Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Great "YA" Question: What is it, anyway?

Can we talk about YA, as a genre, a label, and a barrier to readers?

Let's start here:

I once listened to a broadcast of The Next Chapter on CBC, and heard an award-winning Canadian YA author, a writer I admire and respect, say this:

"It's not your typical YA novel. It's hefty and significant."

Um, so, you're saying a "typical YA novel" has no heft or significance?

I respectfully disagree, and I wish more gatekeepers - the publishers, booksellers, librarians, teachers, reviewers, influencers, people being interviewed on the radio - would respectfully disagree, too. 

Of course I understand that publishers and booksellers have to find a shelf for the books they produce, promote, and sell.

But, as a writer, when I am consumed by a character’s voice and delve deeply into the interaction between characters, and dig out words to tell this story, I don’t think to myself, “I want to write a Young Adult story that will be published and reviewed as a Young Adult novel and sold in the Young Adult section of the bookstore and shelved in the Young Adult section of the library and is intended for only Young Adults to read..."

I don't use a filter on my word choice or dialogue or action to make it "fit" some preconception of Young Adult experience or expectation. 


All I try to do is tell a story that will resonate with any reader (I hope), no matter their age. 

Think about it:

How many adults have read - and enjoyed - THE MARROW THIEVES (Cherie Dimaline), or ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (L.M. Montgomery), or CATCHER IN THE RYE (J.D. Salinger), or ALBATROSS (Terry Fallis), or THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (Mark Haddon), or A COMPLICATED KINDNESS
(Miriam Toews), or THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE (Alan Bradley)… and so many other books featuring a youthful narrator or main character. Are they all considered “YA” or “kidlit”?

My philosophy is that a good story is a good story, no matter the age of the main character. I try to write good stories, and I’ve had young and not-so-young readers, award committees, teachers, librarians, and publishers tell me I’m doing okay in that department. Others, much more talented and accomplished that I, are doing the same and more.

So, just so you know:

I don’t write “YA”. I write stories in which the main character is a teenager.

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