55% of YA fiction is bought by Peter Pan-type oddballs whose
stunted mental development can’t process “grown-up books”. These tragic misfits
continue clinging desperately to the pink unicorn of YA long after their intellectually
adult peers have begun to devour the Booker shortlist.
Or at least, that’s what the book-snobs would have us
The fact is, plenty of adults consciously choose to read YA because it’s so bloody good. I’ll use
myself as an example here: I sailed past the YA demographic line a (looong)
while ago, but plenty of titles jostle for space on my “adult” bookshelves. So
how do I define YA? Ah, that’s a slippery question. A rule of thumb is that the
main character is usually the same age – give or take- as the intended
audience. But this isn’t set in stone. In Emma Donghue’s brilliant Room, the narrator is five years old,
but the novel reads like YA to me, although it’s marketed as an adult novel. So
I guess the answer would be, however any reader wants to define it.
I can’t speak for the many, many other adults who read YA,
but the reason I love it is because of the scope. It (and this is just my
opinion) is just so much broader than adult fiction. The themes, the
characters, the situations in sci-fi, fantasy, romance, dystopias and hybrids
of these in a multitude of combinations. Adult fiction seems much more cautious
to me. And that’s why I chose to write as well as read YA: it’s an exciting
genre with room for every type of book.
As an author, the 55% Rule has occasionally made me pause.
When I write, I have a very specific audience in mind, a kind of “ideal reader”
and I’m aware that not everyone who buys my books is a 15/16 year old working
class girl from the north of England. If someone out of my target demographic
wants to read my work, thank you! That makes me happy. But is that going to
make me change the way I treat certain themes or the language I use? No. One of
the truly beautiful things about YA fiction is its diversity and I think
there’s room within that for characters from all walks of life. Maybe this
would be a good moment to tell you what I think when people ask me when I’m
going to write “books for adults” but maybe you should just use your
Shall I tell you something that really bugs me? People who
describe YA as a guilty pleasure. If
you like something, you like it. There’s no need to feel guilty. I’ve never been
asked my age in a bookshop and until that happens, I’ll carry on reading YA.
Happy Christmas and Happy 2016. Thanks for championing YA,
Big Book Project!