YA Starts at ... Seventeen?

My mom and I were talking about some of the books I’ve read this year, and the question came up, “What is YA?”

“Well,” I said, “my age-bracket is probably way above the publisher’s target audience. Upper highschool and early college, definitely not 6th grade.”

“Do your readers know that?” she asked. “Do they know that when you recommend a YA book you don’t mean 12 & up?”

Wikipedia defines young adults as “adolescents, roughly between the ages of 12 and 18.” Their YA article is quite interesting, listing classics that appealed to young readers even though they were not specifically marketed to them: Little Women, Great Expectations, Tom Sawyer.

“Appeal” is the magic word there. In the 19th century, says Wikipedia, adolescent culture didn't exist in a modern sense. A novel didn’t require “peer pressure, illness, divorce, drugs, gangs, crime, violence, sexuality, incest, oral sex, and female/male rape” to speak to and appeal to young readers.

What did a novel require? A strong story.

Librarians often advocate “real” fiction: writing true to life, which means including all the junk that goes along with being a modern teenager. “Critics of such content argue that the novels encourage destructive or immoral behavior. Others argue that fictional portrayal of teens successfully addressing difficult situations and confronting social issues helps readers deal with real-life challenges.”

Sure and ye’ve kissed the blarney stone.

In the end, it boils down to individual readers and individual maturity. Librarians can talk until they’re blue in the face, but really, parents are the ones who should be deciding if their adolescent is ready to plunge into the world of Bella Swan.

Unhappily, many parents just don’t care. It’s fiction, for heaven’s sake. They don’t have time to preread a 200-page book. They’re glad the child is reading at all! “It’s from the school library … it won an award … they made it into a movie.” These testimonals are usually good enough.

I can’t fight apathy. I can only ask, “are young readers helped or hindered by an early diet of YA literature?” and hope that a few parents will look into the question for themselves.

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