While exploring the world of writing the other day, I came across a post
rant about how YA is not a genre. And I got to thinking, “Gee, didn’t I just do this big long post about how you need to know your genre – and whether or not it was YA?”
Why yes, yes I did. (How To post.)
And while I wasn’t focusing on YA as a genre *specifically* it occurs to me that I do treat it as a genre. Which made me consider whether or not that’s really fair. Objectively, I understand people’s frustration at Young Adult being listed as a genre.
Technically, it is an age range, not a genre. Just like Adult is an age range. And Middlegrade and Children’s and the whole lot of ’em (
and New Adult, but that comes with a whole other list of biases and hatred and I’m not going to get into it here. It’s out there, be aware, and know that a lot of people don’t like it). It is a means of suggesting right off the bat, before you’ve even looked at synopses, titles, genres (or rather subgenres, depending on how you look at things), or even the cover. You know what age range it’s focusing on and that gives you the idea of who should be reading it. Right?
I think that understanding of YA is part of the reason that I treat YA more like a genre. It has to do with the concept that Young Adult is the appropriate age range for a novel – which means if you’re outside of that range, you probably shouldn’t be reading it. Well, there are a couple of problems with treating it like that.
How age range specificity can be complicated – and a little unfair.
First, this means that if you are 13 (YA generally starts at 14, more or less), you would be relegated to Middlegrade, regardless of your reading level, tastes, or general voraciousness. Sucks to be you. It also means that if you’re 19, you should be reading Adult books. Period. Because YA is also not for you (it stops, generally, at 18). Even though you want to *write* YA books. Even though you *relate* to what’s happening in YA books. Even though you enjoy writing style, subject matter, and sometimes just the general escapism offered in YA books – things that maybe are more difficult to find in Adult books. And finally, it means that if you’re between 14 and 18, you can only read YA.
And before I get a bunch of “That’s not how it really is though!” let me say that this is an extreme example. But it’s not an invalid one. A lot of people honestly think that adults should not be reading YA books – even though adults are writing them. And a lot of people feel that young adults are not ready for the subject matter in Adult books. So the example I’ve offered you above? Really not that crazy. I just don’t think it’s valid.
Which brings me to point two: YA is fluid.
Over at TeacherofYA, she posts reviews on books and does two very interesting things: she gives an “is this appropriate for the classroom” verdict and “what is the REAL age range for this book”? Both are really interesting ways of writing reviews and I think they go a long way towards helping people understand that not all “age range” books are created equal.
I’m bringing this up, because YA as a suggested age range rather than a genre doesn’t really work. Have you ever noticed that some YA books have sex, drugs, suicide, rape, abuse, and death in them? Have you ever noticed that others deal with depression, political issues, government, oppression, social injustices, racial issues, and just about everything else under the sun? Awful mature subjects for books geared towards teenagers, right?
How can we say that these books, which are still technically YA books, are appropriate for the same age range as books that are (still YA) featuring clean romances with little more than kissing and absolutely no violence?
Simple, we can’t. Because they aren’t appropriate for the same age range.
Call it what it is: A genre.
Which suggests that using YA as a suggested age range rather than a genre doesn’t work. Not unless we get into super specific break downs that are not only focused on age, but suggested maturity level. Which is okay, but it narrows the area of YA books even further – and makes it harder for people who are interested in a wide range (yes, I like gruesome zombie books, but I also like mysteries and sweet romances and dystopians, all in YA) to find things that might appeal to them.
But treating YA like a genre allows us to search for these books and find things that we might have otherwise passed over. Now, I still think there should be warnings on books – appropriate for 18 year olds, but not 14 year olds; deals with sensitive subject matters; appropriate for all ages; etc. – but I think we should also treat YA as a genre which focuses on the struggles of teens.
I’m going to call it a genre whether other people like it or not, because that’s really what it is to me. It’s the “top” genre and other distinctions are the subgenres below it – paranormal, romance, horror, dystopia, etc. It’s the easiest way to distinguish books from one another, to categorize them based on how a reader is looking for things and how they ultimately are going to find what they like.
Sure, some people are going to disagree with me, but I’m okay with that.
Let me know what you think about genre, classification, age range, and whether or not I’m just being crazy about this whole thing! Comment below.