The character is 13 to 19 – but is that enough to call the novel a YA book?
The dialogue is ridiculous with teen slang – does that make it YA?
Descriptions are smothered with brand names and trends = YA?
As if! No way! Not even! Kill me now, please!
As someone who has written over 35 books, mostly YA, I cringe when I read a book that’s supposed to be a YA but is actually an adult novel in disguise. If you’re read a lot of YA, you know what I mean:
- The character is 16 but talks formally and spouts lectures like a parent.
- A 17-year-old isn’t concerned with appearances, friends, music, school, fitting in, standing out, passing tests or getting into college.
- Every other word is slang…but from two decades ago. Radical, huh?
- The style and rhythm is wordy, heavy-handed, pages of description, etc.
- The teen is a background shadow while the adults carry the story.
- A teen isn’t aware of everything electronic: iPod, Phone, Xbox, etc.
- The ending lacks hope. Even if everyone dies, there should be a glimmer of hope on the final pages.
As Ellen Hopkins, author of CRANKED and other bestselling YA novels said in a recent interview:
Teenagers want to see themselves reflected between the pages of a book. It isn’t enough to mimic the voice of a teenager; to hook the young adult crowd, you have to climb inside their skin and channel their unique energy.
That’s sooo true! And that’s why I really get annoyed when I read a book that has a teen character but is not a YA. I recently read a science fiction YA book with a character who was supposed to be 14. Okay, this was a futuristic society so slang and trends weren’t an issue. But as I kept reading, I realized the author who was known for brilliant science fiction novels just stuck in a teen for the sake of reaping teen readers in a hot YA market. When I finished, I realized you could have put in a 40 year old guy in the SAME role at the 14 year old girl, and the story would have read the same. This was not a character teens could identity with—even though the book was good. Teens and adults would enjoy the book, but teens won’t get that extra connection; a sense of seeing themselves in the main character.
One book that may at first seem like an adult novel more than a teen novel is THE BOOK THIEF, which has Death as the main character. But if you keep reading, the novel is about a young girl growing up in war-time who learns about herself through bravery and a love of books. The essence of this book is a coming of age novel. And it’s brilliant.
But I’ve read many books which make YA an “age” not an “experience.” Some books were still great and I finished reading, but others didn’t pass the 50 page test and were discarded. And I’ll admit that if I recognize the name of a writer who is known for adult books, I analyze the story more, testing to see if they sincerely get what YA is about or they’re just following a marketing trend. I won’t name names…but I’ll bet you can think of a few who have succeeded and failed.
So is there anything wrong with adult books that masquerade as YA’s? Kids won’t know the difference, right? And most will just enjoy the story. But what about the teens that close the book, sensing that something is off, not connecting with the characters? What if they decide YA books just don’t excite them anymore? What if they lose interest in reading?
Have you read any YA books that you felt were adult-novels-in-masquerade? What are you thoughts on this topic?? I’d love to hear from you!