So, I’m not a young adult. I haven’t been for a while now. What I am, though, is a fan of young adult fiction (which, by the way is NOT a genre).
Research tells us that many buyers and borrowers of YA do not, in fact, fit within that age bracket themselves. This is not, in itself, odd. Those who buy children’s fiction also tend not to be children – although they are more often buying it for children.
So what is it about YA that gives it broader appeal? And what, if it’s not a genre (it’s not) is YA?
I would argue that YA is often full of possibilities, that many of the most interesting premises and explorations are being allowed right now in YA. That because it is shelved as a block and not split into genres, although we do talk about YA Contemporary, YA Fantasy and so on, authors are often freer to blend and switch genres in a way that is often not permitted when writing for adults.
As for what makes it YA? Well, YA is, essentially a marketing category, and it seems to hinge on the age of the protagonist above all else. There have been academic discussions about coming-of-age, self-discovery, protest or rebellion, whether endings must always be hopeful, what the morality of YA is (or should be), but ultimately the age of the characters seems to matter more than anything else. However, looking at YA broadly (forgive me, this is a generalisation, and there are many exceptions), as a mature reader, I enjoy YA because it generally offers:
- tight writing
- big emotions
- high stakes
- varied representations and viewpoints on our world
- creativity in structure and presentation
I don’t have a strong preference for first person narrative, but I am aware that this is assumed to be the norm for YA (there is plenty of third person YA, just as it isn’t all either vampires or dystopias…).
So, as you can see, this is the reason I find it upsetting to see YA characterised as weak derivative writing. It’s really anything but! Usually those making such claims haven’t actually read any…