Experimental Y.A.

Posted by Josh Spilker

Even when I was a “young adult,” I never really read Y.A. books.  But I’m not the first to tell you (or to discover) that the term has taken on new meaning beyond the middle-school age demo it was associated with when I was in high school and college. With the emergence of Harry Potter, Twilight and Gossip Girl, etc., that term has been stretched to actual young adults, and interesting enough, this group might be reading books. 

In my very infrequent forays into young adult work, there have been a few books I’ve been taken with. Those include TTYL and the Crank series, which tend to receive harsh comments offered by the actual demo those books are geared toward.

But I’m not reading it for the message. I’m reading it for the medium. Unlike their adult contemporaries, these YA books are more likely to assume experimental forms — like texts and IM conversations — to push forward their narrative. Their word usage, spacing and visual formatting constructs a different reading experience that is less intensive–but no less intense–than the stories linear texts would give.

In other words, the book is doing something else, telling stories in much the same way that movies would. We can “read” faces and scenery to understand meaning without dialogue or narration telling us.

Using these narrative techniques outside of film has been around for awhile — comics and video games are the most obvious, but using the visual within books (or really literature) has not always taken off. But it is growing, as our dominant form of communication strays more towards the visual than just the written.

Now we’re to my newest YA find, Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral which comes out in February. This is a very elaborately designed book; carefully arranged and even acted by its two or three main characters to tell a story with a blend of cinematic images and collage. This is the story of piano prodigy Glory and her boyfriend Frank told through newspaper clippings, concert invitations, video stills, IM chats, memos, airplane tickets, maps and photos to tell of their struggles and desires–illustrated and designed by Corral’s. The story or script was done by McSweeney’s author Jessica Anthony, whose role shouldn’t be diminished just because there are few words; the time it took to storyboard this and come up with the various design elements makes the author something else–a creator and collaborator rather than just a writer.

There’s an app for it too that will give extras, live recordings, etc. to have it “live” beyond its pages and become the Chopsticks story, rather than just the Chopsticks book.

Chopsticks is a “graphic novel” — but in no way is it drawn. Instead it is a story told in a way that many other books should copy, even books for us adults.

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