I’m sure you’ve spotted this phenomenon in the wild or, quite possibly, have even used it yourself. Let’s call it the “Genre But,” used when you’re describing a favorite book or excellent read to someone but you need to tell them, I know this is YA, but…. Discussions about whether or not YA is a genre aside, I hear and read this all the time and I’ve even been known to repeat it myself a few times, depending on whom I am talking to.
Let’s think about what we’re really doing here: we’re downgrading the rest of the genre and lifting up the book we’re recommending. The minute we say, “I know this is science fiction, but it’s just so good!” we are saying that the norm for science fiction is “not good.”
Recently my book club got together to discuss The Book Thief, the runaway YA bestseller. Though I actually didn’t enjoy it as much as the rest of the group, I was pleased to see everyone loving a book meant for teenagers. I can’t count, though, the number of people who were just downright shocked that the book was any good. The same thing happened when we read Blankets by Craig Thompson, my personal choice for that month. “It’s so good, even though it’s a comic!” a well-meaning book club member raved.
When we love something, we should love it wholeheartedly. I’m not saying we shouldn’t speak critically of genres, because that’s an important role of book discussion. However, I do believe that we shouldn’t judge an entire genre with one simple “but.” So, let’s make an effort to get rid of that genre “but.” When someone asks you for a book recommendation and you suggest The Knife of Never Letting Go (as I tend to do), don’t start with “I know this one is YA and science fiction, but I’m sure you’ll love it.” I’ve said those words and felt immediately guilty for it. I love YA and science fiction and I wouldn’t want anyone to think The Knife of Never Letting Go is an anomaly because it is a great YA science fiction book. It’s not. It’s special to me because it is an amazing book, no matter who the intended audience or genre is.