Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What makes it YA?

Something interesting came up in my book club last night.

We tend to read adult fiction but we use our local library book club kits, so the books vary in length, genre, and age. Our most recent read was THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. Our next book is David Edding's PAWN OF PROPHECY. It was published in 1982.

I haven't read it yet, but when I saw the cover I immediately knew some of my fellow book clubbers were going to hate it. And sure enough, when a couple of them saw the cover (typical fantasy) without even reading the back cover copy, blurted out "I'm not going to like this, am I?"

Someone else asked me (the resident kid lit lover) if it was YA. Interesting question. It looks like YA, but in 1982, I don't think YA existed as a category. She wondered if it was appropriate to read to her kids.

I'm kind of excited to dig in--PAWN OF PROPHECY gets 4.5 stars on Goodreads (which also categorizes it as YA, by the way). For all I know, I read it as a teen when I was WAY into fantasy.

What makes it YA? The age of the characters? The themes? Coming of age?

What do you think? Have you read it?


  1. What makes any book YA? Great question! KL Going's book "Writing and Selling the YA Novel" has a good answer to this, I think. She talks about the history of YA (super interesting, I think), and at one point she says it's literally the market that's the deciding factor - and that makes a lot of sense to me.

    There are plenty of "coming of age" novels that aren't YA (THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN, DROWN... I could go on forever), and plenty of books with underage protags that aren't YA (ROOM, for example). But when an author and an agent and an editor make a distinct decision to see a book as YA, then it's YA.

    THE BOOK THIEF is a great example. It's YA in the USA. It isn't YA in Australia. It really is as simple as the marketing decision behind the book.

    And these days, because the YA market is booming, I'm sure there are a lot of books that wouldn't have been considered YA before that most certainly are YA now. Even books that were written before a "YA market" existed. Like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, sold in the YA section at B&N.

    ... Or were you asking what makes PAWN a YA? If so, I have no idea. :)

  2. Thanks, Kheryn! This could totally be a much longer, researched blog post, not something off the top of my head. LOL. Thanks for your great answer and thoughtful suggestions! I was asking about PAWN and in general!

  3. I read this series back in middle school when I was seriously into epic fantasy (i.e. the generic “quest” plotline — a person, usually a teenage male, finds that he has to obtain the Magic Object in order to overthrow the Dark Lord and save the world*) as opposed to high fantasy, both of which are sub-genres of 'typical' fantasy rather than contemporary or urban fantasy.

    I think what make's PAWN OF PROPHECY a YA novel is the coming-of-age theme of the book. Boy becomes a man by going on a quest and facing his fears kind of thing. It's interesting though - I wouldn't categorize the rest of the series as YA because the boy does grow up and start to take on more adult themes in the plot line.

    A modern example of this would be Jim Butcher's FURIES OF CALDERON which is great epic fantasy but is not categorized as YA on Amazon or Goodreads. FURIES has the same coming-of-age theme but I feel that what helps differentiate FURIES from DAWN, and keep it out of the solely YA category, is that it follows the POV of multiple characters - the multitude of which are actually adults who are married or in relationships or leading an army etc. As far as I remember (correct me if I'm wrong) DAWN is from the single POV of the boy who is at the center of the heroic quest.

    I loved David Eddings work then and I still do now although it's much too heroic fantasy for me to read regularly.

    *Kudos to Alina Morgan for the definition.

  4. I always thought that what age the book targeted was how appropriate the content was. For example, an Upper YA novel would be more explicit than a normal YA novel but less than an Adult novel. (Upper YA is aimed at 16-19 year olds.)

    That sort of thing applies to a lot of genres; like how scary is the horror/thriller/psychological thriller? If it's really detailed and horrifying it'll be marketed for older readers.

    Plus, some people just base it on the age of the protagonist.

    I'm no expert but that's my opinion.:-)

  5. Edding's series was originally classified as straight fantasy. I was around back then and really enjoyed it. This whole YA thing was invented by the people who brought Stephenie Meyer her fortune. That's just my opinion anyway.

  6. I've been pondering this question a lot lately, since I write 20th century historical. There's not much love for historicals on the YA blogs I visit, and I'm always in a tiny minority writing historical when I enter a contest or blogfest. As other posters have mentioned, a lot of books that would now be considered YA based on the coming of age themes and the protagonist's age were published as regular adult books that happened to have young characters.

    Since young people in bygone decades grew up faster than they do today, and oftentimes were in mature, adult situations as a matter of course (e.g., engaged at 16, married at 18, helping to take care of younger siblings at 14, working a full-time job to support the household at 17), it makes me wonder if the average teen of today could relate to that. Even if the characters are still depicted as young people where it really counts, they're still in adult situations and behaving like full, mature adults when their contemporaries are worrying about stuff like going to prom.

    Since I started writing way before the current YA trend, I've always thought of my books more as books that happen to be about preteen and teen characters, not books I specifically wrote as YA. I have one contemporary historical Bildungsroman where the main character ages from 5 to 20 and is a wife and mother by the end, and I now realize part of my failure when I was querying it last spring was the fact that I was misclassifying it as YA.