YA (reinvented as a genre rather than a category)

So the other day I read a GoodReads review of Ashes, Ashes written by a 20-something year old man who bemoaned the lack of violence and also, boobs (yup, BOOBS) in the book.

This puzzled me exceedingly.

It says right on the cover that the book is recommended for 12 years and up. To my mind, that means 12-17-ish. I’ll get to the ‘ish’ in a moment.

This was sort of a confusion with my first book as well which was middle-grade and rec’d for ages 8-12. That’s a broad span of years and I often clarified by saying that it was a good read-aloud book for 8 & 9 year-olds and a good read-to-yourself book for 11-year-olds and up, but of course kids read at different paces and it varies widely.

Before YA existed as a category, there were basically kid’s board and picture books, early reader chapter books, and everything else. If the subject matter was considered adult then the book was classified as adult lit, eg. The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird.

But now YA (which is really only a category intended to denote the reading level) has become the hottest genre in publishing. The term YA is used a catch-all and refers to a dizzying range of books. So lumped together you have upper-middle-grade-ish titles and lower YA-ish titles and higher-YA-ish titles which may have intense violence and sexual situations, and there’s no handy way to tell what you’ve got in your hands unless you open up the cover and read the blurb or a few pages.

I think of my ideal reader as being about 15, and I say that because I know that kids like to read about characters who are a year or two older than themselves and the heroes in my book are all 16 and 17. I wrote for that age group and I wrote in a way that I consider appropriate for that age group.

I think that unfortunately, because of the huge popularity of YA right now, books like Paranormalcy and Ashes, Ashes, and books like Nightshade and The Hunger Games (and I picked these because I’ve read them and know they fall at either ends of the 12-17 year old range, though one can definitely see how readers of all ages can enjoy them) are all squashed into one big group.

And that’s ludicrous because generally speaking a 12-year old is not the same kind of reader as an 18 year old. There’s 6 years of experience and growth between them, and kids are not made from the same cookie cutter.

I am a firm believer in kids reading books when they are ready to read those books, and parents being involved in their kid’s choices and open to discussion, so I’m thrilled when a 12 year old enjoys Ashes, Ashes and I’m thrilled when a 25 year old enjoys it. Or a 35 year old or a 65 year old.

But I’m not going to apologize for the lack of boobs in this particular instance. There will be boobs when they fit the story.

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7 Responses to YA (reinvented as a genre rather than a category)

  1. I heaved a heavy sigh as I was reading this, Jo. When oh when will adults (and twenty-some is adult in my opinion) realise that children’s books are written for children, and YA books are – in the main – written for teens, and if adults want to read them too, that’s great, but said adults have got to realise THEY ARE NOT THE PRINCIPLE AUDIENCE, and that therefore complaining their (adult) wishes are not catered for in children’s and YA fiction is pretty much like complaining that they can’t fit into kids or teenage clothes…

    The term ‘crossover’ has a lot to answer for.

    • Jo says:

      Thanks so much for commenting on this, Kath. I felt a little bitchy (and whiny) as I was writing it, and also slightly annoyed that I had to explain why there was no overt sex or violence in book aimed at 12 and up.
      Do I need to add that of course I can write raunchy and excessively violent fiction for older teens and young adults if I want to? Or is that protesting too much?
      Actually I thought AA had quite a grim plot and a fair share of violence given the recommended reading age and maybe too much for sensitive readers.
      But you can’t win, can you?

  2. Trina Mock says:

    I am a parent of a 12 yr old and a 14 year old and absolutely love that there are books out there that are tagged for their age group. When I see a book marked for ages 12+ I know my son can read it and I don’t have to worry that he’s going to read something inappropriate. So thank you for making this one of those books. He loved it. And so did I. Very good book.

    • Jo says:

      Thanks Trina! I’m so pleased. I really wanted to write a book for the younger siblings of the Hunger Games readership and I hope that I accomplished that! Not to mention a book that boys would enjoy as well as girls.

  3. Caitlin says:

    I really loved Ashes, Ashes! It was so interesting and I love how it has a little bit of everything: adventure, violence, romance, and a little horror! It sort of left me hanging though! It seems like it is part of a sequel. Is there a book that follows Ashes, Ashes? If there is, I definitely want to read it. I am 13 and I absolutely loved this book! 🙂 If there is a book that follows Ashes, Ashes, please tell me what it is!

    • Treggiari says:

      Hi Caitlin,
      I’m so glad you enjoyed Ashes, Ashes. There won’t be a sequel but you can read the first 3 chapters of a companion book, Pocketful of Posies, if you go to the Ashes, Ashes page on the website and scroll down. Thanks again!
      Jo