Defining YA (Young Adult) fiction is not an easy task. So it’s interesting when writers, editors, librarians, teachers, parents, and readers try to fit it into a neat little category. There’s such a wide range of topics, writing styles, character arcs, and even readers themselves. In 2012, The Wire started a weekly series in which they discussed YA literature for adults. After some middle grade titles were included in the first installment of the series, readers commented on the post pointing out the misuse of the term “Young Adult.” As a result, Jen Doll explores the question What Does ‘Young Adult’ Mean? in her article of the same title. The truest part of the article is a quote from former YALSA president, Michael Cart: “The term ‘young adult literature’ is inherently amorphous, and for its constituent terms ‘young adult’ and ‘literature’ are dynamic, changing as culture and society – which provide their context – change.” There literally cannot be one solid, unchanging definition for YA literature. I’ve thought about how hard it is to think of a definition that encompasses all of YA fiction, but I think that it’s even harder to define YA literature because of its ever-changing nature.
The article addresses a number of issues in defining YA literature. From one librarian’s perspective, it’s important to have an age range simply for categorical reasons. Although I agree with the technical reasons for having to categorize YA as books for ages 12-18, I think there’s something to be said for books that are YA, yet can be marketed towards a much broader audience. Maybe for purposes of the library there should be an age range, but when marketing a YA book, sometimes it does well to try to target adults as well as teens. We see this in a book like The Book Thief. It’s considered an adult book in Australia, where it was originally published. Yet, in the United States, it’s categorized as Young Adult. Realistically, The Book Thief is a book for everyone from teens to older adults. So, as far as marketing, I think that it was a mistake that the publisher chose to categorize it as YA, when categorizing it as adult would make adult and teen readers pick it up. Of course, this touches on a much deeper issue in YA publishing. Why don’t adults take YA novels seriously? Maybe if they did, we wouldn’t have to worry about the reach of a book with a younger protagonist if it was categorized as YA.
Some of the people cited in the article talk about the trend that more and more adults are reading YA. I think this is true, but there’s still a stigma that exists that needs to be challenged. Many adults either look down upon reading YA books, or only value them for their nostalgia. Although Cart says YA literature of today “welcomes artistic innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking,” Doll closes her article with a bit saying, “There’s no stopping its [YA books’] nostalgic thrall for adults.” There’s an issue with saying that adults only read YA for the nostalgia of it. There are many YA books that teach important lessons and force one to discover new things about his or herself. Lessons and learning about oneself aren’t things that happen once in the teenage years and then never again. These are things that we, as people, go back to over and over. I can learn something new about myself from a twelve-year-old narrator, and I’m not ashamed of that. There are many reasons to read YA literature, and none of them should be frowned upon or limited to a specific age group.