That’s the question which struck me when I saw the program title: Best and Worst of Young Adult Novels
Best is no problem! But I was not going to point out “worst” — even though I come down emphatically on the “Of course there’s such a thing as quality; I knows it when I sees it” side of the fence on that question. Which is separate from questions about taste and personal preference.
Well, we didn’t discuss the question of whether quality exists and how you can objectively reach a decision about the quality of a particular work. That might have been a fun discussion, but we didn’t go there. Cole Gibson did a fine job of moderating; we talked about some of the YA works that have impressed us the most, about some of the tropes and trends we most appreciate or most dislike, and other related topics. I didn’t take extensive notes, but I know I mentioned being totally tired of sexy vampires and a couple of other panelists — Deborah Millitello for one, and I think Rich Horton — nodded toward dystopia as something they’d be glad never to see again. The other panelist, Sarah Jude, writes horror, so dark is probably not a problem for her, though I don’t recall her specific like it / don’t like it opinion about dystopia.
Still, I’d kind of like to address the question of quality. Here’s what I think:
Outside of question of taste, some books are definitely just better with regard to:
a) The actual writing
b) Worldbuilding and atmosphere
c) Clever plotting
d) Interesting, unusual character and subversion or avoidance of common stereotypes (The Brooding Bad Boy With a Sensitive Side) and cliched tropes (The prophecy that the last true heir of the throne will someday defeat the dark lord).
When you’re talking about stories aimed toward younger readers, well, there’s one thing we can say for sure about virtually all younger readers: They haven’t read as many books as avid readers three or four times their age. Thus, I would argue, the sorts of stereotyped characters and overused tropes that annoy older readers are not as likely to bother younger readers, who simply haven’t encountered them as often.
So, when it comes to books aimed at younger readers, I would argue that (d) counts very little or not at all as a component of quality.
I may be biased, because the fact is, I myself read way fewer books than a lot of people. About 100 a year, which is paltry compared to the number of books I would read if I weren’t writing, and very paltry compared to the number a lot of avid readers get through. Thus when people say they’re tired of dystopia, I’m not. I haven’t actually read all that many dystopian stories. The same goes for most other out-of-fashion trends. Though I am tired of sparkly vampires, it’s partly or mostly because that was a hard sell for me in the first place. So I would say: If the author does a really good job with a, b, and c, almost anything *could* work for me, even if I particularly appreciate a cleverly subverted prophecy.
So I think I’m generally going to come down on the side of arguing that (d) is really not a very important aspect of quality.
What do you all think? What aspects of a book seem most important to you in terms of pushing a book up to the “Best” category, or shoving it down toward “Worst”?