“Can She Hack It?”: J.K. Rowling to Publish Adult Fiction
Just this morning, I read a great article in The Guardian by one of my favorite authors, Maureen Johnson. In the article (read it here), she discusses J.K. Rowling’s upcoming adult novel. Some of the public seems to think that the novel may flop simply because Rowling has previously written only children’s novels, and adult novels are infinitely harder.
This statement never fails to turn me into a giant squid of anger. As a reader and writer of primarily young adult literature myself, I find this view offensive. As Johnson says in the article, “It seems to be the received wisdom that books angled at the younger set are simply not quite the same thing as books aimed at adults: not quite as challenging to write, not quite as challenging to read. And it is my boring yet constant duty to explain that books for younger readers are some of the most challenging and well-written material out there. Children and young adults (or adolescents, whichever you like) are among the most athletic of readers. Unlike adults, they do not normally restrict themselves to one genre. They read broadly, experimentally, and with considerable passion.”
Since I was a young reader, I have read a mix of children’s and adult literature, and to be honest, almost always preferred the YA to anything else. This probably had something to do with the fact that the protagonists were closer to my age, but also, the stories in general were more active, more skillfully written, and all around better. This is not to say that adult fiction is substandard, but it is a fact that young audiences won’t tolerate a boring read, and let’s be honest: some adult fiction is boring. And even though an adult book might not be snooze-inducing, young adults refuse to sit through a fifteen-page description of the main character’s morning routine when it could easily be summed up in fifteen sentences. They don’t want filler, they want action. Adults are willing to tolerate unnecessary narration, but children demand only quality material.
Of course, just as with any genre or category, there is bad YA fiction. However, there is a certain pressure and duty that falls on children’s authors that adult fiction writers don’t necessarily have to deal with: that their readers are experiencing certain things for the first time and are looking to books to see that they’re not alone. This is one reason why I don’t believe that any YA book should be censored or banned- because finding out that you are not the only one who has gone through something can save your life. YA readers are picking up books not just to go on the spectacular journey between its pages, but to find out that they’re not the only one who hasn’t been kissed/is struggling with their sexuality/had a terrible fight with their best friend/has had thoughts of ending their life. On the other side of that coin, YA characters are also going through the triumphs they are; certainly, a YA reader can understand the happiness an adult character experiences on their wedding day, but right now, that reader can relate much more to the joy of being accepted into their top college.
I’m digressing a bit, but my main point is that YA and children’s literature is not substandard to adult fiction, in either the reading or the writing of it. They are on the same level and should be accepted as such. Rowling’s new adult book may not do as well as the Harry Potter series, but almost nothing as done as well as the Harry Potter series. As Johnson continues, “Let the book stand on its own. The bridge can be crossed in either direction. Many adult authors are now streaming over to the younger side, seeing the rich potential audience there. Rowling, who helped to build the bridge, is walking in the opposite direction. And why shouldn’t she? She’s following her ideas where they take her. Cross-pollination in reading and writing is a good thing: writers moving into new storytelling areas, kids reading “adult” books, adults reading “kid” books. They’re all stories.”
All stories indeed. Why don’t we strip the books of their age-dictating labels? Books are books, stories are stories. If you enjoy it, read it.