Thursday, April 28, 2011

why YA?

a fellow writer and friend of mine recently asked me about the boom in young adult literature.
now, i haven't been around these parts long enough to know if we're seeing a boom or just a trend in media attention or what. but i do think the reason he asked is interesting.

he writes adult historical fiction. one agent flat-out asked him if he'd consider making one of his stories YA. another agent encouraged him to read an author with a similar writing style, and at the end of that author's book, there was an ad letting the reader know said author was about to debut a new YA novel, after years of writing adult fiction.

so this writer friend of mine asked me, in so many words, why YA is so hot.

here's my two cents:

1) Harry Potter.
i really think that series did something that transcends other popular children's book series. instead of being the kind of story that adults remember fondly and pass down to future generations... it was the kind of story that made adults feel like kids again themselves. it had us waiting in line at midnight release parties and staying up late to read just-one-more-page, even though we had to get up early the next day. and there was no stigma. no one blinked at an adult reading a children's book in a coffee shop or on the subway, because it was Harry Potter, and everyone - even the non-bookish - knew Harry Potter was an exception.

i think what HP did was give people permission to read books aimed at younger audiences. (and by people here, i mean the casual reader - not book nerds like us who have always read across all age groups.)

2) Universal Experience/Appeal.
after HP paved the way, adults started opening up a few more young adult and middle grade titles and found something in those pages they could relate to. we're not teens anymore, but FUN FACT: every single adult on this planet was once a teenager. no exceptions.

YA lit taps into memories, fond or not-so-fond, of our own teenage experience. we can relate, even if we no longer walk the halls of high school or stress about who's going to ask us to prom - at one point, most of us did. and we can empathize with young adult characters.

3) Pace.
i have a theory that YA lit is gaining momentum in part because of the fast-pace society we now live in. we want information now, and we want it in 140 characters or less. we can't wait for the reporter to spend a full minute and a half telling us a story on TV. if we see something interesting, we open up our laptops and get the story immediately.

we, as a society, are devouring and processing information faster than ever. and i think books are no exception. the casual reader looking for a little literary enrichment may be turning to the YA section of the bookstore, because there's a good chance any book they pick up will be a fast-paced read they can finish in a few days. (exceptions abound, of course, but i'm speaking generally. i find more "fast" books in the YA section than the adult section.)

those are just a few of my thoughts.
i also think YA books focus on that very small window of time when we transition from childhood to adulthood. it's a time period kids can't wait to get to and many adults wish they could relive. there are only a few precious years when we get to be teens, and those years being so few makes them more valuable.
finally, i believe series like Twilight and Hunger Games have kept the momentum going - kept the media tuned in to YA lit, and kept the publishing spotlight on YA a little longer.

but here's what i DON'T know:
i don't know whether YA will remain a hot commodity. is it just a trend/fad that YA is getting so much main stream attention? or is it a permanent shift? will YA lit go from being thought of as books "for" young adults to books for everyone but "about" young adults?

what do you think?


Jessie Harrell said...

I sure hope the "trend" remains. Now that I'm a YA reader and writer, I don't want anything else.

Shari Arnold said...

I also wonder how long YA will continue to be the hot commodity. But I also wonder if it is now okay to admit to reading YA where in the past, not so much.
One thing I've noticed in the YA books I read is that the MC doesn't act like a teenager. She is usually put in a situation that most adults would find difficult and yet she handles it in the best way possible. This could be the reason that we (adults) enjoy YA. Not only does the MC have youth but also wisdom. =)

Nomes said...

i went to a writer conf a few weeks ago and they also said harry potter and twilight were instrumental in bringing older readers into the genre that previously many adult readers hadn't been trawling through

they also said that ya/mg has always been strong it is just the attention it is getting lately with Big Deals makes it seem like a suddenly booming market :/

as a reader ~ i like the transition period you are talking about. and often the work has a freshness that adult stuff doesn't. i also like the pacing :)

erinjade said...

Jessie, i'm hearing that so often now even from my non-writer friends - that they are addicted to YA or even reading it exclusively!

Shari, that's such a good observation. maybe YA characters are the teens we WISH we would have been, when we were just confused and flailing. (or maybe that's just me. haha.)

Naomi, i'm glad to hear the experts say YA/MG has always been strong. i hope that means, even after the media hype winds down, that publishers will still be buying up YA!