Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Young Adult?

What is a young adult anyway? Is it, as the name would logically imply, a person who is past 18 (adult) but no older than 25 (young)? Not in the publishing world. In fact, even a 17 or 18 year old is questionable. In book terms, YA means somebody between the ages of 12 and 16. And according to theory, kids generally will only read about protagonists that are within two years of themselves. So if your book is about a 10-year-old it's not YA but Middle Reader. And if your protagonist is 18? Well, it'll pass as long as the main character is still in high school, otherwise that lands you in adult literature. Which poses a few questions:

First, what ever happened to the "teen" category? Has the word "adolescent" become so politically incorrect that it can't be used anymore, even to describe a book? Are we letting our kids grow up so fast that we refuse to acknowledge or label that stage of transition and growth-- now they have to jump straight from childhood to young adulthood?

Second, what about that island of people who are actually young adults? Do we account for them? Or is it just assumed that all adults, whether 18 or 80, have the exact same needs, desires, and wants?

I see two huge problems with this way of categorizing things. First, it's totally unfair to teenagers. YA has become a catch all for any book that might have an appeal for teenagers, regardless of the content. Anything goes. Adult issues, dealt with by very adult acting teenagers, are flooding the YA bookshelves. But the truth is, though we can call them young adults all we want, they are NOT adults. The way the world is today, I recognize that they must deal with adult issues, but they usually deal with them in a very adolescent way. We need books that reflect that. Books that explain actions and consequences. I don't mean preachy or moralistic, but realistic.

The second problem is that we are completely ignoring the 18-25 year old group. In the past, it's been traditionally assumed that college-aged adults will not read recently published literature because they are too consumed by school work, their social lives, etc. That may have been true for my generation, but I think things are changing. While it was virtually unheard of for a book to insert itself into pop culture during my formative years, we are now in the post-Harry Potter, post-Twilight era. This generation hails from the world of the mega-novel, and I believe their thirst for relevant, timely books will continue.

I hope we give them what they want. To keep this generation of readers excited about literature can only be a good thing. It can stimulate the economy (and not just in the book world-- how many movies lately have come from YA books?), it can inspire future writers, and it can influence the generation behind them to make good literature a part of their lives.

I'm excited to see what happens in the next few years. I hope that great, well-written books that are also age-appropriate will be published for teens. I also hope we see more books written for the real "young adults" out there. Although, with the YA label taken, I'm not sure what they'll be called.

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