Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Speaking of Acne and Angst, Where Has All the Acne Gone?

In a startling feat of originality, the Denver Post has published this gem on the darkness of teen literature. His basic premise, much like the Wall Street Journal article published not too long ago, is that young adult fiction is a booming market and the biggest sellers are dystopias and novels about severely troubled - anorexic, depressed, self-hating, world-hating, violent - teen protagonists. I give the author props for the admirable work he has done in interviewing some key people: a young adult librarian, a bookseller, David Levithan and book hungry teens! It is a truth now universally acknowledged: many of the latest bestselling teen novels contain darker fare. The fact that this is nothing new is never mentioned. That's fine. I'm over that part. And yet, I still can't help but feel he's missed the boat.

Teen fiction is not a genre.

Just like adults and children, teens have varied reading tastes. There are teens who love fantasy. There are teens who love realistic fiction - be it of the bubbly gummy, angsty or truly troubling variety. There are teens who love horror. There are teens who love Manga. There are teens who love science fiction. There are teens who love all sorts of different kinds of literature, and there are teens who like to stick to just one or two of the above listed genres. Much like adults, teens can go from reading a chic-litty romance novel (Twilight) to a dystopian science fiction (The Hunger Games) to a classic (The Outsiders).

One thing that I think is true is that teens are more open to reading a wider variety of books than adults. Most adults have their genre - be it romance or western - and most every bookstore or library has worked to subdivide the fiction collection to cater to their reading interests and separate out "their books" so that they know exactly where to go to look for books to fit their reading interests. With teens, more often than not, all books - except maybe for Manga - all of the books are listed alphabetically by author. Teens hunt and peck for authors they know, covers that look cool, specific recommendations from friends or the librarian and eventually stumble out of the stacks with something to take home. For some teens, it's all Manga or all fantasy, but most like to hop around and try different things. It's Gossip Girl one week, and Thirteen Reasons Why the next.

I love that teens can be so open to new reading experiences and don't put false limits on what they think they want to read, just because a spine label tells them what genre a given book is.

But what was my point? When I started this post it was because one particular line of the article jumped out at me:
And it's not all Harry Potter or the "Twilight" series (think "Dracula" with acne and angst.)

In all of my reading of young adult fiction there's angst galore, for certain. I mean, the characters are teens, and teens do angst best. But where has all the acne gone? Seriously. As a teenager, acne (along with parents who just don't understand what it's like to be a teenage) was one of the largest sources of my angst. But nobody seems to have acne anymore. Twilight certainly was NOT Dracula with acne and angst. This is true for many reasons, not the least of which is that the two books have nothing in common aside from a vampire protagonist. But there was no acne to be found! The only recent book I've read in which I even recall the mention of acne was the ARC for Justine Larbalestier's Liar. What is up with that? Why aren't there articles written about the demise of teen acne lit? Am I the only person who has noticed this shocking trend?

Better get the Wall Street Journal on the phone. This article is going to be big.


  1. I used it all up in high school...

  2. *Teen fiction is not a genre.*

    Here, here!

    I was talking with a friend the other day about a job at a private high school that we'd both applied to. Not a single YA title on their summer reading list, and my friend confirmed what I was thinking too: that they consider YA lit beneath them. Why? Because it's "all Harry Potter or Twilight," of course!

  3. p.s. I have a new (or rather, a very old) alias - it doesn't seem right for me to use LiveJournal anymore, so I'm using my AOL IM screename for comments. "dz3il" is "Jill" in the International Phonetic Alphabet (sort of). :)

  4. Ummm don't you remember that Adonis had acne? Duhz.

    P.s. Wait, is the above Jill THE Jill (apparently you have a title that is an article) or a different Jill I don't know? Isn't it blasphemous for you to not LJ?

  5. Sherman Alexie's Flight definitely included acne, but it's the only one I can think of at the moment that does...

  6. Kelly Armstrong's The Summoning has acne (not on the main character but on a pretty important side character, Derek).

  7. hmm, An Na's The Fold had acne! ^^;

  8. The first few books of Megan McCafferty's excellent Jessica Darling series deal with acne - on another character in the first book and then somewhere around book 2 or 3, Jessica herself has issues with it to the point of serious medication.

  9. notes from the teenage underground has acne - dream boy with bad skin but great bone structure!

  10. 1. Mia of The Princess Diaries has acne - she gets in trouble in one of the books for trying to cure it with toothpaste.

    2. As per the discussion on S.'s Facebook page, I think I should be known as Jyll from now on. Or possibly just Jy, since the letters I and L seem to be out of vogue at present (witness the "Syfy" channel and the School Which Must Not Be Named).

    3. Speaking of the letter I, LiveJournal and I are having Issues. I'll email you.

  11. Bad Faith by Gillian Philip, a great YA book and the love interest has acne.