Towards a definition of "YA" (was Re: Mark Haddon (no significant spoillers))

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Mon Feb 23 13:52:08 EST 2004

On Sun, 22 Feb 2004 16:14:49 +0000, minnow at wrote:

>Melissa wrote:
>A long post about the YA category of books which left me more baffled than
>I was before.  I know that Melissa is a Jeenyus and Allways Right, so the
>flaw in my understanding of her argument must lie in me and not in the
>reasoning.  I think I need more information in order to be able to follow

You're so humble.  I'm starting to be suspicious.  Keep in mind that being
Always Right means I could declare that you have been living in a dumpster
since 1967.  :)

>So can someone (Melissa or *anyone*!) explain to me in small words and in
>short simple sentences:
>1] what the purpose of the YA category is meant/believed to be if it is
>*not* to suggest that these are books suitable/appropriate for people of a
>particular age-group (which implies that there are other books which are
>not appropriate for these people, as does the emphatic way people on the
>list have said "That isn't a YA book!" about one book and another)

My answer would have to be that "young adult" refers to a type of literature
that describes and celebrates the young adult experience, from the
perspective of one actually living it.

Not all teenagers read young adult books.  Not all teenagers find them
relevant.  Many of them do, of course, and the primary readership of YA
fiction is teens, but it's not because someone thought such books were
appropriate; it's because those teens see something in YA fiction that
resonates with them.  But so do many adults.  Young adult fiction is ABOUT
young adults, not FOR young adults.

(I like what Deborah wrote about the lack of nostalgia, by the way.  This is
something I hadn't considered before, but I think it's an important

And I think if you'll cast your mind back to previous discussions on this
topic, you'll recall that when you made the suggestion that some people were
being proscriptive in saying such-and-such wasn't a YA book, the response
was a resounding denial.  Even those who want the option of controlling the
books kids read are only interested in restricting their own children's
reading, based on a sound knowledge of what their children can handle.

>2] if "young adult" doesn't *actually* *mean* "suitable/appropriate for
>young adults to read", how anyone is supposed to be able to divine this
>fact, if s/he goes by the name of the category in trying to work out what
>it is.

It's perfectly reasonable to assume that.  After all, we have "children's
books," and those have bright colors and short, clear sentences and are
clearly not intended to be read on the same level as "adult" books.  I also
object to having to refer to "adult" fiction in contrast to "young adult"
fiction.  There is no such thing (well, there is, but it's kept behind a
curtained doorway and you have to pay for the privilege).  We have science
fiction and fantasy and westerns and romance and thrillers and mysteries, as
well as the snooty just-plain-fiction, but no mention of what age group
ought to be reading it.  Except in certain libraries, there *is* no
restriction.  You don't have to show your driver's license to buy _Oryx and
Crake_ or _Gravity's Rainbow_ or whatever Stephen King's latest book is.

But the truth is, I have one very selfish and personal reason for defending
YA books as *not* being "suitable/appropriate for young adults to read."
And that is that I am an adult reader of young adult books.  Not just the
fantasy, which in many cases is far far better than its grown-up
counterparts, but all YA fiction.  When YA fiction is defined as belonging
to a particular age group, the converse is also true:  YA fiction should not
be read by adults.  It's juvenile.  You should outgrow it like the rest of
us and read something by Danielle Steel.  Since I can plainly see that this
is not the case, based on my own experience, I have to question the
assumption that YA fiction is some special purdah in which to quarantine
readers until they are 18.  The category name is unfortunate.  The category
is not.

I hope that is a clearer answer than the first one.  I am still in the
process of defining the answer for myself.

Melissa Proffitt

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