This theory really is half-baked. Here we go: Amid all the Hunger Games hoopla, it struck me that there is something peculiarly American about books that get labeled YA. Could this be due to U.S. culture's adolescent nature? We are quick to indignation, self-righteous, dramatic, self-absorbed, full of a sense of our own drama—does this sound like any high school kids you know? Does it sound like any country you know?
Yes, it's an oversimplification. And I don't mean to sound damning: sure many kids have some of the qualities I describe, but it's also what makes them passionate. It's what makes them fervent (sometimes) about social justice, and righting wrongs, and calling out hypocrisy.
This particular half-baked theory actually has another half (quarter?), which is that if U.S. writers have a gift for YA, then British writers seem to have a gift for children's literature. Which stems from…I don't know, their youthful culture? Old, but youthful somehow. Earnest, wishful, naive? Yeah, it doesn't exactly hold up, does it?
But how does one explain it? And by "it" I mean the amazing floods of amazing magical children's books that pour from the British Isles. I had a long and interesting conversation about this with an English person, who believed that the problem with English literature was that it never really grew up. Hence sentimentalists like Dickens and Trollope (side note: I don't think he's just a sentimentalist, I love Dickens and Trollope, and am just trying to explain his argument), while France got to have all the real grown-up books, those with cynicism and sardonic wit, like Stendhal. (Incidentally, Stendhal is the writer about whom my friend Emily astutely said "Oh, this is why they're always worrying about young girls reading French novels in Victorian books.")
Some of the problems with this theory:
1) What about Chinese novels? Egyptian ones? Essentially, any cultures that don't write in English? In my oh-so-American way, I don't know because I can't read in any language other than English.
2) There are loads of counterexamples—for every Beatrix Potter there is a Dr. Seuss, for every Terry Pratchett there is a Louis Sachar.
3) And besides, isn't this an awfully simplistic way to look at writers? And cultures? And everything?
Here's the thing: Despite all the half-bakedness, I think there is, somehow, something to all of this. I just can't quite explain to myself what it is. Are teen books in some way quintessentially American? Or is America quintessentially teenaged? Or do we scrap all that and say, "Boy those Brits have a real way with the kids books," and be done with it?
What do you guys think? Has this phenomenon (have these phenomena?) ever made you wonder?