Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's Still Not Easy Completely Missing the Point

There are not one but 2 YA lit stories in Newsweek this week, so I'll blog about the Anne of Green Gables story first: It’s Still Not Easy Being Green. Subtitle: 'Anne of Green Gables' turns 100 this year, but she's the most modern girl in the bookstore.

You know what else isn't easy? Continually seeing so much fail when it comes to mainstream news sources covering YA literature.

I will be the first to confess that I was never a fan of Anne of Green Gables. I read the first one and then I think my mom bought me the other seven books in the series, but I couldn't get past page 40 of book 2. I don't think it was Anne so much as it was my dislike of the setting. I have never liked any book that could even remotely be described as "quaint." Despite my not being a fan of the series, I could not believe it when I read this:

That "Anne" has survived so long—and, with 50 million copies sold, so strong—is a small miracle considering the state of young-adult literature. It's rare to find a best seller with a strong heroine anymore, in large part because, although girls will read books about boys, boys won't go near a girl's book, no matter how cool she is. Even in Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series, the strong, grounded Bella is willing to chuck it all for the love of her vampire boyfriend. "The literary smart girl is still showing up in literature, but she's often the sidekick," says Trinna Frever, an "Anne of Green Gables" scholar.

Trinna Frever must be an Anne of Green Gables scholar to the point of not reading any other YA literature, because her statement is patently false. First, Bella Swan is neither strong nor grounded. She is completely without a sense of self, a spineless wimp, and a Mary Sue of epic proportions. Second, the idea of boys not reading books about girls is well on its way to being outdated. BOYS READ TWILIGHT. Every year, I pick an equal number of books for Talk It Up with male and female protagonists and never once have I seen a boy shy away from a discussion just because the book had a female main character. The boys my colleague in BCCLS and I have led in discussions loved Hope Was Here, I am not Esther, Dr. Franklin's Island, Magic or Madness, Kiki Strike, No Shame, No Fear and many other books with female protagonists. It's simply not true that boys refuse to read about girls.

Third, it's not true that books with smart female protagonists don't become bestsellers. A sampling:

and many, many more.

Fourth, if I see one more article that cites Harry Potter, Twilight, and Gossip Girl as all that there is of YA, I'm going to throw something. Are these three series insanely popular? Duh. You have to live in a cave to not know that. But I don't go around telling the media that all adult literature is John Grisham and Janet Evanovich, so media, please give the HP/GG/Twilight triumvirate a rest until you can tell me what the Printz Award is.

Generally: Are there books with smart girl sidekicks? Sure. One can't help but think of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, to start. But their existence, and the bestselling status of these particular books, does not change the fact that books led by smart girls do exist and are bestsellers. Oh, and that they're enjoyed by boys, too. So perhaps the larger question is: What is a modern girl, and why is Anne such a prime example? I'm assuming that a "modern girl" is smart. Okay, but there are book smarts and street smarts and people smarts and athletic smarts and artistic smarts and more. A modern girl stands up for herself. Well, there's certainly no shortage of those in YA lit. Does a modern girl have sex? It wasn't an issue in Anne, was it? What's a modern girl's social status like? Fact is, there is no one definition. Clearly, the author of this article has an idea, but hers is just one idea.

I've talked before about boy books and girl books so I won't rehash too much of that here, but I find it frightening and disheartening that an Anne of Green Gables scholar knows so very little about the larger world of YA, and so very little about the reading habits of teens. Just once, I wish Slate or Time or Newsweek would interview a YA librarian, or a literary agent, or a bookseller, or anyone else who knows about what's really out there in the YA world. Of course, I also wish Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki would come strolling through the front door of the BCCLS office and take me to lunch in the Metallicar. Any bets on which will happen first?

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