Sorry about that title. I couldn’t resist the Twitter bait. Because I don’t hate YA novels at all. What I hate is the appellation that shouts, “This book is for young readers (only)!”
When I was growing up there were books for children written specifically for children. You could tell them by the brightly colored illustrations, big type, short chapters and “educational” messages. Then there was everything else. Or as I liked to call it, “The good stuff.” Many of the books I read as a child– The Jungle Book, Three Musketeers, Black Beauty, Call of the Wild, The Hobbit, The Yearling, Little Women, The Red Pony, and many, many others– would be considered today to be Young Adult. They appeal to young readers, sure, but they’re good stories with great writing and just because the characters are young (or non-human) doesn’t mean they ONLY appeal to young readers.
Here’s the problem with genres. Genre simply means of a type. Mystery novels have mysteries to solve, romances feature people falling in love, horror means being scared. Then it became a marketing tool to make it easier for booksellers to categorize their merchandise. If you’re in the mood for a mystery, look on that shelf. Want some kissing, look over there. As with many simple shortcuts, some fool has to come in and complicate things. It didn’t take long before writers decided that a genre has RULES. That every mystery (or romance or sci-fi) novel had to have certain elements and a certain structure and dare I say, a formula for the plot. Writers work hard– too hard– to fit within the genre. Then a whole category of books turns rigid and predictable and starts boring the snot out of readers who really don’t give a shit about all those rules, they just want a good story to read. At the same time, readers get trapped by rigid thinking, too, so you get people who say, “Ew, I don’t read romance novels,” or “Ick, science fiction? What trash,” or “Only idiots read horror novels.” Just think of all the wonderful books they’re missing out on because they refuse to step into that section of the bookstore.
That’s exactly what’s happening with the Young Adult genre. Which, personally, I think is a stupid genre to begin with. What does it even mean? The characters are young? So what? The only thing I see for sure is that by tagging a book as YA, a whole lot of people who’d love the story will miss out because they do not read YA. I know several young readers who turn up their noses at YA because what they want is “the good stuff.”
Which brings me to Rot and Ruin, by Jonathan Maberry. I picked up Rot and Ruin because, duh, it’s Jonathan Maberry. If you’ve never read Maberry before, run out and buy a Joe Ledger book (Patient Zero, Dragon Factory, King of Plagues). Read it. I’ll wait. Finished? Am I right, or am I right? Is that not the rockingest, rollingest story telling ever? So Rot and Ruin was an auto-buy. I didn’t bother reading the listing or reviews. Just hit the one-click-and-buy button.
Short recap: Fourteen years after the zombie apocalypse, Benny Imura is turning fifteen and needs a job (no job, half-rations, that’s the rule). As a last resort he signs on as his brother Tom’s apprentice to become a zombie killer/bounty hunter. Benny hates his older brother, considering him a coward and a loser. It’s only after Tom takes Benny into the Rot and Ruin where the zombies are that Benny begins to realize there is more, much more to Tom than he ever imagined.
The entire novel is slick and scary and filled with action and gore aplenty. The characters are wonderful. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, writes over-the-top villains the way Maberry can. What I loved best was the sympathy for the zombies. Like Tom says, “Zombies are people, too.” I have such mixed feelings about zombie novels in general. I always feel sorry for the zombies. To me they aren’t monsters, they’re victims. With some books and movies, I often wonder why the living characters aren’t more torn up by the fate of the dead. (My favorite scene in the movie Shaun of the Dead is at the end when Shaun finds a way to keep his mate Ed around despite Ed having been turned into a zombie). Maberry raises some serious questions about morality, courage, and what happens when fear becomes a way of life.
Despite the main character, Benny, being fifteen years old and he has to shed his childish notions fast and grow up to be a man, never once while reading did I think, Young Adult. So when I went back to Amazon to look more closely at the listing I was rather shocked to see Rot and Ruin had been published as a YA novel. It kind of pissed me off. I suppose I can’t fault publishers for trying any marketing gimmick they can, but think about all the readers who enter a book store, looking for something good to read, but wouldn’t visit the YA section if you beat them with a stick, who will miss out on Rot and Ruin.
That’s why I hate YA.
I love Jonathan Maberry. Check out Rot and Ruin for yourself.