I’m Y.A. and I’m O.K.

July 20, 2008 at 10:11 am (General, Young Adult)

There’s an article in the NY Times today called “I’m Y.A. and I’m O.K.” talking about the hazards of having a book labeled as Young Adult. As many of you know, I write YA reviews for the Paperspine blog. I sometimes have a difficult time deciding what is and what is not YA fiction. Some books that are considered YA, I read it and think “That was only YA if you’re thinking of ‘young’ adults as in an adult who is younger, like 18 – 22 or something.” Some “adult fiction” I wonder “Wait… why wasn’t this listed as YA?” Authors are afraid to be listed as YA because it hurts sales but, as mentioned in the NY Times article:

Many adults don’t realize how much the Y.A. genre has changed since their days of reading teenage romances and formulaic novels. “A lot of people have no idea that right now Y.A. is the Garden of Eden of literature,” said Sherman Alexie, whose first Y.A. novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” won the National Book Award for young people’s literature last year. Even the prestige of that award didn’t make him impervious to the stigma. “Some acquaintances felt I was dumbing down,” Alexie said in a phone interview. “One person asked me, ‘Wouldn’t you have rather won the National Book Award for an adult, serious work?’ I thought I’d been condescended to as an Indian — that was nothing compared to the condescension for writing Y.A.”

I have to say that some of the BEST books I’ve read have been YA books. In fact, some of the more popular books amongst book bloggers – and even non-book-blogging adults are YA – see also the Harry Potter books, the Twilight books, even The Book Thief.

I understand why they separate these books out as YA… sort of. But, it does sometimes make for a frustrating experience when I’m looking for a book – on two counts, actually. The first frustration is trying to figure out where my book might be. These things aren’t really “advertised” as young adult, so sometimes I’m in the “adult” section, get frustrated, go to some sort of “help desk” only to be told that the book is YA. The second frustration comes from the fact that, in a bookstore, I am a browser. I want all my fiction books to be in one place. Apparently, I’m an anomaly because most bookstores and libraries are set up with “romance” sections, “sci-fi” sections, “mystery” sections, and, yes, “young adult” sections. Very frustrating.

But, mostly, I’m curious about why there’s such a negative perception STILL about YA? And how do you define what IS and what ISN’T YA?



  1. Suey said,

    I don’t know… but I do know that YA books are some of the best that I read these days. I love ’em.

  2. I’m YA and I’m OK | My Redhead Girl said,

    […] The rest is here: I’m YA and I’m OK […]

  3. Megan said,

    Some of the best books I read these days are YA, too. I started reading YA again a couple of years ago, and I’m sure glad I did or I would have missed out on a lot. There’s certainly a very thin line between young adult and adult fiction in terms of quality and subject matter (with YA even edging out the “grown up” books in quality from time to time!), and I, for one, am happy to cross it and read whatever is *good*.

  4. Rebecca Reid said,

    Interesting questions because I really don’t understand the need for “YA literature.” I’m no longer a teen, of course, and I guess when I was a teen I was reading a balance of “kids” books and “adult” books. But I don’t know where the YA classification comes in, really I don’t. By high school (age 15 or so), I don’t think there were many more of those “kids” books in my reading pile.

    First, I don’t understand why The Book Thief was YA, so I guess that starts my questions as to why there should be a separate “genre.” Yes, the main character in The Book Thief was young, but the issues were advanced and serious and the language was pretty bad (in my opinion). If we expect 13-year-olds to be reading that, why classify it as YA? Why not just expect 13 year olds to read “adult” books? I’m fine with that. I just don’t like calling it a kids book: I think the reading level and subject matter is “adult.”

    I guess that, for me, it does seem like “dumbing down” a book to lower a classification to an age or grade. My first thought was that by the time a teenager is looking for books to read, their reading level is about the same as adults. I think we should trust teenagers to find books they want to read without having to have a separate genre. There is no reason that teenagers can’t read most books. I’m with you: why separately classify mystery from romance from “literature” (a popular category at the Australian bookstores near me. What does that actually mean? Fiction? Why not label it “Fiction”?).

    That said, I come to a question: Is YA literature determined by reading level? Books like The Giver are very low reading level but advanced concepts. Despite the low reading level, I think it is a great and important book for adults too. But it’s approachable by low level readers. Maybe that is what YA literature should be?

    When I found out (after reading it) that The Book Thief was considered YA–and won awards for being for youth–I was shocked. In fact, it was written and first published (in Australia) for adults, and only when it went to the USA was it reclassified YA.

    I don’t have answers to your questions: only further questions. It’s an interesting discussion, and something I’m more interested since reading The Book Thief

  5. bethfehlbaum said,

    FANTASTIC POST! Here-here! Bravo! AMEN!

    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
    Chapter 1 is online!

  6. Trish said,

    Imagine my confusion when I was looking for a book the other day and the guy asked if it was in the YA section or teenage section?!?! Apparently for their particular bookstore YA is early teens–7th and 8th grade. Come on people–can’t we get it together and make it a little easier???

  7. C.B. James said,

    YA or adult? It’s all a question of marketing, according to the article. The publisher tries to guess how to sell the most books and that makes it YA or not.

    Interesting article and and interesting post about it.

  8. Liviania said,

    I’ve always loved YA. I think part of the trouble is it is a fairly new classification. It can cover anywhere from 12-20 year olds as a targeted audience easily. That’s a range where people are undergoing significant changes and like quite a bit of different stuff.

    Hopefully there will be less derision in the future . . . of course, romance has been struggling with that for hundreds of years.

  9. Karen said,

    Great questions. Ones I’ve often pondered myself. And I’m with Rebecca–I was shocked that The Book Thief was considered YA.

    WHY do they have to have these limiting tags? I suspect it’s all marketing’s fault!

  10. alisonwonderland said,

    i’m visiting from the Bookworms Carnival. you raise some interesting questions!

  11. alisonwonderland said,

    p.s. my book blog is at http://books4alison.blogspot.com.

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