Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Kids Lit vs. Adult Lit

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Authors who write for "Young Adults" have often encountered the frustrating situation of appearing at Writers Festivals and finding their names in tiny print at the bottom of promotional material. There are the featured, important, real writers, those who write for adults and create complicated art for the ages ... and then, those who make up stories for kids.

During my career, I've written as many works for adults as young people, and my current Boy Sherlock Holmes books are really essentially adult novels with a teenager in the role of the protagonist. I don't have any reason to be biased in my judgment of the kinds of literature written for either of these audiences. In fact, I am not now, nor have I ever been a big reader of YA literature. My education and my abiding interest is in Shakespeare, Dickens and Joyce; not Dahl, Carroll, and Rowling. But I do find myself sometimes upset at the lack of respect out there for YA literature.

Some of this arises from the fact that we have begun to compartmentalize and categorize novels in our commercialized world, in order to market them. It has only been in the past twenty or thirty years that the whole YA genre has been so separated from the rest of literature. Thus, we have the sense, in any bookstore we enter, that there are books for adults ... and then books solely for young people. This sometimes feeds the idea that the kids' novels are naturally less complicated, less challenging and groundbreaking, and therefore, less apt to be literary art that can be respected.

And yet, what of "Oliver Twist" or "The Catcher in the Rye" or "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" or "Treasure Island" and many other titles that appeared before the need to categorize books into "YA" (and or "Teen Fiction") and "Adult," and yet are considered some of the greatest works of literature ever written? Are they any less complicated, challenging or groundbreaking than books targeted solely for an adult audience?

I can attest to the fact that writing for young people, if (and this is an important "if") one attempts to create real literature - layered works of depth, insight, and artistic accomplishment - can be much more difficult than writing for adults. Write a "YA novel" that spends more than a page, in fact more than a paragraph or two, with a character, or a plot, standing still, and that book becomes unreadable in its genre. Yet a novelist writing for adults can afford the luxury of exploring static moments, mining insights, for extended periods without doing damage to the work's readability. Plot is of utmost importance in YA Lit and yet, if you want your YA novel to be a work of value, it ALSO has to do all those wonderful things great adult novels do in terms of meaning and interesting structure and style. Authors writing for adults should try that sometime - write a novel that never once, not for even a single paragraph, sways from the plot, and yet is as layered and insightful as it would be if they put their plot on hold in order to explore their subtext. They would find such writing, I think, quite a difficult exercise, perhaps almost an impossible one for even the greatest of them to pull off.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Shane Peacock

Shane Peacock is a biographer, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and novelist. He has received many honours for his writing, including the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of his Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Go to Shane Peacock’s Author Page