As increasing numbers of adults read literature ostensibly written for and marketed to teenagers, the distinction between adult and young adult literature (especially older YA) grows ever blurrier. Maine bookseller Kenny Brechner recently raised this question to share with our readers at ShelfTalker. Both he and we invite you to weigh in on what, exactly, IS young adult literature.
That something is difficult to define, that its boundaries are elusive, is no reflection on its importance or integrity. We can all agree that adolescence and love are real and important, but where do they begin and end? This is true of Young Adult literature. Many of us see a book at times marketed as Young Adult but feel certain that it is not YA at all but rather it is Adult fiction, and vice versa. Other books hover between. Some works of Meg Rosoff, Marcus Zusak, and John Connolly offer ready examples. If we agree that the integrity of Young Adult as a genre has real value to readers of all ages, to parents, educators, librarians and booksellers, then perhaps we should have a stab at making a definition that really gets at the core of things.
There are of course many elements which a good definition would include – authorial intent regarding audience, pacing, content, perspective, and tone, to name a few. There are also some principles that are clearly to be avoided as well. For example the idea that if teens read and like a book it is thereby Young Adult by definition. This is not sound thinking. If teens read On the Road or Naked Lunch, those books are not transformed into being YA any more than all the adults who read The Hunger Games made it Adult.
Are there rules and thresholds that incorporate the YA genre? Could a YA novel be fundamentally nihilistic, for example? Are there topics which, due to the limits of experience of its protagonists and primary readers, require degrees of emotional response within a certain scale?
And thus we come to it…
The Young Adult Literature Definition Contest
What you need to do
1. Post your definition below.
What you stand to win
1. Respect, admiration, and a deep sense of personal satisfaction. [EB adds: Not to mention, possible Wikipedia addition.]