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?