Ugh, who are these people? And where are they? I'm lucky to never have to meet them, ever ever EVER. I hear about them second-hand (from friends who've done MFA programs mostly), and I read about them in articles like this**. I'm talking about the people who apparently think good books should not be published for teenagers, but only for adults.
I mean, as soon as a YA book is considered "good," they think it should be tagged for adults and rescued from "the ghetto" to be shelved in general fiction. So, teens should only get the dregs, the stuff that doesn't "cut it" for adults? Isn't that what this attitude implies?
This discussion of "What is YA?" is getting so old to me. Why define it to death? Young adult books are books of interest to young adults. Duh. That generally means the characters are of a relatable age. It does not mean they are books for slightly dumb, not-fully-formed human beings with smaller vocabularies than adults. The subject matter is vast, and transcend all genre borders. Is it the books themselves that are either YA or adult, or is it only the marketing that divides them? I think the answer to that is: depends on the book.
Some classic books are now shelved in YA that were once in general fiction or general sci-fi/fantasy. You hear this often said of Ender's Game, or The Catcher in the Rye. There are those out there who cry foul to see these books shelved in YA. To which I say: whatever those authors may have intended, those books are YA all the way. Which is not to say adults shouldn't read them too, but only to say: they should be put where teens can find them, because teens will like them, and we should do everything we can to put books in their hands. They are more important than adults.
Many (most?) YA books, though, are written with a teen audience in mind. Many (most?) authors of these books are happy to sell these books to youth imprints and have them shelved in the YA section. I have no patience for authors who are offended when their books "only" sell to youth publishers and are marketed to teens. I ask you: why write about young characters at all if you despise young people so much as to suggest they're not good enough to read your book?
I know, I know. The argument isn't that teens aren't good enough, it's just that these authors want grown-up validation. They want teen and adult readers both, and adults, en masse, still haven't got the courage to shop in the YA section. So they'd rather the books be shelved with the grown-up, serious works, and any teen who is worthy of reading them will be browsing there anyway, and then these writers can have their literary cake and eat it too, and their MFA friends will not cast them pitying looks. Oh, dear god. I really think that if you don't intuitively feel the tremendous value of writing books for this very important segment of our population, you should not write books that risk getting confused for YA. Write about old grumpy middle-aged academic couples with marital problems. Write about adult children of screwed-up families who have to go home and care for mean elderly parents with dementia. You can have that. Teenagers won't bother you there.
Teens are an audience any writer would be lucky to get. Kids too. Kids and teens aren't going to pretend to like your books because the lit-snob aristoi tell them they should. You have to earn them. And if you do, you will have earned readers who will write you wonderful emails, read your book ten times and tell their friends to read them too, create art about your books, dress up as your characters for Halloween, sneak under the covers with a flashlight to stay up late reading. You will have earned readers who will be transformed, and who will tell you so. If you don't want them, you really really don't deserve them.
Lately, something weird has been happening in the sci-fi/fantasy world, and that's this: YA books have been winning major awards, or at the very least being shortlisted for them. Not awards set aside for YA, but the big awards: the Nebula, the Locus Award, etc. There is some disgruntlement about this (again, I ask, who are you people?), which the writer John Scalzi answers in his typical brilliant way:
"Yes, how horrible it is that some of what’s being hailed as the best science fiction and fantasy written today is in a literary category designed to encourage millions of young people to read for the rest of their natural lives. Because God knows the last thing science fiction and fantasy publishing needs right now is whole generation of new and enthusiastic readers who might actually get hooked into the genre until they die. It’s a goddamn tragedy, it is."
Yeah, what he said.
I want to add, it's the adults who need to get over themselves and read good books regardless of what shelf they're on at the bookstore, rather than making books of interest to teens harder for teens to find. Quit making this about adults. Young readers are vastly important and we should be doing everything-everything-everything to get them reading and keep them reading. Worry less about adults: create readers young and the rest will take care of itself.
There. The end. Sheesh.
[**Updated to clarify: I found the article I linked to above to be a really thoughtful and balanced piece. Please do not think my impatience with authors who disrespect YA was targeted at the author of that article. Not at all. After reading that piece (which I had read when it was new, and came upon again today in some other chain of links on the subject), I felt that the author in question -- Margo Rabb -- did respect and embrace the classification of YA. I included that link because I think it still sums up the *debate* really well. Thanks, Margo! Oh, and this interview she did with Markus Zusak is on topic and quite interesting.]