A Devaluation of Young Adult Literature

Kenny Brechner -- June 18th, 2021

Shana Youngdahl, author of the young adult novel As Many Nows As I Can Get, is an exceptional writer. Having an author of her widely recognized ability and rising stature on the faculty of the University of Maine at Farmington has been a remarkable asset to both the university community and the community at large. Shana was hired as an English professor. Her ability as a novelist surfaced during her time here and was akin to having a rare jewel fall from the sky and land in the community’s lap.

Shana is leaving to take a new position as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. This occurred not because she wanted to leave UMF or the Farmington area, but because her contract was not renewed and she was let go. Her departure speaks to a broader issue, the profound undervaluation of children’s literature by academic institutions and the literary community in general. There is a strong gender bias at work in that, equating children’s books and bookselling with child-rearing and women’s work.

I suggest that this is a spectacularly ill-advised bias. There is nothing more central to the human experience than the maturation process known as coming of age.  It encompasses the navigation of a changing relationship to agency, from being a subject of the world to being a creator of the world. The nature of responsibility, justice, love, personal identity, and morality are all intrinsically centered in young adult novels exploring the coming of age. What could be more important than an engagement with these issues? What could provide more of a bridge to adults working with teenagers and young adults than reading their literature? What could be more important than opening up to the persistent relevance of these issues to an engaged adult?

In my opinion, the failure to value young adult literature by academic institutions is a failure to appreciate the nature of their own mission. I’ll miss Shana deeply on an array of personal and professional grounds, but it is the needless nature of the loss and what that says about our social and cultural values, that I mourn most.

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