Defining what it is that makes quality literature is one of the most elusive and disagreed upon issues in English/language arts. The fact is that differing tastes among readers make it difficult to pin down definitive characteristics that make a good book. The way this plays out across public school curriculums is that far too often young adults’ exposure to literature is limited only to the “classics,” with the purposeful exclusion of texts that might have a greater impact on them.
Before deciding what makes literature good, we must first decide on what the purpose of literature is. If the purpose of literature were to sell as many books as possible, then defining quality literature would be quite easy–did the book sell? This approach, however, is not the one the Printz Award Committee takes. The committee is looking for books that “do something unique to make them high-quality literature.” Though the qualifications for the Printz Awards are frustratingly vague, they need to be, because I believe that quality literature attempts something new. It’s something that looks at the human condition in a fresh way that interests readers and stays with them. Quality literature can take countless forms, so judges of an award like this must be open to surprise. Overly rigid definitions do not make sense because literature is not cut and dry.
That being said, there is value to a book’s popularity that the Printz awards disregard. If a book is widely-read, it is most likely widely-read for a reason. Especially when dealing with young adult literature, I think we run the risk of taking an elitist view of young adult literature if we don’t let the young adults have a say. If a book is popular and it speaks to a wide demographic of teens, then it is our responsibility as adults to take notice. Otherwise, we run the risk of being no different than our colleagues who refuse to read or teach anything but the purported classics.
I enjoyed reading Rot and Ruin, and do think that it possesses characteristics of quality literature. I usually am not a huge fan of books in the fantasy genre, but this had me engulfed in the story for the whole time. What made it interesting to me personally was though it took place in a fanciful world, it explored very human problems and relationships. For example, the first part of the book when Benny is looking for potential jobs is very easy for young adults to relate to. Also, Benny and Tom’s relationship is very interesting to me. The way that Benny, at first, blames Tom for the death of their parents but as the story progresses, learns the truth about the way he’s different from most bounty hunters, shows a very human dynamic that young readers can readily relate to. The moral crisis that he faces as he learns more about what goes on in Rot and Ruin, though the details are fantasy, is a convincing and grabbing conflict. To me, connecting with today’s young adults is one the most important things that make quality Young Adult Literature. bookhenge