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Monday, May 11, 2009

Reader Question: What's the difference between YA and Adult Fiction?

Mulluane indirectly asked me this question via Twitter by pointing me to this post on the subject (you can find Mulluane on Twitter here and me here).

This is one of those oft-asked questions in the publishing world and, to be honest, I'm not sure why it's such a difficult one to grasp. As with any genre, YA has exceptions and oddities that are not so easily defined, but the basic definition is almost always the same: YA is fiction marketed at young adults that typically features young adults as the primary characters. Beyond that, there really isn't any clear difference between the two genres, except, perhaps, that YA has a tendency to contain more bizarre fiction series within its walls.

The thing about YA is that it often gets misinterpreted as a genre that must appeal to a particularly young age. People make the assumption that a YA book shouldn't deal with what they perceive to be adults topics such as sex, drugs, etc. But it doesn't take a genius to realize that not only are teenagers and even middle school-aged kids talking about all these "adult" subjects today, they've been talking about them in previous generations too. This subject has been in the teenage sphere for decades, with traceable origins at least to the sixties, and likely even further back. It's not like our teenagers are wholly innocent anymore; they are just as interested and concerned with "adult" subjects as adults are. So, it seems fitting that a genre that is meant to appeal to them would contain topics that they are already discussing and already trying to understand. And if they have to get their knowledge from somewhere, better a book than a parent who is unwilling to discuss these things--I believe that parents have largely got what they deserve in their kids today by not being active enough in their lives to even understand what the teen struggle is like now.

That said, there is plenty of silliness in the genre, as characterized by many of the quirky fantasy series that permeate the shelves. That's okay too. There's no reason why a genre cannot have its silly moments. Obert Skye is to YA what Terry Pratchett is to Fantasy. But at the end of the day, YA isn't about a particular subject so much as a particular marketing element; it is not a juncture between middle grade fiction and adult, nor is it a depository for pointless fictional drivel. It is a serious genre that deserves credibility just as science fiction or fantasy do, and the fact that it is still under appreciated for what it provides society is disturbing at best.

And that's that!

If you have a question you'd like to see answered, feel free to leave it as a comment or send it to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com. The questions need not be serious ones; silly questions are welcome!

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  1. Good question, I wish they would put ratings on YA like they do for movies: PG 13 contains, mild violence, sex implied, etc. The reason I wish they would do this, so parents that don't read much can make an informed decision on whether they buy a book for their child.

    I for one, have always been actively involved my son's and step-daughter's reading but I know there are a lot of parents out there who don't. I recently found out that my 12 year old step-daughter's mom has been buying her inappropriate books because she wasn't aware nor did she take the time to find what was in the books. The step-daughter was hiding these books from me because she knew I would know what was in those books and she would get in trouble. Needless to say her mom now knows.

    You said kids will be curious about adult subject matter, and I get that but they can stay curious until it is appropriate or they are mature enough to handle the subject matter is my opinion.

    Okay, don't mean to rant but this is why a rating system for books similar to movies would be good.

  2. My problem with putting ratings on YA books is that because the audience is already a group that is dealing with sex, violence, drugs, and PG 13 things, it's really rather pointless. YA generally tries to be tasteful about the sorts of "adult" themes it uses, and is rarely about the shock rather than the actual experience. So, to put a rating on it is really sort of ridiculous when these kids are already living in a world that is practically as adult as it gets...and they are well aware of that fact.

    I know you're a parent, but you'd be surprised what your child already knows about the world at 12. She won't know everything, and she'll have a lot of questions (which is part of the teenager experience), but likely what you think you're trying to protect her from she already knows a great deal about and is probably being discussed in school at length.

    That's not to say that you shouldn't be active in a child's life. It's simply a matter of reality that teenagers and even tweens are aware of the things like sex, drugs, etc. at an early age and hiding them from it isn't going to help them. The best solution is not to hide the subjects from them, but to educate them and help them to understand it and make the right choices. Sheltering kids never works; it creates more problems than it solves because you can't shelter other people's children and you can't protect your child from everything everywhere. They will experience sex, drugs, and all the "adult" things at school, in town, at a friend's house, etc. If they're going to be exposed to those things anyway, wouldn't it be a good idea to educate them rather than keep them from it? Great educational tools happen to be books, which can show kids some of the realities that they otherwise might not receive from elsewhere (particularly school).

    Obviously, you should be careful what books your kids read. If a YA book is about how awesome it is to be a coke addict, then that's probably not a good book to have a tween read. But if the book chronicles a teenager's struggles with drug addiction, then that's a good book they should read because it can show them things they might not get in the real world unless they know someone or experience it themselves...

  3. I understand I can't protect from everything and I do know what goes on in the schools and I'm absolutely aware of what kids are exposed to now a days to point I regularly get shocked. Plus, I'm not so old, that I don't remember my teen years. ;)

    I guess what it all boils down to there is no catch-all system, no sure way to know what your child is reading unless you are willing to read every book your child reads before they do. That is not a really solution either, is it? This topic could probably be debated to death without ever finding a real solid solution.

  4. I get the impulse. I really do. I'd want to have control of what my children read too. Probably your safest bet would be to go with a fairly open-minded school library acceptable reading list. Typically that allows for some controversial books kids should read. Like, I don't see a problem with a teenager reading Mein Kampf, only because it's not, in and of itself, a book that must be read, but a book that might be worth reading to amplify one's historical understanding of WW2 and the preceding events.

    But again, we're dealing primarily with an age group here: YA = tween-teen, typically. These kids really aren't in need of censorship. I know we want to stop them from reading stuff that we don't like, but why? Whether they learn it from a book or from school, they're going to learn about it. You can't watch then 24/7. You can't stand behind them on the Internet, or follow them to a friend's house, or read every book they want to read before they do. These things are ridiculous and will be damaging to a child's psyche (we know, because we can see it happen to a lot of kids in the world).

    You can keep them away from the stuff they're not allowed to see until they are adults (pornography, alcohol, smoking, drugs), and the best way to do that is to make sure they understand the consequences and the reality of things. I mean, good lord, kids can get the Anarchist Cookbook online for active in their life, but, you know, let them learn things while they're at it :P.

  5. I was never restricted to what I read and I don't believe that children should be subjected to reading books under their level of understanding. Ratings are for parents to feel good IMHO.

  6. That's one way of looking at it for sure.