Sunday, July 13, 2008

Defining YA Fiction

What is your definition of young adult (YA) fiction? I define YA fiction as books written for ages 14 through 24 that might contain offensive language, sexual content, alcohol/drug abuse, and adult situations. Because 14-year-olds tend to be less mature readers than 23-year-olds, these books also vary as to the age within YA they market. For example, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson targets 12 to 16-year-olds while Feed by M.T. Anderson best serves 16 to 24-year-olds.

In Speak, Melinda Sordino commits the worst faux pas in all teenage history. She calls the cops at the last summer party just a week before school starts. Her freshman year is wrought with pain as friends abandon her, and the older high school students are mean. Adding to her misery, she has lost her voice and takes all the abuse quietly.

SPOILER! The reader learns Melinda is raped by a popular senior at the party and this is why she calls the cops. This realistic story contains language, sex, and substance abuse all hallmarks of the young adult category. By making the heroine 15, the author is attracting readers who are younger or the same age. It is unusual for a reader to gain interest in a main character that is younger than them. I call this the step into my shoes and walk around theory.

In Feed, Titus travels to the moon with his senior friends during Spring Break and finds the experience sucky. This is Violet's first visit to the moon, and she is in awe as she walks around observing other teens drink and be merry. Titus notices Violet's non-participation and he is intrigued. He follows her to the bar where she plays with a purple liquid in zero gravity, and he finds himself totally turned-on.

SPOILER! Titus and Violet fall in love, but are torn apart as Violet's feed begins to malfunction. The corporation refuses to fix her feed because she lacks purchasing power and thus her life slowly runs out. This science-fiction dystopia contains language, sex, substance abuse, and death. The author is marketing to a more cerebral young adult for there is a whole slang language readers will have to interpret in order to follow the story.

I use the word might in my definition of YA fiction because a book might also be free of any of the taboos. These taboo-frees are usually classics such as Little Woman and Moby Dick. They belong in the category because they contain polysyllable words and can be slightly harder to read and follow.

How do you define young adult fiction?


jmnlman said...

Feed is in my TBR pile. I'll have to dig it out.

____Maggie said...

Oh, it is so good and sad. I read it to hubby on the way to Nashville and back yesterday. We walked around calling each other unit and unette. :)

Deborah said...

It's on my list of YA books to read. We classify YA a little younger than 14 sometimes; I think we put some books in adult fiction that other libraries would put in YA. I think it depends on your demographic.

____Maggie said...

Do read Feed when you get the chance, Deborah. I was very impressed w/ the authors future, and it made me want to plant more than just one tree for Arbor Day. :) Oh, and I think college kids could really have a fun and meaningful discussion using the book.

So, your bottom age is lower and your top age is also lower, right? That makes good sense. You may have some older readers who won't touch a YA once they hit a certain perceived age b/c they want to be seen as adults. If your YA shelved in the children's area or next to the adult section might also make a difference.

Thanks for answering Deborah. :)

Jeane said...

I don't think I could call Moby Dick a YA fiction book. It's much too long and complex. I always thought of it as an adult classic, though too many teens are made to read it in high school!

Tiffany Norris said...

I like your definition, but I would probably say ages 12-21. That's just me, though. I *heart* YA lit.

Sharon said...

Lucky you!! I would LOVE to go to Isle Royale. I hope you bring back pictures and stories to share!

WorkingWords100 said...

Interesting that YA goes up to 24.

Legally they are adults.

I can't imagine a 20something being interested in the same works as a teen.

What does your experience tell you?

____Maggie said...

You are right! Maybe I should use Billy Budd or Catch-22 as an example, Jeane. I had to read Tess of the d’Urbervilles as a jr. in hs w/ 600 pages! Double Yuck! ;)

When I thought about the upper end, I too wanted to go lower, Tiffany. I know lots of kids graduate and take jobs or have kids, but then we have all these home-schooled college kids who are a little naive and need the YA to possibly handle these new and uncomfortable temptations. I will always be indebted to Joan Atkinson for making me read my first YA. :)

I look SO forward to it too, Sharon. Wonder if I'll get to see the elusive wolves or a stray moose? Have camera will click! ;)

Well, at 41, 24 is a young adult; although, I'm sure they would disagree. You know being all worldly, WW100. :D

My experience tells me that if it is good they will read it no matter the label. One of the business owners in town read The Book Thief based on a booktalk written this winter. He absolutly LOVED it, and thanked me for the suggestion. I cannot help but wonder how he felt (50yo) after he asked for it and the librarian went to the children's area to pull it off the shelf! :)

In our college library, we do not have a separate section for YA. All is considered adult unless it is a board or picture book then we label it juvenile. Right now we cannot keep Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga on the shelves. I also explain why I put a higher age on Ya in my response to Tiffany's comment.

Thanks everyone for commenting! It is probably how Deborah says, based on demographics. :)

I have to admit, at our college we have some extremely poor readers who need YA to build reading self-esteem.

SevenVillageIdiarts said...

I liked this post and the comments. I'm a a huge fan of YA fiction but I'm finding that I'm a little afraid of what is out there for my children! The things I read as a Young Adult were much more "tame." It seems that there are a lot of books out there, NOW, that are rated R for teens. . .

My point being that I wish books had a rating system, rather than an age system. That way, no matter what age you were, you would know what was inside. I read "Feed" and enjoyed it, it really made me thing (especially the slang, that took me awhile to interpret!) But I wouldn't recommend it to any YA, at least, not my own kids, until they're much older than what I consider a YA. . .maybe 16.

Maybe I shelter my kids too much, hoping they can grow up in my big-haired innocent world, from 20 years ago!

I loved the Twilight Series, written by a fellow Mormon stay-at-home mom, but don't recommend that series to kids under 16, either. . .so I guess for me, YA must mean 16+ (There must not be a cap, since I'm 34 and still prefer that genre!)

Tricia said...

I read Feed for a YA Lit class. I'm glad I read it because it isn't something I would normally pick up. It's funny because of all the books I read for that class, I probably remember that one the best.

Oh, and I left you an award:

____Maggie said...

Good point, 7VillageIdiarts!

We have levels of reading since ALA completely abhors a rating system. We use an E for Easy (birth-8yo), J for Juvenile (8-14), and YA for Young Adult (14-24). These are my numbers and another librarian may vary such as Tiffany and Deborah. We leave it to the parents to decide if it is age appropriate for their kids. I know you've heard me say this - read it first before passing it on or reading aloud. I used to flat out tell the parents possible problems, but I decided I shouldn't be the person to judge.

Now, all these are guidelines, and I realize this is a touchy subject. In my area most of the white kids are home schooled, and the public school system is 99.9% black. This is small town Mississippi and nothing new, but it makes for a huge range in reccomendation differences. Not only do I have to meet the "nothing offensive" or "some offense is okay" to looking at two 11-yo-girls, but one's reading level is 3rd grade and the other possibly 10th grade. I also have the added list of NOs for certain religions as in no words like magic, witch, dragons, vampires, fantasy, etc..

When dealing with the public, every encounter should be one-on-one if at all possible. Although, this doesn't mean they will like the book suggested in the end either! :)

Thanks for your comment, 7VI.

____Maggie said...

Thank yew for the award, Tricia! How kind!

I read Feed for the Outstanding Books for College Bound committee, and I say thumbs up. Although, I have to read Octavian Nothing by Anderson, also. Might knock Feed off the list! :)

jmnlman said...

I guess this might be a good place to ask this. Is the controversy in the UK over "age banding" more equivalent to the young adult debate or to the question of ratings?

____Maggie said...

Jmnlman - They want to place an age on books instead of our secret library code E, J, and YA. I'm totally against it, because there is no cookie cutter 9yo or 14yo.

I believe in age ranges instead of one set number. Reviews give reccommendations for ages and the publishers also give a range on the copyright page. As librarians we should be the ones to help put books in little ones' hands. Kind of our thing. :)

jmnlman said...

Makes sense considering like I said up thread Feed is in my TBR pile and as you may have noticed from what I usually review on the blog it's not exactly the same topics I usually deal with.

____Maggie said...

I was shocked when you admitted you had it in your TBR pile, Jmnlman! :) I hope you like it!

Nyssaneala said...

Do I read your comment right in that they want to put a specific age on library books? I find that a bit crazy, since kids read at so many different levels. That just sounds like an open invitation to controversy!

____Maggie said...

Some Brits think it would be a good idea, Nyssaneala. As Jmnlman points out, they call it age-banding. As you can see by the petition, others do not! :)