Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Old enough to know better but young enough not to care

I ran across a pretty cool YA blog today, a team blog by a bunch of authors. In one of the author's bios, it says: Age: Too old to be a YA, not too old to write it.

This makes me wonder: How old is too old to write YA?

Take these examples: Walter Dean Myers is 71. Joan Bauer is 57. Pete Hautman is 56. E.L. Konigsburg is 78. Zilpha Keatley Snyder is 81. All of them are still writing relevant, popular, high-quality YA fiction. They all get fan mail. They're loved by librarians and teens alike. I've heard several of them speak and they are all wise, intelligent, funny, and deeply passionate about the work they do. But in this author's estimation, are they all too old to write YA? Frankly, my dears, I don't think teens give a damn about an author's age. I think they're much more concerned with the voice of the main character, with the setting, with the plot, etc. I think it's not about your age, it's about your attitude. It doesn't matter if you're 25 or 75, you can still write good YA. Good YA is in the voice and the plot and the emotion, not necessarily in the hip language and slang.

I bring this point up specifically because teen librarians get a lot of ageist, um, crud. I've been told that I must be a good YA librarian because I'm young and energetic and can relate to the kids. No, I'm energetic because I work out 5 days a week and like caffeine. I'm not as young as many people think I am because I stay out of the sun and I'm genetically blessed in the aging department. I can relate to the kids because I am on a constant mission to find myself (I'm still lost), I am a good listener, I care about serving them to the best of my ability, and because I haven't forgotten how to giggle. I don't think I'm still a teen, and I don't want to be my patrons' friends. They have friends. I consider it a Very Good Thing that I have lived long enough to gain perspective on my teen years and I think of myself as an adviser to them in the area of literature and reference services. Someday I will not be young, but I will still care about quality YA literature and library services. Some of the best YA librarians I've known are well into their 50's and 60's. They're great librarians because of their knowledge and skill, and because teens know that as tough as their love may be, there is love, and a lot of it. Perfect (fictional) example of this: Professor McGonagall. She was a strict disciplinarian who took no bull from anyone, but it was clear to her students and the reader that she would always stand up for what was right and protect the best interests of her students.

So how old is too old to write YA? About the same as too old to be a YA librarian. That is, no age at all, if your heart is in the right place.

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