by Sherwood Smith
When is an adult book not an adult book? There have been various discussions around the topic of What-is-YA-and-what-is-not, including here.
The line blurs for some of us oldsters when books we were told as youth were reserved for adults now appear on reading lists for high schoolers, and even junior high students. Like To Kill A Mockingbird. I got scolded for reading that when I was in junior high, which made me disinclined to tell teachers what I was checking out of the library. But now it’s assigned reading for kids the same age I was.
The line can blur for writers as well as readers. A writer told me recently that her books, originally published as YA, are now considered middle grade.
The lid has pretty much come off Young Adult novels; when I was young, blue language and sex were taboo, though there was a certain amount of tension with the fact that many novels were (more or less covertly) about sexual discovery. Then the Problem Novels came along in the seventies, and rough subjects were introduced, almost always with dire consequences. The tone would be earnest, verging on preachy.
From there the tension between what writers, publishers, readers, and teens considered appropriate (or interesting!) grew, though one thing was constant: publishers kept the books to around sixty thousand words, maybe eighty. But J.K. Rowling shot that out of the water, and now we have long books for YA, sometimes full of what was once considered adult material, but the protagonists are more or less high-school aged kids.
Recently I listened to a panel discussion on the topic of YA. On this panel, someone claimed that YA has been reduced to the thinnest, most banal formula, thanks to the popularity of Urban Fantasy (or paranormal romance for young adults): the implausible worldbuilding in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games kicked off a series of YAs that can be summed up as “The government forbids X, so all teens must do Y.” That’s the background, and in the foreground you inevitably have two bad boys and a girl in the middle.
No, someone said, one’s a bad boy and one’s an angsty boy. One’s a vampire, the other an angel. No, one’s a werewolf and the other’s a sparkly vampire. No, one’s a fae prince, and the other a gang member . . . you get the idea.
I wondered if someone had heard third-hand about “Telophase”‘s random dystopia generator, or had read Rachel Manija’s Brown’s series of posts about YA organized dystopias (example here). The point is, young adults read these books because the pace zips along, and they aren’t reading for plausible worlds, they want romance, action, and angst.
I think YA literature is flourishing in a golden age. There are more subgenres than ever before, and lots of great stuff. But the stories are not aimed at adults.
Readers? Writers? How do you feel about writing for both adults and young adults–are there problems, especially with your web presence and blogs? What do you think about today’s YA novels?