Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Amy Reed

Amy Reed is the author of the gritty Young Adult novels Beautiful (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster, 2009), Clean (2011), and Crazy (June 12, 2012). Originally from Seattle, she now lives and writes in Oakland, California.

Early last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished reading a little gem of a book, The Children and the Wolves, by Adam Rapp, which was released recently as a Young Adult novel from Candlewick Press. It’s short, raw, terrifying, disturbing, and absolutely magical. Rapp is also the author of one of my all-time favorite Young Adult novels, Punkzilla, which was a 2010 Printz Award honor. Both books are about broken kids who have been orphaned by civilized society and have pretty much gone feral. Rapp’s books are not for everyone—they deal very frankly with drugs, sexuality, and other things that can make parents and school boards nervous--but they’re the kind of books I love. His writing is haunting, lyrical, dark, and very, very true, told by voices I’ve never heard before. He’s brilliant and critics love him, but he’s not widely known, and I sometimes wonder if his work is misplaced in the YA genre, if maybe it is too literary. Maybe it’s just too good.

I know people in the YA community will hate me for just saying that. We have a bit of inferiority complex, which is understandable when bookstores shelve us closer to toddler picture books than adult fiction (although Barnes & Noble recently changed that—Thank you, B&N!) But no one ever talks about “literary” YA. It just doesn’t exist. The term “literary” is reserved for adult fiction, and where that line is drawn often seems arbitrary. Why do some books get called YA while others are marketed as adult fiction, even though both deal with the same ages and issues? Though I am a YA author, the books I most admire are in fact adult fiction with kids as main characters, books like The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, White Oleander by Janet Fitch, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Alison, Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill, Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun. I feel like Adam Rapp deserves a place among these talented authors who tell the stories of children with so much wisdom and depth. But then so do YA authors like John Green and Laurie Halse Anderson, who access the teen heart better than anyone. So what’s the difference?

And do I belong among those authors too? I don’t know, but I’m not too worried about it. I just love the fact that teens are reading my books, that kids who may feel lost and broken are finding characters who they can identify with. And I guess that’s what really makes me a YA author—I write for teens. I’d love adults to read my books too, but they’re aren’t who I’m thinking about when I imagine my readers. I don’t know why both Adam Rapp and I ended up being published as Young Adult authors. I don’t know how Mr. Rapp feels about it. But if he’s writing his books for teenagers, then I guess he’s in the right place. I hope both adults and teens will find their way to his work. The best YA fiction appeals to all ages because all good stories are universal. And his is definitely among the best.
Visit Amy Reed's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Amy Reed (October 2009).

Writers Read: Amy Reed (August 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue