I was really happy to see Jenny Downham’s Before I Die score the featured review in this week’s Entertainment Weekly. But then Thom Geier irritated me with this bizarre paragraph:

Unfortunately, Downham’s publisher has handicapped Before I Die by labeling it a young-adult novel, thus ghettoizing this gem to the back of most bookstores. It’s a shame, because this book is vastly superior to most so-called adult novels with high-school-age protagonists that have been embraced by the literary establishment.

Still, he finishes up:

In luminous prose that rings completely true, Downham earns every tear she wrings from her readers. I trust there will be many of them–many readers and, of course, many tears.

And how will these readers ever find the book, since it’ll be hidden in the back of most bookstores? Seems like sloppy thinking that doesn’t quite compute. (The implication that younger readers or readers frequenting this part of the store are somehow less worthy than those lofty adults it would garner up front grates as well.)

The sad thing is that if Geier routinely read the young adult fiction he believes constitutes a ghetto, he’d find many, many examples of books that surpass "most so-called adult novels with high-school-age protagonists" (and many of those with adults). Now I haven’t read Downham’s book, but it sure sounds like what he’s picking up on–and one of the things that made it so affecting for him–is the immediacy of the best YA fiction. And that’s one of the things that is commonly missing from adult books about teenagers, which tend to come from a place of remove or distance. This leads me to believe that Downham’s publisher has been wise, and understands better than Geier the type of book they have on their hands.

The review doesn’t seem to be online yet, but here’s an interview Jennifer Reese did with Downham about the book. More once I’ve read it.

3 thoughts on “Um”

  1. I’ve had a few debates of late about YA versus grown-up books and my bottom line, for me, was as you say–adult “literary fiction” (and yes, I am generalizing broadly) tends to be too meandering, whereas YA is so visceral. Also, it seems to me that the best of good YA is so tight: well-plotted, strong voice, vivid characters–whereas, with adult novels, it’s generally more acceptable or perhaps even expected to hang a book on the one or the other. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy grown-up books, too, but I agree with you that the “ghetto-ization” of YA novels is to the detriment of those who are too cool for our school….

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