Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Young Adult (YA) fiction, is it King of the World?

I heard the question asked several times over the past few years. What’s up with all the YA fiction that even adults are reading?

I have thought about that for five years, since I attended a Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) conference where a panel of 15 editors and agents sat together and were asked “what are you looking for right now?” The answer was 12 of them said “Young Adult—urban fantasy, no vampires.” The other three included a University of Washington Press editor and an outdoor non-fiction editor. I believe the last one was a women’s issues editor, but my memory cells are not what they used to be.

One thing is YA is a lot edgier than it used to be. There was the rather infamous Wall Street Journal critic who complained about this, saying that YA had all these terrible themes and things happening in them…she got roasted via twitter and facebook in a matter of hours, by young adults. I think with that edginess you get a lot of adults reading it for the themes and to understand what is going on with a lot of teens and even early twenty somethings.

Second is that YA tends to use simpler language. They are easy to read. Let’s face it, many adults are busy, worn out, have short attention spans, and are adult versions of their kids. The themes may be adult and edgy, but they are plot driven and fast reads (even the long ones such as Twilight are fast reads in the sense you really never have to set down the book to “think” if you don’t want to. Many YA books are popular fiction/commercial fiction boiled down to its essence of a plot.

The growth of YA is dwarfed only by the growth of Romance and Erotica, especially with eBooks. (Witness the Shades of Grey series). So, the total number of books sold per year in the U.S. is rather flat, but the sub-genres seem to be shifting dramatically.

Third, I think that many adults with children like it that they can read the same thing as their tween/teen.

Fourth, a lot of adults like it that their book they are reading is going to be made into a movie. Movies are made with YA in mind, because they go to the same movie multiple times.

One response to Joel Stein’s writing in the NYT (Response to Joel Stein) (not the critic I was mentioning earlier, Joel is a humor writer) is that YA is the food equivalent of a Cadbury Chocolate.

The response to Meghan Fox of the WSJ was huge, but one that I liked recently sums up some of the thoughts and included a mention of the Hunger Games.

The truth is that I believe ultimately that writing and fiction as a viable means of making a living and keeping the craft alive (it has been, as an economic craft only a couple of hundred years) is in the hands of young adults, so I don’t really bemoan their power. I do wish that old adults (OA) also wielded their own power a bit more. So far, that is where the Romance and Erotica are getting the hit. We are living in troubled stressful times and I understand the need for escapism (hell I write fantasy and science fiction under a nom de plume) but we can only each chocolate, even dark chocolate which is good for you, so much.

Note, I am not saying all YA is chocolate, simply why commercial and popular YA are often consumed. YA is nothing but a label with some excellent literature under that label. Excellent literature is great chocolate, or a gourmet meal. Just like chocolate, you pick it up, think it will be great, then read the label and see that it is full of a lot of ingredients, with chocolate/cocoa beling llast on the list. Or you pick it up, find out it has a lot of cocoa and a bit of spice added and discover that combination is surprisingly good.

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