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So the lead book review

September 22, 2007

in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly is Jenny Downham’s Before I Die (not available online yet Updated: here’s the review). It’s a very positive review overall (grade: A-) and made me even more sure that I’m going to absolutely bawl my eyes out when I get a chance to read it, but the last paragraph of the review is giving me trouble.

Unfortunately, Downham’s publisher has handicapped Before I Die by labeling it a young-adult novel, thus ghettoizing this gem to the back of most bookstores. It’s a shame, because this book is vastly superior to most so-called adult novels with high-school-age protagonists that have been embraced by the literary establishment…

I have so many reactions to these two sentences I don’t even know where to begin. My snarky side wants to say that the literary establishment is missing out on the quality high-school-age protagonist books because they’re too scared to enter the YA ghetto. My defensive side is offended by the implication that either YA lit or teen sections of bookstores, or both, is a ghetto. My more realistic side says that it’s great that a major magazine like EW is so prominently reviewing a YA book, particularly one not written by J. K. Rowling. Because the fact is that although there are a lot of us who read YA books, most adults don’t. My hopeful side wonders if this (plus EW naming Downham a hot new author for fall) will turn more folks on to YA books. My guilty side admits that I made a similar criticism in my review of T. K. Welsh’s Resurrection Men. My curious side wonders (again) how publishers decide what to publish as a YA book, an adult book, or an adult/YA crossover, particularly since a sidebar to the review mentions that David Fickling, who edited the book, also brought us Philip Pullman’s His Dark Material trilogy and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.* And my argumentative side says, without having read the book, that the “most so-called adult novels with high-school-age protagonists” qualifier should not be there because a lot of YA books are superior to adult novels, period.

One thing I know for sure: besides encouraging people to pick up the book, if the point of the review was to also provide food for thought, it certainly succeeded.

* Haddon’s book, of course, was published in both children’s and adult editions in the UK, but solely as an adult book here in the US. I suppose this was also on my mind because I looked up Meg Rosoff’s upcoming What I Was on a few days ago and was surprised to see that it looks like it’ll be published as an adult book here, but a juvenile title in the UK and Canada.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2007 9:37 pm

    So I just sat here for a few minutes, gaping at the screen. I know my reaction is mostly: they just called YA lit a GHETTO, let me bust some caps.

    I can’t really judge completely, having not read the entire review, but geez, glad to know the reviewers featured in Entertainment Weekly have such open minds when considering the genre a book is placed in.

  2. September 24, 2007 6:30 am

    a lot of YA books are superior to adult novels, period.

    Agreed. I often find myself browsing the YA novel aisle of the store more often these days because they feature just as many interesting sub genres – fantasy, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, etc. I am currently reading a really good one called, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. While the review is somewhat condescending to YA novels, hopefully some good can come out of it in that the book gets the attention that it deserves. I’ll be looking it up so thanks for the heads up. BTW, I don’t really read EW.

  3. September 29, 2007 3:21 am

    I think the lesson here is that we can’t take book reviews in entertainment magazines seriously.


  1. The Book Ninja » NEWSFLASH! YA Lit Sections Are Ghettos. I Guess I’ll Be In The Nerdfighter Gang! AWESOME!

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