Review: Young Adult Literature from Romance to Realism

Title: Young Adult Literature from Romance to Realism (4th edition)

Author: Michal Cart

Date: ALA Neal-Shuman; 2022

I wouldn’t have read Michael Cart’s Young Adult Literature from Romance to Realism had I not been considering it for a class. It’s that consideration that highlights the weakness of the book for me. Had I been reading to learn about his contributions to field, I would have been, for the most part, fascinated. I would have enjoyed learning about his experience in YALSA, what he did to establish the Printz Award, and  learning about some of his favorite authors. But, that’s not what I was looking for.

Core’s book enunciated for me the possibilities of YA lit and the necessity for counter hegemonic work. (Durand & Jumenez, 2018) in order to protect the space of those BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people, and those with disabilities. Much of this current work is being done by replicating what was originally designed back in the 1960s. Then, college students demanded the creation of ethnic and cultural centers on campuses while off campus they fought for the right to vote, for equal education and for compliance with existing treaties. And now?

Then, publishers and librarians were among the activists, and their courageous ideals integrated libraries and their bookshelves, questioned representation, and made way for marginalized authors. That decade ended with Nancy Larrick, a white educator, challenging the all-white world of children’s books.

But, Cart missed all that. He missed the first Latinx/a/o book which brought magical realism to YA: Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. He missed the true significance of the Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC), in the ways they challenged the status quo and left a framework for counter-hegemonic work that persists today.

Cart’s work is important because he maintains an established network and credible reputation in the field. His work is highly regarded. I’m pretty sure that neither Ellen Oh, Katherena Vermette, Aisha Saeed, Dhonielle Clayton, Kwame Alexander, Malindo Lo nor any others will lose sleep over being omitted from this book. They understand that the real problem here is that this systemic omission allows for the continual subjugation of minoritized creators in the field. The lack of any of these authors in this book wants to indicates that they don’t really belong in the classroom, in the library or in bookshelves. Yet, they do.

I was surprised not to read more about Walter Dean Myers while Cart was describing real fictions. Myers was actually discussed further back in the book, in the special chapter on diversity. Cart examines why there continues to be little equity and inclusion (OK, he refers to it as ‘diversity’) in young adult literature and comes to an acceptable conclusion by looking at Lee and Low’s figures and determining that publishing itself is too white. However, when we examine the whiteness of youth literature, we can’t do the diversity work that Nancy Larrick did and merely count numbers. We have to remember the anti-imperialist practices of the CIBC and know that textbooks; university faculty, and course material; journals; bookstores, and distributors all control different gateways in the sphere of young adult literature and should be held accountable. Omitting the well documented work of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ people, and those with disabilities; or segregating it to the back of the book perpetuates the otherness of the work of individuals like Judith Ortiz Colfer, Meg Medina, Renée Watson, An Na, Tonya Bolden, Linda Sue Park, Angela Johnson, and Mitali Perkins. It establishes that they do not belong. I specifically want information about inclusion and equity in youth literature and am disappointed when such a general source omits it. I know to expect it. But, too many educators and librarians don’t know it’s not there – and should be – until someone mentions it. The lack of inclusion throughout the industry has to be called out as much as the lack in publishing. And then, there are careless errors such as missing people’s pronouns or misidentifying their racial/ethnic heritage.

No, I don’t think I’ll use this book in my class because I have to counter that narrative. I may need to rely on the timeline of diversity in YA that I began crowdsourcing some years ago. I’ve begun augmenting each decade with social and political information that provides context to changes in youth literature. I think historical context requires multiple perspectives to be accurate so I’m sure some of the information from Cart’s book will help explain publishing itself. I’m not an expert on this history, but I know lack when I see it.  I want more than that for my students and I’ll continue working to get them the best information I can source. His book isn’t completely horrible, I think it’s just being misrepresented as a tool for teaching because the perspective it offers is too limited.