Thursday, May 21, 2009

Money Issues in YA vs Adult Books

I generally reserve this blog for reviews, links, and other "formal" bookish stuff. In my mind there are "blogs" and then there's stuff to put up on my LiveJournal. I'm going to try to redefine my idea of "blog" this summer and work more personal thoughts into this, instead of only reviews. Whenever I want to say something about a book or literature, I will say it. I'll still leave out spoilers, of course.

Generally, I believe that children's literature (including Young Adult) holds more positive qualities than adult literature does, but this isn't the case in all areas. The biggest thing for me, lately, is that in regards to money, adult books seem more realistic. There's a simple reason for this: adults worry about money more. Because they spend their lives working for that money, and they have to pay the bills for water, heat, electricity, medical, insurance, etc etc etc. Then they have to buy groceries and toilet paper and rubber bands. Whatever. The point is, adults are constantly aware of how much money is going in, and how much money is going out. This is reflected in book catered to the adult audience. We see many issues of money in this genre: characters needing to pay rent, or trying to get a raise, worrying about how they'll pay their medical bills whenever something goes wrong.

In children's books, you don't see this. First off, because children don't pay their own expenses, they rely on their parents. This doesn't mean that children don't worry about money. When do we get to read the stories about the child who hides in the bathroom for the first ten minutes of lunch period so they can be at the end of the food line so that no one is around to hear them when they tell the lunch lady they get a free lunch? The story of the kid who has to buy all their clothes at the second-hand store and purchase all their shoes a size or two larger because they can't afford new things all the time? The kid who doesn't go to birthday parties just so they don't have to show up without a gift because the family couldn't afford one?
We don't read these stories very often. I think the main reason of this is that children who are reading the books don't want to read about those problems all the time--especially if they're living them. They might just want to escape the problem, put themselves in place of the main character, and live like royalty for a few hours. That's totally understandable.

With YA however, I see it a little differently. Young adults are no longer children, but not yet adults. They're somewhere in the middle, age-wise, and in this issue as well. Or, at least, in my opinion, they should be. That doesn't mean that they are. This is the age, especially in the later teens, that one gets their first job and starts to pay some things on their own. Sure, these things may just be movie tickets or new cds (assuming they even buy hard copies anymore), but it's their own money, and they need to keep track of it. Even still, you don't see this as much as you would expect. Yes, in John Green's Looking For Alaska this issue is tackled through The Colonel, who is always having Pudge pay for his cigarettes because he can't afford them. We go to his trailer even. But the thing is, the Colonel, much as I love him, is not the main character here. He's not the narrator either. It's all Pudge, and Pudge has the money to pay for cigarettes for both of them, to pay for McDonald's, and his family can easily afford the private school. Generally, the main characters have money. This may also go back to how poverty-stricken children want to escape their money issues through literature, but it may just be a way to make things easier on the author. Things are so much easier to get going if the character can afford them.

Still, there are books that address these issues, I'm not saying there aren't. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson is a great example. The family is having financial troubles and are barely keeping their head above water at the point where the story begins. The hotel is beginning to fall into disrepair and we see the ways this impacts the family members. It's great, and more than that, it's believable. It's something that some of us can relate to. So why aren't there more books out there like this one? Why do our main characters always have to be upper middle class with spare cash and cars (even if they're not new)? Will books featuring a few money issues (even small ones) become more popular in our current economic situation, or will we see rise to more books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where the poor boy finds the golden ticket--a way to rise above the current situation? I'd love to hear your thoughts on anything mentioned. Leave them in the comments.

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