Towards a definition of "YA"

minnow at minnow at
Tue Feb 24 10:54:35 EST 2004

A suspicious Melissa wrote:

>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.  :)

I don't remember your coming to visit, but...

<looks round>

Yup.  A Jeenyus and Allways Right.  And that's just my *study*, let's not
even think about the living-room.

>>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)

>Young adult fiction is ABOUT young adults, not FOR young adults.

Thank you.  That is now clear, to me if not to the Great Bookbuying Publicoid.

The mystery now is why on earth in that case it needs to have it written on
the cover or the shelves.  I mean, books about thirty-somethings don't have
"Thirty-Somethings Fiction" written on them.  Books about the unmarried
aren't called "Singles Fiction".

The answer to the second question, which was more-or-less, "How is an
ordinary non-book-person to know this," is, "they aren't," I think.  Which
makes putting YA on the cover downright misleading, and something that is
the cause of my confusion over the entire business.  Say what anyone likes,
the fact that some intelligent people do not wish it to be perceived as
prescriptive (nor proscriptive neither) doesn't make their wishes so.

A random and entirely unscientific poll conducted during the past
thirty-two hours (this means, I have asked everyone I have been in
communication with, some of them on the phone, so at least it wasn't a
self-selecting sample!) indicates that representative members of groups
including teenagers, bookshop owners, librarians, doctors' receptionists,
academics, greengrocers, booksearch agents, police sergeants, civil
servants, pensioners, driving instructors, and other random adults in this
town and others, all without exception assume that if a book says "Young
Adult" on the cover or on the shelf above or below it, this means that it
is intended to be read by people of a particular age (the age this is
thought to be has varied from person to person, the lowest age mentioned
being 10, by a fourteen-year-old, and the highest 20, by a supermarket

Not one person I asked anywhere but on this list suggested that it might be
not FOR people of that age but ABOUT them.  The usual phrases (all but
three people used them) were "books aimed at people of [age]" or "books
meant for older teenagers".  Give her her due, the librarian tried very
hard to explain that it would of course depend not on *age* exactly but
more on *reading age* and *developmental capacity* (whatever that is) and
she would try to take that into account when she was recommending a book
for an adolescent, but the message was the same.  (The lawyer refused to
commit herself until I made it clear that I wasn't talking about any
particular adolescent, the police sergeant sighed wearily and asked me what
on earth I needed *him* to tell *me* that for, was I or one of my lovely
offspring planning to write one or something?)  FOR not ABOUT was universal
as an assumption.


I fear this may be as lost a cause as the difference between "militate" and
"mitigate", or "uninterested" and "disinterested", or "careen" and
"career", or "flaunt" and "flout", or "precipitous" and "precipitate", or
"diffuse" and "defuse", or "imply" and "infer", or "deprecate" and
"depreciate", or "refute" and "deny", or any of the other words that are
now inextricably muddled together in the minds of the Peepul Gawd Blessem.

I wish your definition were more widely known and taken as the fact.  I
prefer it.  I'm certainly happy to use it in any discussion of the matter
here; I just don't think I'll get very far if I try to use it in ordinary
civilian life.

Hence my confusion, evidently.


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