Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What is a Young Adult Novel?

I'm celebrating my 6th anniversary today, so that has to show my age a little bit, right? (It wasn't a "shotgun wedding.") Growing up, young adult was not the place an author wanted to be. Sure, a few of them did well. I remember drooling over copies of Judy Blume novels as well as a few by Cynthia Voight and Christopher Pike during the summer. Of course, it was clear there would always be a place for Lois Lowry, YA or otherwise.

So, when Carolyn Mackler spoke at the SCBWI Winter Conference in 2008 and said described YA as "hot," it took a while for my brain to process the cognitive dissonance. Then, I noticed a little book called The Hunger Games floating around on my friends' Goodreads pages. Shortly thereafter, all these other books started appearing in the Teen or Young Adult section that never would have shown their covers there. I mean, these were real books by real authors. My husband was stunned when he saw
Ender's Game in the Teen section at Barnes & Noble. He read it as a teenager, and obviously was too cool to read anything labeled "Teen" or "YA" at that point. Then, Ender's Game was in the Adult section of the bookstore.

How do you know if a book is or isn't YA? Victoria Hanley in
Wild Ink: How to Write Fiction for Young Adults mentions that the age of the protagonist is a clue as well as the intended audience. Okay, but with YA, the protagonist is anywhere from 13 to about 21 years old. The audience? 14 and up. Talk about vague.

You might be thinking, "Yeah, right, but most of the real YA protagonists or 16 at the oldest---maybe 17."

What about Ed Kennedy in
I am the Messenger? He's 19 and has his own apartment and a full time job. You might say, "Okay, but Markus Zusak is Australian." What's that supposed to mean? The Aussies don't know any better?

My take: Young Adult/Teen fiction is going through major changes and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes-out in a few years. Meanwhile, obsessing about what is or isn't YA is just another excuse to avoid writing.