Is it time to rethink the way we categorize Young Adult fiction?
The discussion of adult themes in young adult fiction (YA) is a hot topic now. I’ve read comments from parents concerned over the direction YA is taking and I’ve read rebuttals from teenagers claiming that they see worse content walking the halls of high school everyday. Naturally, I can only weigh-in from my point-of-view and I am in neither of those positions.
I’m 28. I clearly put the “adult” in young adult. So why do I read young adult fiction? Because I like it. Simple enough.
Let’s start with the fact that “Young Adult” isn’t technically a genre in the same way of Fantasy or Romance, but an age group that spans multiple genres. That’s why it is usually coupled with another genre term like YA Fantasy or YA Contemporary. According to Goodreads, YA encompasses anything that is “written for, publish for, or marketed to” those between the ages of 13 and 18. Wikipedia even says 12 to 18.
Anyone who has ever experienced the ages between 13 and 18 knows that a lot happens during those years. To an 18-year-old, someone aged 13 is still a child and worlds away from their maturity level (I’m generalizing). Yet, a book written to be marketed as YA can target the 13-year-old just as much as the 18-year-old. I’m not a parent, but that doesn’t sit well with me.
I’m not outraged, but I do think there is something lacking in the way we define the YA category. If we were talking movies, YA would probably be considered PG-13. Yet, it doesn’t seem like YA literature is held to the same types of “guidelines” that a PG-13 movie is (only saying the f-word once, etc). Hear me out: I am not advocating for more censorship. Instead, I’m proposing that we rethink the way YA books are seen and therefore marketed to the public.
- A parent walks into a bookstore with a 14-year-old child/teen. The parent assumes that because they are in the Young Adult section, everything there is “appropriate” for their offspring to consume.
- A parent walks into a bookstore with a 14-year-old child/teen. The parent insists on reading whatever the child picks out prior to their child’s eyes being laid upon it.
I’m not making judgments in either of these cases because a) I’m not parent and b) everyone has a different idea of what “appropriate” means. But these are the situations parents and guardians are faced with due to lack of clarity within the meaning “Young Adult”. Although I can’t find it now, I’ve even seen YA categorized as any type of literature where the main characters (not the readers) fall between the ages of 13 and 18. Excuse me, but that has a very different meaning.
Because there is generally such a vast difference between 13 and 18-year-olds, shouldn’t there be a better way to market to them, rather than lumping them all into one category?
I’ve seen the terms “Upper YA” and “Lower YA” tossed around informally (and infrequently). My question is: Why aren’t we making better use of them? At the very least, “Upper YA” could be used to signify that adult themes are present. The terms couldn’t be used as restrictions, obviously, but more like guidelines, similar to the way of movie ratings. Maturity levels are also important factors to consider, as chronological age definitely does not guarantee a certain level of maturity.
I’m sure this distinction would help parents and guardians better discriminate between what is “appropriate” by making them aware of the type of content within a book, without them having to actually read it (unless they want to, of course). Selfishly, it would also make my own experiences with YA a little easier to navigate. I find that many YA books are far below my maturity own level and I prefer sticking to “Upper YA”. The trouble is, I don’t know if something is “Upper YA” until I’m a good bit into it.
This solution seems so simple that I can’t fathom why it hasn’t been employed. It could have something to do with money/marketing. I’m not in the publishing industry, so I can’t say for sure and I’m definitely not trying to oversimplify a complex issue. But even as reviewers, we have a certain amount of say in how potential readers/listeners view books. I’m going to start using the terms “Upper YA” and “Lower YA” in my reviews to give readers a better idea of where I think books land on the YA spectrum.
Who knows, maybe it will catch on! ♣︎