In an episode of “The Simpsons” entitled “The Book Job,” which aired a few weeks ago, Lisa discovers that the writer of her favorite young-adult series is merely a face created by the book’s publishing firm; she then discovers that all major fantasy novels are actually written by a throng of starving English literature majors just out of college. This discovery prompts Homer and Bart to create their own young-adult series about trolls, titled “The Troll Twins of Underbridge Academy,” portraying the writing of a banal book as a simple endeavor.
Though this episode can be easily written off as one of the show’s countless parodies of popular culture, it does point out the sad state of the young-adult fiction industry. Extensive young-adult novel series are often formulaic and sensational, seemingly written for the sole purpose of attracting readers and making a profit. The constant extension of many books with seemingly thrilling, original concepts into monotonous and rather identical installments—seen with series such as “Twilight” and “Dragonlance”—suggests that publishers do indeed put profits above originality and quality. Much of the genre is merely pulp fiction: the books overuse sensational plot twists to appease addicted audiences, without actually achieving much artistic integrity.
However, a notable exception in the repetitiveness of large series lies in books that are able to build upon familiar, self-contained mythologies, like the “Harry Potter” series. By eschewing melodrama and focusing on realistic characters in a magical world, the “Harry Potter” series has captured millions of readers, and even though the last book and movie have been released, there are still spin-off Web sites—namely “Pottermore,” a social network in which users are able to “attend” the magical school of Hogwarts—that continue to engage fans. Unfortunately, these books are rare gems in a sea of unoriginal young-adult series.
Despite the staleness of most young-adult fiction, the genre does en
xact a somewhat positive influence on its readers, in that, if nothing else, it encourages children and teens to read books beyond what they are assigned in school. These books foster active discussion of the books that kids have read outside a classroom setting. However, there is a limit to these benefits; ultimately, these books are not great works of literature and thus lack the intellectual value of more classic works of fiction. When one constricts one’s reading selection to pulp, it can only be detrimental to one’s writing style and sense of literature.
As shown in the episode of “The Simpsons,” the genre of young-adult literature has become one of almost factory-like production. The multitude of young-adult series lack brilliance and charm due to a dearth of progress, both in their characters and plot variety. They appeal to readers only on a superficial and sensational level. These books, though encouraging the average bibliophobe, do not offer the insights of other, more emotionally complex genres.
Hopefully, the few, yet eminent, talented authors in the genre will keep producing original and engaging novels, complete with realistic, three-dimensional characters and extensive, captivating mythologies. Otherwise, the formulaic monotony of young-adult fiction will cripple the book industry. Just as Lisa, Homer, and Bart were able to reveal the cold mechanical control of the publishing industry, we must dispel the clichés of the current cookie-cutter culture of young adult literature.