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The Fault in Our Novels

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October is an exciting month for any YA lit fan, because it includes Teen Read Week! In honor of this annual celebration of young adult literature, YALSA invited book-loving teens all over the world to apply to share their enthusiasm for reading in a guest post for The Hub. Thirty-one talented young writers were chosen, and we’ll be featuring posts from these unique voices all month long. Here’s Alyssa Finfer from New Jersey.

 

Let’s play a game. I’ll list some books, and you tell me which one doesn’t belong.Alyssa Graphic

  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Jane Eyre
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Hunger Games

I bet most of you picked the last one. Why? These books are all well written and powerful, and I bet many of you have read most or all of them, some even multiple times (I admit I have). Because of their popularity, Hollywood has made movie versions of all of them, though some are admittedly better than others. Despite this, people traditionally study the first four in English class at some point in high school or college, but rarely the last one. Also, even though all these books fit the definition of young adult literature, “literature for and about the young adult,”[1] you won’t find the first four in the YA section in Barnes and Noble. What’s up with that?

Some people argue that the books advertised as young adult fiction today have little or no literary merit. When I recommended The Fault in Our Stars to a friend of mine, she asked me why I, an intelligent person, would “lower” myself by reading “a stupid love story” like that. I argue that you could also dismiss Romeo and Juliet as a “stupid love story.” After all, it also features two teenagers in love who don’t get a happy ending. Then why do more people denounce The Fault in Our Stars?

William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright and the greatest poet who ever lived according to my English teacher, published Romeo and Juliet over 400 years ago. John Green published The Fault in Our Stars about three years ago, and even though his books are thought-provoking and beautifully written, not every English teacher considers him a literary god, well, at least not yet. Romeo and Juliet is so universally praised because people consider it a classic, “a book which people praise and don’t read,” according to Mark Twain. Meanwhile, because people don’t consider The Fault in Our Stars a classic, they aren’t afraid to form honest opinions about it, some positive and some negative. After all, like all works of literature, The Fault in Our Stars does have its, well, faults.

Although I agree that the classics I mentioned are great pieces of literature, because our teachers and professors idolize them, we often fail to look at them with a critical eye and acknowledge their flaws. For example, even though Mark Twain uses them satirically, the racial stereotypes in Huck Finn never ceases to bother me, and I find it hard to decipher some of the dialogue because he writes it so phonetically. Don’t get me wrong, I would still argue that Huck Finn is one of the greatest pieces of American literature. Just like most pieces of literature, it simply isn’t flawless.

The Fault in Our Stars and The Hunger Games aren’t perfect. But Romeo and Juliet is the story of two horny teenagers, The Catcher in the Rye of a whiny teenage jerk, Huckleberry Finn of a racist kid, Jane Eyre of a super high-strung girl, and To Kill a Mockingbird of a dad who is just too darn perfect. A perfect, flawless book simply doesn’t exist, but good books definitely do. We read them in English class and on the subway, on the back porch swing, and from the comfort of our beds. We discuss them in the hallways, in the classroom, and online. And when we notice their weaknesses along with their strengths, we can appreciate them more fully.

Alyssa Finfer is a seventeen year old who lives in New Jersey. When she’s not devouring her latest book, she loves to act, see Broadway shows, and write short stories, plays, and poetry.

 


[1] Niday, Donna. “English 394: Young Adult Literature.” Iowa State University. Iowa State University, Spring 2000. Web. 10 Sep. 2014.

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