11 January 2018

Voice and Genre in Young New Adult Literature: Maybe Someday (2014)

Trade paperback, 370 pages
Published 2014
Acquired November 2016

Read April 2017
Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

When I teach classes based around genres of fiction, I like to bring in an edge case, to test the limits of the genre and make more clear what it does and does not do. So for my young adult literature class, I wanted to assign a work of "new adult" fiction, a genre which might not even exist, in that it seems to be more of a marketing category that publishers are trying to make happen than an actual thing readers go looking for. (Genres are, in part, marketing categories, of course, but they also need to be something readers recognize.)

New adult fiction is basically supposed to be like YA fiction, but the main characters are 18+; the idea is that it's for all those "new adults" who are reading YA fiction. (Something like 55% of readers of YA are actually adults, which I think puts a sort of monkey wrench into any attempt to define YA via its audience.) The New York Times says new adult can "feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed." Molly Wetta puts it more kindly: "These novels aim to bring the emotionally-intense story lines and fast-paced plotting of young adult fiction to stories that focus on a new range of experiences in life beyond the teenage years. Hallmarks of New Adult fiction include first-person narration, dramatic, soap-opera like plots, and characters with 'issues' ranging from history of abuse, anger management issues, and troubled family lives."

Though my problem was that I'd never actually read a single work of new adult fiction, so I was kind of stabbing in the dark when I picked one. Mostly I had the impression that Colleen Hoover was the reigning queen of it, and so I went with one of her more popular books. Well, I did not like it and my students did not like it. It's melodramatic, and the main characters are obnoxious and unpleasant in their infidelity. I don't agree with all of her perspective (Harry Potter sure does not transcend genre labels; it is incredibly generic), but Lauren Sarner gets at part of what I don't like: "It implies that the books act as training wheels between Young Adult and Adult. For the New Adult books that are particularly childish, the label implies that they are a step above Young Adult—which is insulting to the Young Adult books that are far superior." The characters in this book, my students and I largely agreed, were not as mature as those in YA novels like The Outsiders, Holes, Two Boys Kissing, and Ms. Marvel. Nor was the storytelling as mature as those novels.

That said, I think Maybe Someday illuminates some truths about our approach to YA. My students had praised The Outsiders for being "descriptive," not "prescriptive": it supposedly depicts what being a teenager is, not what it ought to be according to adults. And many had critiqued Forever... for its didacticism. Supposedly we value a lack of value judgments in YA. Yet in Maybe Someday, we all-- including myself-- were chock-full of value judgments for the characters. Ponyboy almost kills a dude, we're like, "Don't judge! Accept!" Cute singer-songwriter goes too far in flirting, and we're all, "Whoa now, that crosses a line! You're a terrible person!" I'm not exactly sure what this indicates, but it does seem to show that what we think we want from our fiction (real people) is not what we actually want (aspirational people).

Or maybe it just indicates Colleen Hoover is a vastly inferior writer to S. E. Hinton.

(In theory this should be the end of this sequence of posts, but I've skipped over a couple books from my YA class because I can't find my copies! So sooner or later, I'll be circling back to cover the ones I've skipped.)

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