Saturday, August 25, 2007

Young adult fiction

I have been thinking about the phenomena of 'young adult' fiction. To be honest I am not sure I really understand what differentiates between young adult, crossover and adult fiction. Is it just the age of the protagonist or is it the style in which it is written? Are some young adult books just dumbed-down fiction aimed at older teenagers with poor literacy skills?

Don't get me wrong, I think there are many great children's/crossover books out there...Jacqueline Wilson, J K Rowling and Meg Rosoff spring to mind for starters as good contemporary authors who would encourage young people to read and I know there are many others I have not even read...Michael Morpurgo, Eoin Colfer etc. I would be very interested to learn more about what publishers consider to be young adult fiction, even though I don't think I am likely to write any myself.

What did I read as a teenager? Certainly there were 'coming of age' stories... the Anne of Green Gables series, I Capture the Castle, Bonjour Tristesse to name a few. But all of these were originally written for a wider general market and none of them were 'contemporary' when I was a teenager in the ...umm...1970's. Then of course there were American classics such as The Catcher in the Rye. I also remember reading The Go-Between, Love for Lydia, some Carson McCullers. The only novel I can actually recall which might have been truly written for the young adult market was called 'Fifteen' by Beverly Cleary, an American writer.

Of course we also read the commercial hits of the day. As a keen rider I enjoyed the Dick Francis racing mysteries. I lapped up Agatha Christie's gentle crime fiction and Dennis Wheatley's occult novels. I loved Anya Seton's wonderfully detailed historical novels. I ploughed through The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, devoured Watership Down and cried over Love Story. I tackled thick sagas by Susan Howatch and read some Catherine Cookson. I think I even read a fair number of the James Bond novels. By the end of my teens I was starting on feminist novels.

Perhaps the scope of my reading was limited by where I grew up...a small isolated town with only a tiny library and just a couple of shops selling paperback books. But I seem to remember that we got our 'teenage' information and entertainment from magazines...the classic Jackie magazine and later Cosmopolitan. We didn't need books written specially for us as well, because we were, on the whole, already mature and educated enough to read adult fiction.

Is the new trend for young adult fiction just a clever marketing trick or is it actually needed to get young people to read at all?

Three notable things:

1. It is warm and sunny today!

2. The garage has been cleaned and tidied, mats are laid on the floor to create the new 'gym' area.

3. A leisurely wander around town this afternoon, finishing with a cold drink in Starbucks.


Anne Brooke said...

Ah, all those wonderful books - thanks for bringing back some happy memories, Cathy! I loved Anya Seton, and also the Wheatley novels. And Jackie Mag - ah ....



Cathy said...

Anne, did you know some of the Anya Seton novels have just been re-issued? I spotted a couple in our local Waterstone's recently.

Must be the power of us oldies who read them first time round...


Anonymous said...

Gosh you have brought back memories! I suddenly started thinking about a fantastic (at the time) teenage book about a cheerleader - very romantic, very teenage and very corny. But very enjoyable and got read over and over again. Can't think what it was called though!

Crystal xx

Anne Brooke said...

Ooh, Cathy!! I'll have to go and have a look. Brings back my youth, you know! Thanks for the tip-off


Unknown said...

YA is an interesting thing.....paticularly for me as I have been told by one critic that that is where my voice fits....not too sure though. Thoughtful post- thanks :-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog Cathy and I do wonder the same. I pick up books for my 10 year old and wonder if they are suitable. He does like the young James Bond books by Charlie Higson and those of the same type like Jimmy Coates by Joe Craig and the Artemis Fowl books.

I must admit I don't think I ever read any of the books you mentioned but I was really into the Enid Blyton Mallory Towers series. I loved all those type. Does that say anything about me I wonder? (I did learn what lacrosse was though.) :-)

Sue x

Cathy said...

Oh I loved the Mallory Towers books too, Sue, and the Chalet School series (by Elinor Brent-Dyer I think) But I read them when I was a bit younger, the ones I mentioned here I suppose I read in my mid-teens.

I'm really confused what the term young adult book, as it used now, really refers too. After all a 10 or 12 year old has very different reading needs to a 15 year old. i get the impression that a lot of yound adult boooks for girls are just simplified chick lit really, so why don't these girls move straight on to the chick lit written for adults?

Drags said...

Oh Cathy, Anya Seton....I still have my original hardback copies of My Theodosia, The Turquoise and Dragonwyck, read with absolute passion when I was 13. Interesting genre, the cross-over novel, but again another marketing construct I think. What does it mean in marketing terms that my 16 year old son and I both read Meg Rosoff's books? They're books, we read them...I'm not sure why they require categorisation...

Graeme K Talboys said...

It seems to me to be just another marketing niche for publishers to exploit and for big book chains to pigeon-hole books in easy-to-shelve categories.

I may be wrong, but I think it originated in the USA. A bit like 'crossover'. Adults have always read kids books, even when they didn't have kids. So why suddenly put some of them into a different category? Why put them out with two sets of covers?

All a bit puzzling, really. Like the teenage section in our local Waterstones. Teen years go from 13 to 19. How can you have a single fiction section for a group as wide as that? And what is, as you ask, a Young Adult? Where does it start? Where does it end?

Sorry. Rambling now.

Cathy said...

It's a good subject to ramble on, isn't? I think I agree that it is just a marketing ploy to make money. To be honest I would expect most teenagers...certainly over about 14... to be able to read adult fiction. After all they watch adult films and TV, the story doesn't need to be 'sanitised' for them...I just fear that they no longer have the concentration or literacy skills to do so.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm an adult by any reasonable definition of the word, but I've recently read and enjoyed two of Eoin Colfer's books. I like what Graeme had to say about "young adult" books and about adults always having read children's books even if they had no children.

The book chains seem to operate on the fast-food model: Cut costs as much as possible by automating everything, and hire drones for minimum wage rather than pay a bit more for people who know the product. When every book bears a label such as "young adult," keeping the shelves stocked becomes easier and, hence, cheaper.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Cathy said...

Thanks for your interesting comments, Peter and yes, Graeme always has words of wisdom too!