There’s been some “warm” debate among those who write, and who write about, books for the young adult market. How adult is too adult? Can a gore filled slash fest with bouts of semi-detailed sex be a book for young adults? Alas, it can.
I’ve stayed out of this fight because I don’t write for the YA market. My books, with the exception of the first Elizabeth book and the opening chapters of Blackbird, are all about adults, and are intended for adult readers. The Cat books can be very grim, even though I tend not to go into long, loving descriptions of violence or sex. I’d call my work PG-13 at best.
YA, today, is defined by the age of the protagonists. Until a few years ago, seeing a book listed as YA generally meant it was suitable for younger readers, those between ages 13-18, and went easy on gore, violence, and sex. Tension, drama, long words, adventure and danger might abound, but nothing graphic. The House with a Clock In Its Walls or (ick) Pinballs, versus The Shining, you might say. That began changing a few years ago, as more adults started reading YA because the quality of the writing tended to be better and the stories more imaginative. Those adults began writing what they wanted to read, and more sex and violence, and non-vanilla sex, and existential angst, began creeping into YA stories.
I bring this up because the author of Vulcan’s Kittens asked why I didn’t think of her work as YA. It is because of what I’ve read while skimming through the books in the libraries at the school where I teach. During off periods and quiet moments in the classroom, I often pick up a random book to check the back cover, skim a few pages, and try to get a better idea of what the students are reading. And I’m appalled.
There are some decent to good books, and a number of classics. But many of the newer books are not what I’d want 10-16 year olds reading. There was one about a 12-year-old Nepalese girl sold into sex slavery in New Delhi, with several descriptions of sexual torture. Or the one about kids trying to break out of a mental hospital where the inmates are surgically altered into zombies. Or about kids trapped in a big-box store after a combination of national disasters and Evil Government Experiment Gone Wrong. And several with more detailed descriptions of whoopee than I’d prefer to see in books for younger readers.
But because the protagonists are aged 12-19, the books are considered YA, suitable for all young adults.
Given those problems with so may of the YA books I’ve looked through, I don’t want a book as good as Vulcan’s Kittens lumped in with so much unpleasantness. Is it a good book for younger readers? Yes, absolutely. Can I call it YA based on the trends I’m seeing in official YA books? No, not really: it’s too good. Which is a very sorry thing to have to say.
A few links: Cedar Sanderson “Parenting and Books”
Amanda Green “To YA or not to YA”
Dave Freer also has several thoughtful pieces about the YA problem as well, including: Iggy and the Beach