Monday, July 21, 2008


Lycenion et Daphnis,
Jean Eugene Buland,
o/c, 1880.

I dislike this painting. I also dislike reading about adultery. Instant wall-banger. However, that's not my topic -- YA is.

Am feeling rather stupid -- not an unusual condition for me, I might add -- but I can't seen to get my mind around what YA is. Most definitions demand that the hero/ine begin (or remain) as a teen-ager and expressions like "coming of age" seem attached to the genre.

Looking over my collections of Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey (some of the Pern and Rowan books) Mercedes Lackey ( some of the Valdemar stories) and David Eddings (Belgariad) I can see that the term YA could certainly be applied -- though I don't believe it was when the novels were first introduced.
I wonder if my enjoyment of these stories indicates that I'm entering my second childhood or -- more likely -- I never matured beyond my first. And then I wonder if all those Harlequin romances involving nubile nineteen-year olds are also now classified as YA.

Possibly the category is like porn, ie. you know it when you see it; but, for the life of me, I can't see the point and purpose of the YA designation beyond a marketing fad.

Will novels with a hero/heroine beyond the teens now be surreptitiously described as OA, as in Old Adult?

One of Those Links That Are Helpful No Matter What You Write:

Oh DAMN, I forgot! Department:
Book Roast is sizzling all week.


December/Stacia said...

Funny, I've been thinking this exact same thing lately, and every time I think I've come up with a workable definition I realize it doesn't actually work.

Bernita said...

Funny how our minds often work in sinc, December!
Am curious because YA is apparently the "new black."

BernardL said...

In my search for clues before I wrote what I thought to be a YA novel, the parameters involved dealing with young adult issues: school, parents, first attractions, and falling victim to or resisting adult vices. The settings can be paranormal, sci-fi, real world, or nearly anything you can imagine. Since I haven't sold my YA novel, I could be wrong. :)

laughingwolf said...

i'm with you on both the 'adultery' and ya issues...

why not write the tale and let your agent, editor, or publisher decide?

Ric said...

What I find interesting is that any attempt to market your writing as "Boomer Lit" gets derailed by the very young editors and agents.
They have created YA because they have just experienced it. Send them something about dating in the 60's, and they can't understand it.

All of which I consider odd since we booomers are the ones who actually buy the majority of new books.

Bernita said...

Now that's probably the best description I've seen yet, Bernard.

Because, Laughingwolf, many agents/editors - because of their specialties - prefer(demand) that the writer, at first contact, identify the genre of his/her novel.

I have no interest in writing one, however.

Bernita said...

Ric, I find that rather peculiar too - especially with the hand-wringing statistics often put forward to support the claim that the younger generation doesn't "read."
Wonder if we'll see a sub-sub-sub genre called "historical YA!!"

Robyn said...

I've always thought YA was more about the age of the target audience than the age of the protags, but I think that's changing.

Adultery? Absolutely no way to make that palatable.

Wavemancali said...

I'm with you Bernita I hate the term.

I'm a voracious fantasy/sci-fi reader and there are several well written books in this genre that are in the YA section of the bookstores I haunt. I miss a lot of titles because I never think to go over there and heaven forbid the store stock the books in both sections.

Travis Erwin said...

My wife will not read any book or watch any movie where adultery is a primary theme.

Travis Erwin said...

And as far as YA I think it like some many labels are too limiting. I prefer the Dang Good Book Category.

spyscribbler said...

What an interesting link! Thanks!

YA fills the chick lit void, I think. Even adults read YA, because evidently it's perfectly fine to read YA, but god forbid anyone utter the term chick lit.

Bernita said...

There's a certain limited sense to that, Robyn -- though many kids read far beyond their "age" category. I liked Nancy Drew, for example,but I also liked Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolf.
Not in my book either.

Right, Wave, and when I'm reading the three I mentioned,(and there are many more) I don't think of myself as reading kids or teen-age stories.

Nor I, Travis.
Ubitiquous ageism, she snorted.

Bernita said...

If so, Natasha,and if it follows the chick lit career, they'll soon need a new term!

Dave F. said...

I have no idea what YA is anymore. You can't say YA lacks sex because of all the teen "angst" in dating and making out that they put in some of those novels. Nor can you say that YA lacks violence given what video games and action movies are made for 13 year old boys.

I do recognize a few differences. YA is not subtle. It wears its feelings, morality, social commentary on its sleeve for all to see. Literary Fiction is subtle. Adult literature is subtle. YA isn't.

To make matters worse, I run into things like the Movie version of Sweeny Todd is unsuitable for kids and teens. It's so real -- bloody real and dark. If you don't know, the movie version drops many of the songs and loses its humor.
BUT, the stage version can be seen by teens because it has all those comedy elements and no real blood. It's obviously fake blood. MacBeth is bloody that way.

I am at a loss. Teens should read everything and anything to learn what they like and what is good. At some point (like 16, 17, 18) there's no reason to hide adult life from them. Include the classics but keep reading. Think of how Romeo and Juliet those kids are (without the duels).

As for adultery, not for me. Life's too hard as is without that complication.

StarvingWriteNow said...

It probably started as a marketing fad, as you put it, but YA is growing by leaps and bounds. I've only read about a dozen or so YA books so far, but I find them refreshing--YA authors are pushing the envelope more, exploring beyond the standard "what if". I hope it continues.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think YA is essentially a marketing tool. It spans so many genres. I don't really pay much attention to the label because I love to read a lot of what is called YA myself.

cindy said...

b, it's not just you. the term is getting more amorphous by the day. since i like fantasy, and so many of its protags are teens, i thought i just wrote a fantasy book. but no, it was sold as YA. who knew?

anna karenina dealt with adultery, and it was one of my favorite books.

Bernita said...

"Teens should read everything and anything to learn what they like and what is good. At some point (like 16, 17, 18) there's no reason to hide adult life from them."

Right on, Dave! Thank you.

Beth, I think those stories have always been out there - just not so labeled.

Yes, Charles. Seems I've been reading it for years and didn't know it.

Cindy, I must admit I have never read Anna. A pompous tutor, appalled by my lack of literary sophistication clear up to his eyebrows, once told me I simply "must" -- so I didn't, and haven't, and won't.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I guess YA might depend on the age of the protags. I've upped mine to 21 for these reasons, but I'd love it if would cross generational barriers.

Gabriele C. said...

When I can't get into it, it's probably YA. :)

I can't see any coherence in the labelling of books YA or Not-YA, but I have found that if they are labeled YA I seldom enjoy them, so there must be something.

Bernita said...

"if would cross generational barriers."

The best stories do, SS!

Gabriele, I wonder if in some so labelled, the entire character list is predominately of the same age, cult and and culture.

ChrisEldin said...

I write middle grade (ages 8-12, roughly) and have understood that YA is ages 13,14 - 18. That's a big category. There's so much that makes a book YA. But generally speaking, children and teenagers like to read about characters who are older than they are. So a YA book can have characters who are 18 years old, and 15 year olds will grab it up.

The content is more graphic.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Chris.

Angie said...

YA books are marketed specifically for teens, but many are also appealing to adults. And just because a teen likes a book, that doesn't make it YA. It's like romance -- there are plenty of books which have significant romantic plots, but they're not all "Romance" books, as in genre.

I agree with Bernard about YA books dealing with the issues of growing up, figuring out who you are and how the adult world works, finding your place in it, deciding what's important to you, etc.

But as always, there are exceptions. The movie Empire of the Sun (starring a twelve-year-old Christian Bale, and well worth watching) is about someone in (or actually a bit below) the YA target audience, but it's definitely not a "YA" movie, nor was it marketed to teens. And Misty Lackey's books don't have "YA" on the cover, but they've been treated that way, and YA-ish restrictions have been imposed upon them by her publishers.

I think it's like any other genre, in that there's a well-beaten path down the middle, but occasionally something that's not actually YA will stray into the path, or something which seems to fit the requirements will wander off of it. The bottom line seems to be how and to whom you (and your publisher) want to market it.


Bernita said...

"figuring out who you are and how the adult world works, finding your place in it, deciding what's important to you, etc."

Very true and helpful, Angie. Your passage quoted above could still apply to hero/ines much older though!

Angie said...

Bernita -- oh, sure. [nod] But I think there's a fundamental difference between someone who's been around for, say, thirty or forty years and still hasn't figured things out, or someone who thought they knew how the world worked but then had something happen that blasted all their assumptions and left them floundering, versus someone with only a dozen or sixteen years of experience who's trying to figure it all out for the first time, with a necessarily limited data set. The feel is going to be different.

That and the fact that YA is a marketing category, and the target audience probably doesn't care about a forty-year-old protag trying to figure the world out. [wry smile]

Aaaand, it never hit me before, but a YA book probably shares a spooky number of similarities with a midlife crisis book, LOL!


laughingwolf said...

ok, but what if the genre i state is not compatible with THEIR criterion for said genre? :(

Steve Malley said...

YA was one of those 'Darwinian' marketing decisions: a clear niche existed in the marketplace, so books stepped in to fill it.

'Tweens' are big readers with utter contempt for 'baby stuff' (my day for the air quotes) and not a lot of patience for long boring passages about stuff they don't care about anyway.

Oh, and disposable income. They have lots of disposable income.

Only natural that publishers would step in by calling attention to (and later soliciting) titles with pacing, language and conflicts oriented to these young'uns.

And same as most 'adult' fiction lets us gr'ups imagine ourselves a little bit younger, more heroic, richer and better-looking, YA lets kids on the cusp of teenhood imagine themselves a little bit older and a bit more sophisticated, ready to take on all those godawful coming-of-age challenges.

And maybe save the world, too.

Steve Malley said...

And yes, Bernita, productive. Toi. :-)

Bernita said...

Couldn't help throw that in, Angie, because it applies to some extent to my 30 year-old heroine.
So it's probably not so much the age that makes YA YA but the age plus the natural likelyhood of the challenges the protags face, such as dating, schools, fitting in,first drunk, etc.

In that case, Lw,one may get a "not for us at this time" response from the less discriminating agents.
On the other hand, as Cindy pointed out, she called her novel a fantasy and they are marketing it as a YA.

Well put, Steve!

Non, non! A veritable tortoise!
~still laughing~

Angie said...

Bernita -- yes, exactly. [nodnod] There's more than one factor here, and trying to reduce it to only one factor is (as it so often happens) what's causeing the confusion.


Chumplet said...

I often wondered why the Pern series was considered YA. Sure, she was young, but so were many heroines (Scarlet O'Hara being one).

I often wonder where an agent will place my WIP - half teenage girl POV and half male adult POV. We shall see.

Lana Gramlich said...

I kind of understand the YA designation when I look at it from my library position, I think. It certainly makes it easier for us dealing with book clubs of various ages & such.

Bernita said...

Angie, some stories are more solidly YA than others, I suppose.

They might promote it as either or both then,Sandra. A good position to be in I think.

Clearly there are benefits to these slots, Lana, or they would not be sustained.

laughingwolf said...

looks like the final choice is theirs, anyway... as always

writtenwyrdd said...

I don't like reading about adultery either, fwiw.

I find it really annoying that things that were general reading are now considered YA. Narnia books for an example. Worse (and many folks don't know this) the publishers are issuing different versions for different age groups, adulterating and diluting the power of books.

For example, Philip Pullman's series was issued in "regular" and "unleaded" for adult, teen and children. Three versions, no way to know the difference! I say let the kids learn by not dumbing down the language; but you aren't going to tell publishers that. If you find it in the kid's section but it can be shelved elsewhere, it might be a dumbed down version.

As to what is YA and what isn't, seems like if there isn't explicit sex and the lead character is in his/her teens--it's YA. Because I've been thinking about this, too, lately. And the only hard-and-fast 'rule' I can see is the age and sexuality issues.

writtenwyrdd said...

BTW, how is the foot doing?

Demon Hunter said...

I hate categories. I've decided that I will write what I want, and allow others to categorize the work if that floats their boat, so to speak. :-)

Bernita said...

Yes, Lw, but they put up the money and take the risk, so they are entitled.

Written, it doesn't seem that the success of Harry Potter - that kids will read big - has sunk in at all.

Foot is much better. Am hardly limping at all now.

Ello said...

Oh don't say that about OA! I would hate to see some young things in publishing deciding that that is the next hot thing. Geriatric genre. I shudder. I hear you on this but I do wonder about this. I thought I had a middle grade novel but the level of violence in my book takes me to the YA level as does the age of the MC over 13. But the books you are talking about are clearly adult but can crossover right?

And I hate to disagree with wrytten but I have seen alot of contemporary YA with quite alot of sex in it. I find it bothersome but there it is. An acknowledgement that teenagers have sex.

Bernita said...

And thank you for asking, Written ( my wits have gone a-begging.)

Ello - "geriatric genre" !! and !!!.
Don't know whether to laugh or cry. And wonder if we'll see the slogan "Don't trust anyone over 20!"

Can't say I see anything wrong with sex in a story featuring a late teenager - if you can drink, drive and die for your country at that age...

Since it seems to be a hot new genre ( from reading writer's boards, a lot of people seems to be writing it at least), a lot of books otherwise marketed may find the term attached.

Bernita said...

Tyhitia, thought it very interesting to read that agents at BookEnds ( for one) might flog an MS to one editor as a paranormal mystery and to another romantic suspense or urban fantasy - so it would appear that they are entirely familiar with the difficulty presented by narrow categories.

writtenwyrdd said...

I have to say I haven't read tons of YA lately, although I regularly read it. Such A Pretty Girl, which is about child molestation's after effects on the protagonist, includes references to her having consensual sex; but it doesn't have a sex scene per se. That's what I mean by saying there's no explicit sex, Ello. I don't think you get explicit sex in YA books, although the reference is certainly there at times.

Is that what you meant, perhaps?

And the thank you was understood--and implied, I thought, too--Bernita. Glad you are hobbling along better than you were!

Shauna Roberts said...

With you on the adultery.

It's interesting that you named spec fic books as ones that cross age boundaries because I believe spec fic authors intentionally write for a wider age range of audience than authors in most genres. Also, may fantasy books consist of a quest in which the person discovers and develops their talents. People of all ages can relate to that, but it is especially pertinent to teens, who are finding themselves for the first time, and a young person is often the best protagonist to choose for such an adventure.

Barbara Martin said...

Old Adults will probably be my "cup of tea" from now on. Thanks Bernita.

As to what is considered YA books, I have read a few by G. P. Taylor and found these dark fantasies to be quite dark to where I wondered why young teenagers liked to read this. It's a bit like shock fiction to me. Then I must be ready for those Old Adult books now.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Interesting discussion. Like Chumplet, the manuscript I have just queried to agents has a 12-year-old girl and a 51-year-old man as protagonists. I described it as mainstream with YA elements. It has had 4 requests for partials so far but who knows what they make of its true genre.

Bernita said...

Actually, Shauna, I choose those particular authors because they are what I've been re-reading lately.There certainly is something in the fact that the basic function of a fantasy adventure makes them attractive to teen-agers.

Hee, Barbara, she said ruefully. Some dark stuff is interesting to any age - not for character identification precisely but as an exploration of what to avoid.

Suzanne, I think you've been very smart in your genre label!

SzélsőFa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SzélsőFa said...

I think Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintett is defined as YA, but I don't know the real meaning and importance of this category either.
I love those books and I'm not really a teenager.

And I'm with you on the painting, too.
Sorry, I've been away on the trip, and I'm catching up.

Bernita said...

Hope you had a restful and refreshing vacation, Szelsofa!