Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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YA is better than you think! But do we need it as a category?

I’m already on record as declaring that the quality of YA is, if anything, higher these days than adult SFF. And I know some of you feel the same way and probably most of you read both YA and adult SFF without making much of a distinction, same as I do.

So to you this “YA is actually pretty good!” idea is not a revelation.

But some people are only now finding this out. Which is the point of this article, which I found because of a twitter link, thank you twitter!

From the article, by Marisa Reichardt, “One of my biggest pet peeves is when Goodreads reviewers say things like, “I liked this book even though it was YA” — as if reading a YA book was a guilty pleasure.”

Which is actually not a phrase I’ve ever seen, as far as I can remember. How surprising it is to me that anyone still feels that way — like YA is for kids and adults should be embarrassed about reading it. I sort of feel it’s the other way around: I sort of think the YA category should be ditched, because it’s so plain that a lot of it is aimed at, or at least perfectly suitable for, adult readers.

I’ve been reading long enough that plenty of the books I remember finding in the ordinary SFF section would now without question be shelved in YA. Plus, these days, it seems like if a book has a young female protagonist, it’s going to be marketed as YA even if it is really not aimed at the teen audience.

Plus, aiming kids at YA as though they are OF COURSE not going to be the least bit interested in, say, a middle-aged woman protagonist? That is just wrong. It’s wrong because it’s wrong — I loved the Mrs Pollifax series when I was a kid, didn’t you? — but it’s also wrong because it’s misguided.

Separating YA from adult fiction encourages kids to believe their experience of life is so different from the adult experience that they won’t be able to relate to an older protagonist, and hello? Wouldn’t it make more sense to offer a multitude of coherent views of people who are NOT “just like me”? Exactly the way we want to encourage kids to read about protagonists who are diverse in other ways? I should think it is actually PARTICULARLY valuable to encourage kids to read about people in later stages of life, so they have more ways to think about what it’s like to be an adult.

And, yeah, turning that back around, there is certainly no reason to pretend that adults shouldn’t be interested in tightly plotted well-written coming-of-age stories. Last I noticed, every single adult in the world was once a kid; it’s not like the experience is totally alien. Plus, honestly, don’t almost all adults feel like they’re just pretending to be all grown up?

YA is going to continue to be a separate category simply because it’s a marketing tactic that works. But there’s no reason the rest of us outside of marketing departments should take that separation seriously.

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