I hope you are having a lovely week so far and enjoying your current reads. Today I have my first discussion post in a while, and it touches on a subject that book bloggers have debated for some time – what constitutes a young adult novel.
The reason for this post is that recently I have come across books that are either categorised as young adult or are being pitched towards a young adult audience, when in my opinion it is not entirely accurate. Of course, people of various age groups can enjoy YA fiction and I for one will continue to do so for many years to come, but I feel that some publishers miss a trick by not aiming certain books towards a wider demographic.
So first of all, let me go through some of the things that I would expect from a typical young adult novel:
- Fast paced plot;
- Engaging writing that is relatively easy to read;
- Characters in their mid to late teens or early twenties;
- Relevant, powerful topics explored in depth, but not too heavy or unsettling;
- Romance sub-plots;
- Diverse representation.
These characteristics are what sets YA apart from adult fiction, and while there are numerous examples that fall squarely into the YA category and nowhere else, my opinion is that there are lot of books that are aimed at young adults that many older ages groups would enjoy.
Take the example of young adult mysteries and thrillers. Some of these are more gripping and enthralling than several of their adult counterparts, often adding a bit more originality into the bargain. The stakes are high and there are just as many twists and turns. For me, A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder is one of the best mysteries I have ever read – adult or young adult.
Why does the fact that the characters are teenagers or young adults mean that older people cannot read those books? Does a book with a high school or college setting have to be read by young adults and nobody else who is over a certain age? It is perfectly fine that these books are marketed primarily towards young adults, but I personally feel that excluding them from other audiences are causing older readers to miss out on some absolute gems – simply because they are made to believe that these books are not for them.
This can also create misconceptions, and that brings me on to my next example. The two books that make up These Violent Delights duology by Chloe Gong, have become my all-time favourites. I absolutely adored them both, and when I read them there was little doubt in my mind that they should be classed as historical fiction with an element of fantasy. However, it surprised me to see that several people were describing it as YA.
Sure, it contains a couple of the characteristics that I mentioned earlier in the post, but otherwise I think to categorise this duology as YA is both inaccurate and misleading. This notion may come from the fact that the protagonists are in their late teens, the majority of its readers are young adults, and the author is a young adult herself. However, if These Violent Delights was also marketed towards some older readers – perhaps even in their thirties or forties – then there is every chance it would be popular among those age groups as well.
On closer inspection, the plot and the narrative of These Violent Delights contains much greater depth than you would usually find in an average YA novel. The settings and descriptions are brought to life with a literary flair that many authors of adult novels would not be able to accomplish, while the pacing is actually quite slow – a fact more than made up for by the sheer intensity of the writing and the characters.
Indeed, many other young adult fantasy series are relatively slow-paced, but are categorised as such because of the age of the characters and some of the tropes that are used. The Six Of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo and The Gilded Wolves trilogy by Roshani Chokshi hardly move along at a breakneck speed, but the characters are all in their late teens/early twenties, so it is immediately assumed they will only appeal to young adults. Or that is what it feels like, anyway.
Then we have the opposite end of the spectrum – books that are marketed as young adult which are arguably not appropriate for that age range as they either explore sensitive topics in too much unsettling detail, or contain more explicit material than you might expect.
I recently read Man Down by James Goodhand (review coming up this weekend!) and ended it feeling slightly shocked that it could be classed as YA. The main character is a teenage boy and although it does deal with a very important and relevant topic, some of it is pretty explicit and the list of content warnings is as long as my arm.
It may be difficult to truly define what a young adult novel should be and what criteria that would be measured by, although I do feel that there are a number of books that are miscategorised or have not been exposed to the wider audience they deserve. I am convinced that many of the books you see on the YA section at bookstores can be enjoyed by older readers. They just need to marketed in the correct way.
Do you agree with my thoughts? No problem if your opinion is a lot different to mine! How would you define a YA novel? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading 🙂