Andrew Karre (editorial director at Carolrhoda Books) wrote an interesting post a few weeks back for HungerMountain (http://www.hungermtn.org/yamatters/). He posits that all one really needs to do to drive traffic to a blog or site is to mention: A) a new Apple product or B) your disgust, distaste, or “half-baked analysis” relating to YA literature. While Karre initially made the comparison for a laugh, in this piece he delves deeper—and makes some very interesting and insightful statements about young adult literature and its readers.
So, what does Andrew Karre get right? He suggests that the genre is rapidly changing. “Ask anyone over thirty if they ever anticipated the release of a YA novel when they were a child or a teenager,” Karre writes, “and the answer will almost invariably be ‘no.’” The world has shifted, he notes further, starting with the publishing phenomenon of the Harry Potter series and continuing through Twilight and the latest Diary of A Wimpy Kid book. I agree that young readers today are much more aware of new releases by their favorite authors—and that many kids have the buying power to pick up those books on publication day.
What does Karre get wrong? Well, it’s really just a matter of emphasis. Deep in his very well-written essay, he specifies that he’s talking about “affluent audiences of avid young adult readers,” not ALL readers of YA fiction. That’s an important distinction, one that demands another paragraph.
So, here’s that necessary paragraph, from my middle-school library lady perch: Even though kids today are more aware of new book releases, they still rely on the grownup in the library (should their school or community be so lucky as to have one) or the grownup in the English/Language Arts classroom. They still listen when we recommend books. They still sign up on “wait lists” for popular titles. Yes, I see a handful of possibly “affluent” audience members toting around their own heavy copies of The Son of Neptune at my middle school, for example. But I also have a long list of kids waiting to check out my one hardcover copy. For those who don’t have high-speed internet at home, who don’t friend their favorite authors on facebook, and who don’t have allowances that allow for hardcover purchases, librarians and teachers are still key players.
If, as Karre makes clear, “YA matters,” then these traditional gatekeepers and amateur book promoters still matter too.