QUESTION: “I’m 40 years old and I love your book. Is something wrong with me? Why is it classified as YA?” [editor’s note: YA refers to Young Adult].
On my monthly newsletter*, I answer questions that I am asked—about writing in general or my book in particular. Recently, I answered one that made me laugh, so I thought I’d share it with you. (*If you’d like to receive my newsletter directly to your inbox each month, just click the envelope icon to the left to sign up.)
MY ANSWER to the question above:
I’m so glad you loved it! Absolutely nothing is wrong with you.
Adults read YA books all the time. Think Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. When I wrote One Degree of Freedom, I had people like you in mind. I always hoped adults would love my book. My novel is classified 12 and up. That “up” goes all the way to 89, as far as I know.
YA readers want the same things adult readers crave when they pick up a novel:
- complicated, nuanced plots,
- fully-orbed characters who grow and are complex—as opposed to characters who are all good or all evil,
- stories that leave them with something to think about,
- an escape to another world.
If someone in the Young Adult category (ages 13-18) chooses to read a book, that means they are already a reader. People often think they should talk down to kids. Not true! Teens don’t need to be spoon-fed simple words. That said, a key principle of good writing is to write conversationally, the way people talk—not with puffed-up language.
As George Orwell wrote, “Never use a long word when a short one will do.” That advice goes for readers of any age.
The main factors that determine whether a book will be classified YA or MG (Middle Grade, ages 8-12) are the length of the book, the theme, and the age of the protagonist.
Length: Generally, MG books are shorter in length than YA. Within those few pages, the action of the plot (which usually resolves in a happy ending over a realistic one) takes priority over the emotional growth of the characters.
Theme: Teenagers grow up fast; they deal with hard issues in their everyday lives. A YA novel doesn’t need to skirt around topics like depression, divorce, or even death. Many of the classic MG and YA novels you loved as a kid address death; they often feature an orphan as a protagonist. General market YA books don’t seem to have many taboos in terms of sex or language or violence, but I do. My novels are clean, yet authentic for the characters and the times, and most of all, my stories are redemptive and point to Christ.
Age: All kids like to “read” up. They prefer books with protagonists who are slightly older than they are. Adriana and her friends are 15 when the first novel starts, so that pushes the boundaries for it to be a classic YA. The characters age a year in each subsequent book, but still. They live in a sheltered world that makes them seem younger than they are. One Degree of Freedom probably fits better with younger YA readers.
But that’s just with kids. Adults don’t seem to have a problem reading books with protagonists of any age.
So, if you’re 30, 50, or 70 and you love my book, that means you are young at heart! Not to mention, you have amazing taste.
It’s a good thing that you love to read YA.