February 02, 2010

YA Literature: Interstitial, Speculative, and More Than Just Vampires

Just for fun, I'm going to get a little intellectual here and discuss genre.

I'm currently reading an anthology called Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing. One of the cool things about it—besides the fact that reading it sort of feels like I've found more kindred spirit writing peeps—is that it includes an interview with the editors by our own Colleen Mondor, as well as short stories by YA author Cecil Castellucci and Guys Lit Wire contributor Will Ludwigsen.

It's also cool because, although the stories themselves aren't specifically YA, they ARE what I'd call speculative, or, as this anthology calls them, "interstitial." As the back cover copy puts it, "It's all about breaking rules, ignoring boundaries, cross-pollinating the fields of literature. It's about working between, across, at, and through the edges and borders of literary genres. It falls between the cracks of other movements, terms, and definitions."

And it struck me that some of these descriptions can apply just as aptly to YA fiction. It often exists across genres. There are liberties that can be taken with setting, with character, with format, that aren't tolerated as generously in the "adult" world of grown-up fiction. It often falls between the cracks—or, more often, is relegated to a very specific niche by who see teen fiction as solely series books or vampire tales, Harry Potter clones or rehashings of Judy Blume coming-of-age stories. (And frankly, I'm getting tired of explaining to people "ha ha, yes, the Twilight books are very popular, ha ha, no, I don't write about vampires" while inside I die just a little more each time.)

Those of us who know the scope of YA literature know how inapt those labels are, how much more YA fiction is than simply genre fiction for a younger audience. How much YA fiction—like the best of adult fiction—breaks boundaries, sprinkles a little coming-of-age here, a little fantasy there, and tops it off with a healthy dose of questioning convention. Isn't that a critical part of young adulthood—questioning? It's a critical part of being human, I think, and of reading thoughtfully.

Of course, in some ways it's an illusion to consider YA a cohesive genre or even a definable age range. The way I see it, it's a marketing category, a convenient label that can be used to encompass (or lump together) a very disparate, diverse, and elusive area of fiction.

Wonderfully, gorgeously, and blessedly elusive. Interstitial, even. A place where a weirdo like me can fit in—unlike actual teenage life, or even adult life, but like life should be...leaving room for the mysterious and undefinable, a zesty and constantly surprising gallimaufry.


tanita davis said...

"It's about working between, across, at, and through the edges and borders of literary genres. It falls between the cracks of other movements, terms, and definitions."

Definitely a gallimaufry of the best sort. My kind of reading.

Jen Robinson said...

This crossing of borders is one of the things that I've always loved about YA literature (and children's literature, too, though the borders are a bit different). In YA, it's ok to mix genres. In the adult markets, I think that people have more narrowly defined expectations (or the market has dictated that ... I don't know ... but I often find it dull).