The Once and Future Teen

Here’s the first panel I’m moderating today: The Once and Future Teen. The panel description is this: Estimates are that 80% of YA readers are adults. How might this affect the growth and direction of the fiction? What is it about YA fiction that brings adults and teens back for more?

Of course I take the position that there is no real dividing line between YA and adult SFF; that plenty of titles are published and marketed as one when they could perfectly well have gone the other way; and that therefore it is just silly to comment about the phenomenon of adults reading YA.

To support this assertion, I have here a modest list of adult SFF novels that I believe read like YA — these all have an important or primary coming-of-age character arc; they focus on characters and the internal, emotional life of the protagonist(s):

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, and probably everything by Allen

The Last Unicorn by Beagle

The Vorkosigan saga by Bujold (The Warrior’s Apprentice)

The Sharing Knife series by Bujold

Pathfinder and the rest of the trilogy by Orson Scott Card

Cuckoo’s Egg and Fortress in the Eye of Time by Cherryh

Midshipman’s Hope by David Feintuch

The Magician series by Raymond Feist

Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and probably everything by Hoffman

The Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea K Höst

The Longest Road trilogy by Guy Gavriel Kay

Bryony and Roses by T Kingfisher, and probably everything by Kingfisher

Lens of the World and practically everything else by RA MacAvoy

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, and probably everything else by Marillier

Alphabet of Thorn and practically everything by Patricia McKillip

Deerskin and Sunshine and everything else by Robin McKinley

The Paksenarrion series and the Vatta series by Elizabeth Moon

House of Shadows , the Griffin Mage trilogy, and The Mountain of Kept Memory by Neumeier

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Emergence by David Palmer

The Telsey Amberdon stories by James Schmitz

Across a Jade Sea trilogy by L Shelby

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn, and probably everything by Shinn

That early Harrington series by David Weber

The Thousand Names series by Django Wexler (because of Winter)

Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy and Raksura series by Martha Wells

Daughter of the Empire series by Janny Wurts

Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls by Jane Lindskold

And here is a much shorter list of works that are officially YA (or MG even) but have older protagonists (over 20) – I didn’t think this ever happened nowadays, but it does, though infrequently.

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nymh

Mrs Pollifax spy novels

The Redwall Series by Jacques

The Princess Bride by Golding

Spirits that Walk in Shadow by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

The City in the Lake

The Hobbit by Tolkien

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (not SFF)

Rose Under Fire (ditto)

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zuzak

And a short but in theory practically infinite list of adult SFF that definitely is not YA — does not feature a coming-of-age character arc or a finding-your-place-in-the-world arc; instead we open with an already-competent older protagonist who is dealing with other sorts of problems. Yet I can’t see YA readers disliking these books, which also deal with character and the emotional life of the protagonist.

The Chalion series and the Cordelia stories by Bujold

Everything else by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Heris Serrano series by Elizabeth Moon

Temeraire series by Novik

The Martian by Weir

Wheel of the Infinite and practically everything else by Martha Wells

And here, at last, is a smallish set of adult SFF titles that to me do not seem likely to appeal to readers who basically prefer YA:

Foundation trilogy by Asimov

Leviathan Wakes series by Corey

Ancillary Justice trilogy by Leckie

Ringworld by Larry Niven, and probably his other books as well

Expiration Date and many other titles by Tim Powers

The Mars trilogy and other works by KSR

Dogland by Shetterly – very young protag who does not grow up during the course of the novel

Seveneves by Stephenson

The Just City series by Jo Walton

The Golden Age series by John C Wright

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2 thoughts on “The Once and Future Teen”

  1. I wish I could have come! Such a good topic! Though I think that Sunshine is the only one of McKinley’s books published for adults – and it’s still in the teen section of my library, with the rest of her books (and her classics are also in youth). I’d classify her as YA that appeals to adults rather than the reverse.

  2. Katy, when I was a kid, there was no YA section and McKinley was therefore shelved just with all the fantasy/SF. Now, of course, she gets shuffled in with the YA. I agree with you; she’s fundamentally a YA author — to the extent there is such a thing in reality rather than just as a marketing category.

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