Monday, April 6, 2009

Age Appropriate

Untouched at 54K, getting back into it!

Young Adult is a very flexible genre, and lately I've been wondering what defines a novel as Young Adult. Most importantly, what is age appropriate for YA.

When it comes to YA, generally I think teens, age 13-18. I think PG-13 in terms of content. And I think of young adult struggles- falling in love for the first time, growing up, becoming adults, finding your place in the world, etc.

I've been told in critiques for Untouched that Gwen's voice seems too mature for young adult, but I also believe that many people underestimate teenagers, and don't give them enough credit. Untouched may not be very young sounding, but it certainly deals with what I think is a YA topic- growing up and leaving your childhood behind.

So is it still YA? What is too mature for YA? What are the parameters?

Is getting married and having a baby too mature for YA? Maybe. To some people it is, which may explain part of the conflict over Breaking Dawn. Twilight was certainly YA, but the protagonist matured and so did the content. So why do we still consider it YA?

Novel series can and do mature, and I've been trying to pinpoint what causes this. When I think of the first Harry Potter, I think MG. But in my opinion the final Potter book was definitely YA. At what point did the series transform from MG to YA? In book four when Cedric dies? Or maybe when Dumbledore dies? Or maybe it's not a particular event, maybe the conflicts that Harry has to deal with just evolve and mature as he does.

All the fourteen year-olds that picked up Twilight in 2005 when it first came out aged with the series, and by the time Breaking Dawn was released they were seventeen, and (hopefully) able to recognize and compare their own life decisions and choices with Bella's. But what about all the tweens that picked up the series after it got big and are reading about situations they have no life experience to compare to? Mature teenagers have a better chance at recognizing the flaws in Bella and Edward's relationship, and at realizing the consequences of her decisions. Younger minded readers (because it's not necessarily about age) don't recognize what is wrong there, because they don't have fully formed opinions of right and wrong when it comes that situation.

And no, I don't think Meyer made a mistake. She wrote the story she wanted to write-- isn't that the advice given to aspiring authors? Write the story you want to write? From the beginning Meyer decided there would be a baby involved in Edward and Bella's story, which is one reason I'm not convinced she deserves all the backlash on Breaking Dawn. The ending of the series was thought up and written out before Twilight became big. Stephenie just wrote her story- she never knew it would take the world by storm.

(Not that Twilight doesn't have other problems, but that's one reason I don't hate on Bella for being a Mary Sue: Meyer never imagined that Bella would become a role model for so many young girls. Meyer simply created a character- a foolish, whiny teenager. Bella is a normal girl, not a hero, and she ends up with everything she ever wanted. No wonder teens want to be her. But enough about Twilight.)

My point is this, if YA spans across adolescence, what topics are off limits? What is age appropiate?


  1. Oh, some great questions here! I think you might enjoy reading one of Nathan Bransford's post about Young Adult literature. Click Here

    My own personal opinion is the pacing, the style of writing, and the content. Yes, Bella has a baby, but the book never really goes into what it's like to be a mother. Bella's too busy having sex and getting what she wants. Geesh. If it was an adult novel, I think there would be some bigger themes there. :D

  2. I don't write YA, but i do think you made a valid point about why teen girls look up to Bella. I never thought about it that way.

  3. I can't say what I think defines a book as YA, but I do see a trend in society to "push" young adults into awareness much earlier than they used to. When before, you didn't really talk about sex with a teenager, its almost expected now that you have some form of discussion with your teen. I'm not going to get into whether I think thats great or not, but I thought I'd at least voice my observations of the phenomena.

  4. This is a great post and it brings up a lot of interesting questions. Originally, we thought our book was YA, but because our writing tends to be on the squeaky clean side of things, our agent is considering submitting to editors as upper-MG (tween). It will definitely be interesting to see how this all plays out once we're on submission, but right now we're still working on some revisions to tone down some of the more adult content in the book, so we have a ways to go.

    I'm very interested to read what others have to say on this topic. Especially now that genre and age definitions for YA/MG novels have become so much more fluid with the onset of Harry Potter and Twilight.

  5. I think a lot of adults don't give teens enough credit. Most teens are capable of the high level thinking and dealing with difficult topics. I don't agree with the "if we don't talk about it, they won't ever see it" philosophy. I think the only thing held back in YA should be graphic sex and most novels don't need that anyway. Novels dealing with difficult topics are awesome because they offer an outlet for people who may have nowhere else to turn for empathy. What could your novel offer a teen girl dealing with the same issues? As long as it's not saying "go do this right now!" then it's probably appropriate. Don't hold back for the overprotective PTA moms. Some girls may need your book.

  6. Oh, Twilight. I just did a post on it, and while I disagree with some of what you said about it, I do agree that some of the younger readers can't distinguish the older themes for themselves. That's why some of it is so questionable...

    The "what is YA" question has been asked by many people. I think the line is on the mature/immature themes; you'd never see a MG book with sexual abuse themes. But it is also a bit subjective when, as most books don't have such blatant give-aways.