Towards a definition of "YA"

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Feb 24 16:15:59 EST 2004


On Tue, 24 Feb 2004 15:54:35 +0000, minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:

>Melissa wrote:

>>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.

There was a letter-writing campaign, but no one could figure out where to
mail the letters.

>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.

Well, let's also remember that much of the general public thinks science
fiction equals space battles, fantasy equals dragons and pseudo-medieval
Quest stories, and literary fiction equals boring and plotless narrative
with no satisfying ending.  (That last one might be true. :)

And I think you may have misunderstood part of what I said.  While it's true
that young adult fiction is about young adults, it's also true that the bulk
of its readership *is* of the same age as its protagonists.  So in some
degree it's also for young adults--it's just not exclusively for young
adults.  If that were true, then no adult could ever gain anything by
reading YA fiction; as I said at the first, *WE* should all be in therapy
for seriously discussing the young adult fiction of DWJ.

I wish you could have seen my sister-in-law's face when, a few years ago,
she asked to borrow a book for a road trip and I gave her _Howl's Moving
Castle_.  "I want something fun and interesting and with a happy ending,"
she said, which eliminates most of my library.  You would have thought I had
handed her a dead wombat and introduced it as her new pet Fluffy.
Eventually she got past this reaction and enjoyed the book, but I've never
forgotten that first reaction: This Is A Kids' Book, and Adults Don't Read
Kids' Books.  I know perfectly well that this is the common assumption among
adults and teens alike, because I see it all the time.  But I'll tell you
why I don't think this is a lost cause--

--I just made that definition up about twenty-four hours ago.

As far as I know, the idea of YA fiction being *about* young adults
originated with me.  It was certainly never taught in any of the classes I
took, but I know, after all these years of fumbling in the dark, that I
finally nailed it.  Maybe I just made history.  So yeah, nobody else sees
the genre that way.  But I see this as an opportunity to change things.

It really doesn't matter what the general public thinks about any particular
genre.  I mean, Jane Random can be walking around with the notion that all
SF is about Star Trek and its clones, and she loves mysteries so it doesn't
even affect her book buying decisions.  But one day she's going to walk into
a store and make some comment about how banal the SF genre is, and a
knowledgeable clerk is going to hand her _Grass_.  Or _Doomsday Book_.  Or
_A Fire Upon the Deep_.  And she's going to see that there's something there
she never realized.

The same thing happens, I think, when you get an adult who's never thought
about YA fiction to read, for example, _Archer's Goon_.  Or _Hexwood_.
Because at some point that person will have to face the fact that he's an
adult reading (and enjoying) a young adult book.  This is the point where
the definition has to stretch, even if it's the "YA fiction is for teens"
definition, because now he knows there's something in it that touched him
too.  Maybe this just leads to shame and DWJ books in plain brown wrappers
on the subway, but I'd like to hope it leads to something more.

So this isn't a lost cause; it's a cause that hasn't even started yet.

Melissa Proffitt

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