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Young Adult – fiction or literature?

Written by Kirsten on September 27th, 2010

I’ve had some great conversations about what makes a book YA versus adult fiction, and whether YA titles can be considered “literature” or if only books geared toward adults can achieve that level of writing. So, two questions –

What makes a book “Young Adult” to you? Is it the age of the protagonist? The writing style? The reading level? The cover art? (okay, that may be silly, but still – we’ve had misleading CD covers come into AudioFile and they’d be miscategorized one way or another if we didn’t check out the product details!)

Do you think books aimed at a young adult audience can qualify as “literature?” What about books that aren’t intended for YA consumption, but become “YA” because they find an audience there? Examples to go with your answers?


4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Some books intended for young readers have become literary classics. The prime examples are “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.” I think another candidate is the Harry Potter series because of strength of characterization, themes, and intertextuality. Any sytlistic weaknesses are purely intentional in my view. Some of Madeleine L’Engle’s works resonate strongly with adults and are works of literary value, especially “A Swiftly Tilting Planet.”

    Many teens love Ray Bradbury, who is definitely literary.

    What gives a book literary value is writer’s voice, important themes, and characters we all believe in. They have originality and style even though the author was striving for neither.

    My current series only aspires to tell a story I feel compelled to tell. Whether it is literary my readers will decide.

    Please visit my blog and leave a comment. Thanks!

    • Kirsten says:

      Thanks for stopping by, David :) I don’t know that I agree that authors intentionally weaken their style – do you think that’s in order to make their work accessible to a younger audience? What motivation would an author have for making that choice? I’m very interested to hear you elaborate on that, as it’s a point of view I’ve never heard before.

      Good luck with your work!

  2. Dogearedcopy says:

    What makes a true YA book? One in which the protag reflects the concerns, issues and angst of the YA reader. One of the more famous/notorious books that illustrate this are the Twilight Saga books by Stephanie Meyer. She hit on the extreme intensity of teen life: The drama of “now” and all the attendant risks of emotionally gambling all of one’s self. Winner gets a destiny. Loser gets a fate. But would I consider her literary? NO.

    Are ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS considered YA books? Hmm, I might be more inclined to view them as a Children’s books in their time because they were written for a child; but even more inclined to view them as Classics. I’m not so sure that today’s YA readers really resonate with Alice’s conundrums. It seems the novelty of the imagery captures the attention more than anything else.

    Literary books can become YA books using the idea of reader identification with the protag. The most notable example I can think of is J.D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. I think MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides is another book heading that way as well, as certain high school readers become the early adopters of that book.

    One of the oddities in this genre is I book I’ve seen mentioned in the twitter stream (hah! you didn’t think I was paying attention, but I was!) is THE BOOK THIEF (by Marcus Zusak.) This was a book written for adults in its native Australia. The print publisher in the U.S. decided to re-designate it as a YA title. It was a marketing decision that seems to have paid off, much to the author’s chagrin.

    Last October, I participated in a mini-reading challenge, “DystopYA.” The challenge was to read four titles in the the category of Young Adult dystopian fiction. I read The Giver Trilogy (by Lois Lowry,) HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE (by Suzanne Collins) and THE MAZE RUNER (by James Dashner.) Since then I have also read UGLIES and PRETTIES (by Scott Westerfield.) I would say the The Giver Trilogy was the most literary of the lot, with true style and originality. Of the other offerings, though, I thought it was bit discouraging. The writing level was way below the targeted audience and none would be what I consider literary.

    • Kirsten says:

      “… they were written for a child; but even more inclined to view them as Classics.”
      So do you think that YA/MG and Classics are mutually exclusive genres? If not, how does a pub differentiate, as titles typically have to be assigned a single genre for categorization on sales sites?

      “The print publisher in the U.S. decided to re-designate [The Book Thief] as a YA title. It was a marketing decision that seems to have paid off, much to the author’s chagrin.”
      This is really interesting to me; I read up on Zuzak a bit when I first read The Book Thief, but didn’t see any of his commentary about genre delineation. It was post-US pub, but maybe it hadn’t yet come to light? Would be very interested in any links you can provide. While I do find authors’ takes illuminating, I occasionally find them to be more troublesome than helpful – case in point, CS Lewis’s feedback re: the order of the Narnia books. I’m a staunch supporter of the original pub order, despite Lewis’s acquiescence to the idea that chronological order may have been the better route.
      Re: The Giver, I read it a couple of years ago (for the first time) and thought it was incredible. Gathering Blue, however, dragged for me; I’ve not yet had the wherewithal to tackle The Messenger, though I own it.

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