How do you define young adult fiction (generally referred to simply as YA)?
It’s a question I’ve been mulling over in recent weeks as I’ve alternated between YA and general novels.
The formal definition (i.e. from Wikipedia) is that YA is "written for, published for, or marketed to adolescents, roughly between the ages of 12 and 18". The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character. Stories generally tackle themes relevant for a young adult audience (usually with a “coming of age” theme), told by a narrator in the same age group.
But YA is not, of itself, a neatly packaged genre. Books that sit on YA shelves can be fantasy, horror, science fiction, literature, romance, thriller, mystery ... or any other style. These days, YA books are also increasingly edgy.
They can be highly sophisticated in their storytelling (like Meg Rossof’s novels), so it’s not fair to say YA is generally less complex in nature. In fact, you’re likely to find some pretty heavy, and often controversial, subject matter (suicide, incest, isolation, cultural clash etc.).
And then there are those so-called YA books that transcend age–specific markets, like Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling (Rowling, in fact, is still often called a children's author, despite the fact children probably make up less than half her global market).
I recently read the first of a paranormal series by Kelley Armstrong (The Summoning). It was an easy read, plot-driven and concerned with issues relevant to teenagers. Every character of significance is a teenager. It's YA, and makes no pretence at being anything else.
Randa Abdel-Fattah's brilliant debut novel Does my head look big in this? is undeniably YA, and yet I know I’m not the only woman over the target age group who enjoyed this story.
Markus Zusak wrote four novels that comfortably fit on the YA shelf: Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolf, When Dogs Cry, and The Messenger. His fourth – and most renowned – The Book Thief, has also been categorised as YA, because it features a young protagonist (even though the narrator is actually Death). And yet, the latter is no more a YA novel than Aryn Kyle’s The God of Animals or David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which each have young narrators but deal with concepts far beyond the life experience of those characters.(The same can be said about some so-called children’s novels, such as John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.)
So, I wonder how publishers and book stores (and, for that matter, writers) determine what is YA and what is general fiction, when the lines are so blurred in the marketplace.
I’ve read quite a bit of YA in the last couple of years, sometimes intentionally, other times because I simply didn’t realise the book I’d picked up had been categorised as such. (Some of the most innovative and exciting storytelling is happening in this “genre”.)
But does the classification of YA put readers off picking up books that sit in a different part of the book store than their usual choices?
So, this week’s question: do you read YA? If not, is this a conscious decision? If yes, what have been your favourite reads?