone I don't like?
Erin: These days, in YA especially, it seems that there's some sort of vast global conspiracy to only publish books of a certain genre, all at once. We saw it a year ago with vampire books and right now we're in the middle of a Post-apocalyptic/Dystopic Block Party, so for me, it's the ability of an author to stand out and bring something new to the conversation that catches my eye.
And that's where an author like Suzanne Collins excels - she's created this world that seems insane, but then you realize that, when you get right down to it, the series is largely about people across the United States, in varying degrees of personal wealth or poverty, being glued to the television for a month in the summer to delight in other people's misery. And, last I checked, Big Brother and The Bachelorette were still pretty strongly-rated television shows.
What is the deal with this twi-mom thing. Do you see yourself as part of that contingent? Or are you like the alterna-twi-moms?
Erin: Oh, man, I'm definitely not a twi-mom, because I loathe the Twilight books to a level which perhaps is beyond rationality. But I understand the need that drives, at least, the initial reading of the books - many parents start reading it just to see what all the fuss is about, or to better understand their children, which I think is actually amazing. It's so important for parents (and kids!) to reach out and really try to understand what makes the people in their family happy. However, I think it's equally important that people read critically, no matter what the subject is, and I just can't cotton to the idea that grown men and women are finding themselves taken in by a story with flat characters who are, at best, co-dependant, and at worst are stalkers, misogynists and pedophiles.
Meghan: I'd add how important it is for parents to read the books their kids read in order to be able to discuss the issues with them, rather than to see if they'll allow their kids to read the books. Yes, the Twilight series is full of creepy stuff, " flat characters who are, at best, co-dependant, and at worst are stalkers, misogynists and pedophiles," as Erin puts it, but rather than telling your daughter she can't read the book because of it, let her read it and then talk about your reactions to the characters and their behavior. And try to understand what she finds compelling about it.
Bonus question: how do you decide on your ranking system? BFF charm, etc? It's such a personal way to talk about the books, we need to know!
Sarah: When FYA was just a twinkle in my eye (wait, what? gross!), I realized that using the old star system just wasn't gonna cut it. Our review structure needed to account for the real things we love in books, such as the swoon factor, and consequently allow us to convey exactly why or how a certain title was so awesome. In other words, we needed to KEEP IT REAL. And when I discuss a book with someone, I don't use fancy pants critic terms; I talk about it like a real person. You'll never hear me say, "This novel took a classic literary device and turned it on its head, resulting in a masterpiece of prose!" You WILL hear me say, "OMG I WANT TO MARRY THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY!" So instead of trying to rank books with numbers, I decided that relationship status was the best way to really measure (and then explain) how the reviewer feels about a book.
We're also really excited about our new "caf"--an extension of our sight where people can continue the YA talky-talk.
Thank you, all! And if you know what's good for you go directly to Forever YA. Well, maybe stop and mix a cocktail, first.