YA? Or actually for old, proper adults?

When I read the two books by Michael Grant recently, Silver Stars and his WBD book Dead of Night, I thought – again – about what makes them YA. Why not just plain adult? After all, they are about adults. More or less. OK, his characters lie a bit to enlist, just like teenagers did in WWI. But they are to all intents adults, and with what happens in the stories, they definitely become adults pretty soon.

There’s a lot of bad stuff happening, and some of them die. The reader is treated to war scenes that can be quite upsetting, especially when you know they are based on reality. It’s not just something the author has made up to spice the book up a little.

There are relationships that are more grown-up than what you find in ‘high school’ stories. Some sex, as would be appropriate for what is being written about.

Take Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, which is also about war and also about characters only just adult enough to do what they do in wartime. They are adult enough to appeal to the real adult reader, but not so old that they don’t suit teenagers.

At that age I used to read Nevil Shute, because there was no Elizabeth Wein or Michael Grant. His books were accessible enough, and often about the same kind of topics, but the characters were – generally – older, and their problems also a bit older.

But I think the main difference is still that there is hope. Yes, people die. It would be unrealistic for them not to in a war. But as Michael said in our first interview in 2010, ‘it’s always good to hope, don’t you think?’

While I’m going on about YA war books, we can mention Lee Weatherly’s Broken Sky dystopia, set in a world based fairly closely on WWII. Her characters are also adults, and behaving as such. And to me the books feel like YA, unless I’m thinking this because I know they are. Not having got to the end of the trilogy yet, I still hold out hope that the end will not be as bleak as an adult-only version could get away with.

And anyway, Debi Gliori told me years ago about signing her Pure Dead books for an adult reader, who refused to believe they were children’s books… After all, if you have them in your book club, that surely proves it?

4 responses to “YA? Or actually for old, proper adults?

  1. Kathryn Evans

    I have this internal conversation all the time. I think you’re right about hope, I think, in YA , writers have a responsibility not to strip out hope. But maybe it doesn’t matter… books will find their readers don’t you think?

  2. They will. It wasn’t so much the readers I pondered, as the publishers and authors. Might Michael have written an adult series, but stayed with Egmont because he was already with them, kind of thing?
    Similarly, Meg Rosoff would probably have gone with Penguin for Jonathan Unleashed, had her editor not sent her packing for having a character old enough to have a job.

  3. FYI, I am actually working on an adult mystery novel so I’ve been thinking about the differences, from my perspective as a writer.

    The thing that stands out to me is that in adult I can drop references in as shorthand – I can mention older movies, books, historical events and assume the reader knows what I’m talking about. I can curse without worrying that I’m making life hard for some school librarian. I can write sex scenes ‘on camera’ though I’ve never thought anyone’s sex scenes were very interesting, so this doesn’t particularly excite me.

    I’ve never toned down violence, complexity, or character nuance for YA. I seldom even think about so-called reading levels. Basically what I’ve understood is that YA just means you have teenagers in starring roles.

    But I am frustrated by these divisions, which don’t mean anything to me. BZRK had a mix of teen and adult characters, as do FRONT LINES and the coming MONSTER. Most of what I write could as easily be adult or sci fi. The reason I’ve been content with YA is that my editors have placed no limits on me, I have well-worn channels into YA publishers, and YA tends to pay better. But the YA market is a bit of a mess right now, with no direction and I suspect, falling readership. And the politics in the YA world have turned poisonous. It has stopped being fun. Fortunately my wife is doing very well in middle grade (The One and Only Ivan, Crenshaw, the coming Wish Tree) and with less pressure to earn I can set aside money concerns and take some chances.

    • Thanks for this, Michael. It’s interesting to hear about how you see the YA world from the inside.

      Looking forward to the adult you! (And apologies that WP seemed to think you were spam. I had to dive in and rescue you.)

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