“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.

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Posted on February 27, 2012, in Books, News, Rachel, Young Adult Fiction. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wow, awesome, impassioned read. I have complete faith in Rowling’s ability to write fantastic stories–young adult or otherwise.

    I never really got into young adult books ( I honestly didn’t know that section of the bookstore existed until the Twilight books came out, and my niece dragged me through), but I see no reason why an entire subgenre should be seen as inferior.

    Adults are just trying to forget those awkward years; reading about it again stirs up some strong memories. :p

    Thanks for the post.

    • I agree, Rowling’s writing ability should make any story quite a good one. She knows how to spin a compelling tale!

      I think one of the reasons people seem to look down on YA is because they think it *is* all vampire stories or worse, fluff. And to be sure, there are both of those things in YA… they they’re also in adult fiction. What you can find more of in YA are thoughtful, true-to-life stories that tell you you’re not alone. I can accept that people don’t read YA- sometimes, things just aren’t what you want to read- but it’s the people who refuse to buy a YA book simply because it’s in that section of the store, regardless of the story. As someone in the comments of Johnson’s article pointed out, Jane Austen wrote YA, it was just never classified as such!

      I agree- I think adults are trying to forget those years!

      Thanks for your feedback! 🙂

  2. I can very much agree with the bubble of anger, Rachel! I read through a lot of the young adult fiction at my library by the time I was in middle school–and while I have read adult fiction for years now and love much of it, most of my all time favorite books remain young adult stories. For better or worse, adult authors often don’t use the whimsy and fantastical trains of thought that make young adult fiction captivating. Thanks for another great post! 🙂

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