August 18, 2009

YA Blogging: What's it all about?

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I confess, I'm totally ignorant about the Young Adult genre. I might be aging myself here but when I was a youngster the closest thing to YA was Sweet Valley High. By the time I was 16, I was reading titles from the adult section of the library. I grew up on Stephen King and VC Andrews.

Times have changed. YA has become a huge part of publishing and just as big in the blogging world. Books geared at the young adult readers show up daily on the blogs I read. To my surprise, most of these bloggers are adults. Whether they are requesting them, reading them or reviewing them, they all seem very excited about YA.


Recently, some bloggers have been called out for being 'old' because they're adults reviewing YA. It got me thinking about the genre. What is YA? What am I missing out on? What is the appeal of YA books for adults?

I set out to find out by posting a request for YA bloggers on Twitter. The following people graciously agreed to answer a few questions. By the way, all these bloggers are adults without teen children.

What is your definition of a YA book?

Sarah: I tend to think of long chapter books that are kept in or near the kid's section of books in either the bookstore or library as YA. So anything 150 pages and up. Wikipedia lists the ages as 12-18. I'd cut it off at 17 since 18 year olds are legally adults in the USA.

Courtney: My definition of a YA book is a book where the author has written the book with teen readers in mind. This does not mean that older audiences will not enjoy it, but that it is predominantly aimed at teens. I don't think all books about teens are aimed at teens (and thus are not YA). As far as specific qualities of YA, well most main characters are usually teens themselves. The majority of YA books are coming of age stories as well, in one way or another. Other than that, it's hard to say because there are just so many different types of books in YA - the fantasy, the scifi, the chicklit, the general fiction, etc etc.

Michelle: I don’t really have a definition of YA outside of normal genre lines. I think people tend to equate it more to an age than content but I’ve heard many use descriptors like “coming of age”, “overcoming adversity” and the like. I personally think that YA has more thoughtful and intricate plotting, there isn’t fear of taking chances with those stories, characterization is stronger, there is less predictability and authors aren’t as afraid to take risks.

Joana: I expect YA books to be targeted to an audience between the ages of 13 to 18 roughly. The main character of the story should be teen themselves. I use this term loosely as the protagonist could be of another species, but I would expect them to be in the "teen years" of their species. YA fiction should focus on the pressures that teens themselves can identify with, and as a result, I really don't expect explicit content to make much of an appearance (if at all).

What is the appeal of YA for adult readers?

Sarah: They tend to be quick reads and an easy escape during a morning cup of coffee.

Courtney: A lot of people IRL have been asking me about what I find so appealing about YA books when I mention that I read a lot of it. There are a couple of reasons - first I prefer the stories in YA much better. As mentioned, a lot of them are coming of age stories, and I love the character development that takes place in those types of books. Secondly, I will fully admit that it's because I like romantic stories that don't deal with sex in every other chapter, and a lot of books and series that I was reading that was aimed at adults was getting like that. Yeah, I don't mind a good sex scene if it works for the story, but a lot of it was just thrown in there with nothing to really ADD to the story, you know?

Michelle: I think the traits I listed in number one are all appealing. I also think the fact that there is such a wide variety of stories allows a person to always find what they want. More times than not the books are fairly easy to read and they are quick to read as well.

Joana: I think the appeal of YA fiction is that the authors tend to focus more on the development of characters, letting them "grow up" and the adventure along the way. I love an author who can write a passionate story filled with mystery, action, and a handful of engaging subplots. But a lot of times authors put too much emphasis on what they think their readers want (ie: lots of sex, convoluted plots, tons of violence) that they forget the important things that make up a story. Books in the YA genre rarely have that problem.

Why did you start reading YA? Or why did you never stop reading YA?

Sarah: I am reading YA books now because I didn't read them when I was a teen. I discovered YA books when I realized one of my favorite science fiction writers had written YA books (Harry Harrison). When I realized I was missing potentially great books because they were shelved differently, I started haunting that section too.

Courtney: The first YA book I picked up as an adult was Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty - I picked it up because the cover was absolutely gorgeous, and it came highly recommended by a friend. It was an original concept that I had never explored through reading other books, one that I probably wouldn't through books aimed at adults. That was over five years ago, and it made me realize exactly how much I had been missing out on by not reading a lot of the genre.

Michelle: I actually only recently found the genre. Someone reviewed and recommended The Hunger Game (which I strongly encourage you to read if you haven’t already) to me on Twitter and through their blog so after letting go of my skepticism I read it and man I was hooked. Now I read primarily YA. I still read contemporary fiction and Chick-lit but I tend to grab a YA book from my pile first.

Joana: I was an advanced reader for my age so I was reading YA fiction by 4th grade. Back then, I felt it was far more mature, challenging, and engaging, for me. Now a days I keep reading it because I sincerely enjoy the genre.

Are there any sub-genres you are particularly interested in?

Sarah: I like YA science fiction and some fantasy (although I'm not much a fan of Harry Potter or the Twilight Books) and chicklit aimed at teens. The comedy that is often a part of chicklit works better in the YA version. If you haven't tried the Georgia Nicholson books by Louise Rennison, you should. They start with ANGUS THONGS AND FULL FRONTAL SNOGGING. There are 9 of them (#9 comes out in October).

Courtney: As far as sub-genres I'm interested in, there's not really one more than others. I've read it all at one point or another. I am, however, getting a little bit tired of the YA urban fantasy subgenre - but that's just because I've over-saturated myself in it.

Michelle: I do like the dystopian sub-genre but honestly I’m reading across the spectrum. I’m amazed at how many books I’ve read (though yet to get reviews written) that have boys as the main protagonist. Geekery has been a central theme in many I’ve read.

Joana: When it comes to YA fiction I really enjoy fantasy, horror, thriller, and contemporary fiction. I also enjoy what is known as "Edgy Content", which is an umbrella term that is used to encompass YA fiction where author used the protagonist to challenge social norms or stir up
controversy.

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Thanks again ladies for answering my questions. Interesting. So, YA is about teens mostly in coming of age situations. I can see why the teenage years are fodder for authors. Anytime there is change in a character's life there is conflict and conflict is the engine that runs the plot. Teen years are dripping with it. We can all relate to it since we've all been teens and remember those days- some of them vividly.

The stories seem to be what appeals to adults. Well written, character driven, focus less on sex and more on the characters. Sounds pretty good. The fact that they are shorter than the average also appeals. We're all busy people. Sometimes we don't have the attention span for War and Peace.

Funnily enough, I've read several adult novels where the protagonist is a tween or teen. I wonder why these were classified as adult and not YA? I'm thinking it might be the adult themes or the length.

Anyway, this has inspired me to look into picking up a couple of YA books. I've had my eye on The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Luxe for awhile now.

9 comments :

  1. This was a great post. Thanks for that. I read basically everything, including YA for the reasons mentioned above. The stories, the characters, young love. It is sometimes the innocence and sweetness of the stories that grab me. Other times it is the raw realness of teen issues- dysfunctional families, heartbreak, teen angst, peer pressure. But then the imaginative fantasy worlds grab a hold of me, too.

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  2. Great post. I made a slight goof in my third answer. It's #10 that comes out in October.

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  3. I'm glad you're going to investigate it! :) Nothing could make me happier. But I don't think YA is a genre. It's a marketing technique as I recently wrote on my blog. ;P

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  4. Cool post! Why adults love YA is actually what my blog is all about. :)

    Incidentally, let me know what you thought of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I LOVED it.

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  5. I tend to agree with Amy. I think the main thing about YA is a young person is the protagonist and is facing a life-changing event. Young adulthood is a time of turmoil, which can make for great reading.

    It isn't a genre or even really a target audience. It's something else.

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  6. Cool idea for a post! I must say that when I was a young adult, I did not read young adult stuff. None of it really interested me. I find it a lot better nowadays than back when I was the 'correct' age for it. I figure I am just reading what I would've been reading back then if it existed!

    And, I LOVED The Forest of Hands and Teeth!

    I might also point out that I only started reading YA in large quantities this year and it is because of the library...

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  7. I asked the same question on my blog a few weeks ago and I got a variety of answers. I don't read enough of it so I can't really say.

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  8. That was an interesting read. I'm in the age range that's 'supposed' to read YA, but for the most part, it's a genre I avoid like the plague. I read almost nothing except YA when I was about 11/12, but sicne then I've read almost exclusively adult books and only venture into YA when it comes very highly recommended, though I still find myself mostly disappointed.

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  9. I posted this while I was away and just wanted to thank you all for your points of view.

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