YA Guide for the Confused


Tis the season for YA book lists, it seems, but apparently there’s a little confusion out there as to what constitutes YA. As in, my-head-in-a-blender confusion. As the blogger who will get even more of my love by the end of this post writes:

[YA] does not stand for “Young Age” nor does it stand for “Yeah, Anything.” It stands for “Young Adult,” meaning—loosely—“teen.”

Witness the confusion here. NPR, bless them, has got a mega-list of book titles up, and they are inviting you and everybody else to vote for 10 favorites. Now, the comments on this post are F.U.L.L. of people bemoaning the absence of their favorite “YA” books. Like… Alice in Wonderland, Chronicles of Narnia, and Harriet the Spy.  None of which, you will soon come to understand, are YA.

Let the record show, though, that NPR’s panel actually did a pretty good job of (gasp) limiting themselves to books that could be conceivably construed as YA.

Consider, by contrast, a recent Huffington Post slideshow on fearless YA characters that included in its list the following (very much NOT YA) titles: Encyclopedia Brown (possibly prompted by the recent death of the author?), The Phantom Tollbooth (huh??), A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Oz, Ramona Quinby, The Secret Garden, and others undeniably outside the YA category by any definition… except maybe “not for adults.” In fact, I’d say of the 14, only 3 of the titles (The Hunger Games; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; and The Chocolate War) are solidly YA. Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings are iffy.

Now, let me buffer all of this by saying that I realize not everybody is as YA obsessed as us author/librarian/publisher/editor types. But guess what? There’s no longer an excuse because a brilliant blogger over at Clear Eyes, Full Shelves has generated this wonderfully useful (and funny) guide to YA identification.

Did you think that YA means “teen characters”? Or that everything you read as a teen was YA? Or that if it has a cartoon on the cover, it must be YA? 

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, that’s okay; we can still be friends. But you do need re-education.

For the record, the Carolrhoda Lab (my publisher) mission statement contains my favorite definition of YA–or at least the YA I write: “distinctive, provocative, boundary-pushing fiction for teens and their sympathizers.” 

Oh, and there’s more discussion of defining YA here, if you still have an appetite for it.


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