I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions lately about what YA literature is and what should and shouldn’t be included in it. Topics I’ve discussed before and am rehashing over on Novel Publicity and Emlyn Chand’s website in the very near future. One topic that I haven’t covered much, that deserves to be addressed, is age regarding young adult readers.
A loose definition of Young Adult literature is stories involving teen characters aimed at readers aged 10 to 20. That’s right, 10 to 20. Stop and think about that. Think about how different you were between those two ages. Think about all the things you went through. The situations, the emotional state, the maturity level between those two ages. Huge difference from one to the other, right? When I think of young adult, in any aspect other than literature, I’m thinking of someone around 15 or 16 years old and up. Someone who’s starting to do more adult things like learning to drive, looking into choices for colleges and other areas of further education, possibly having more steady romantic relationships, or having a part time job and learning to save or manage their money. Those are adult type situations that kids aged 10 to 14 are probably not dealing with, hence why they are referred to as pre-teen or teenagers and not young adult.
So why does the Young Adult literature category cover such a broad span of ages? Some might say it’s because Middle Grade literature is considered a part of the Young Adult category. This may be true, but why not break it out into it’s own category. I’m not sure many people even know such a thing as Middle Grade literature exists. I have a feeling when people think of books for kids, they think only of Children’s lit and Young Adult lit. Nothing in the middle. Right now Middle Grade literature is supposed to be aimed at readers between the ages of 10 and 12. Only a two year span. I think if the industry made more of a definition between the two and marketed Middle Grade lit up to age 14 or so and started the Young Adult category at 15, parents would be better aware of what might be covered in the books. That’s not to say if your mature 13 year old is an avid reader and can handle some more difficult situations and/language that they shouldn’t be allowed to read a Young Adult novel. I was reading adult literature at age 13 and was able to handle it, but at least my folks knew what I might be encountering in the books I was reading.
There are many Middle Grade series that have great writing and are enjoyable and entertaining to both younger teens and older alike. Heck, even as an adult I can come up with several series I’ve read in my 20s and 30s that I’ve enjoyed. Some of my favorites are: Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins (of Hunger Games fame), the Percy Jackson and The Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan, the Dragon Slippers series by Jessica Day George and The Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funk. There are tons more, plenty to keep a young reader interested and engaged until they’re ready to handle more difficult topics.
I don’t know that the industry will ever look to adjust the ages or the definition when it comes to “Young Adult” literature, but I wish they,along with bookstores and libraries, would start separating Middle Grade from Young Adult more definitely. I think it would help parents and young readers alike to know what they can handle and what’s acceptable. Again, there will be exceptions to the rule but the parent would have the choice and make it easier on their kids when allowing them to pick out suitable books for themselves.
What is your take on the huge age span covered by Young Adult literature? Do you think they should keep it to one broad category or should it be broken down into Middle Grade and Young Adult? What would your opinion be in having a rating system of sorts on books? Not one that would restrict someone from buying a specific book, more just for informational purposes.