All About Books

A book blog, mostly touring foreign worlds of fantasy novels with occasional detours into space and explorations of magical realism, featuring book reviews, random bookish thoughts and hand lettered quotes.

About young adult or for young adult?

I’ve only been reading YA since 2011 but this is a question that has been bothering me ever since and still is (don’t even get me started on “new adult”). Before I started reading YA, or before I even knew there was something like YA, I thought like this:

There are books for adults and there are books for children.

Of course there are different age groups of children and therefore different kinds of books. But that’s not really the point. The point is, I always categorized books by their target audience. WHO is the book FOR.
That doesn’t mean I think that adult books should only be read by adults (I started reading adult books, books by Stephen King, Janet Evanovich and Joy Fielding, when I was 14) and children’s books by children. In my opinion the FOR just describes the main audience, what group of people will have the biggest share in sales, but it isn’t a rule.

When I started reading YA I was already past my years as a teen but the “FOR teens” never made me doubt that these books couldn’t be for me, not even once. I kept on categorizing books by FOR the first few months I dived into the world of YA and was fine with it.

Suddenly I came across people who don’t think like this though.

The book is about a young adult? Then it’s categorized as YA.

I guess this comes from people being looked at funny for reading books that are published for younger people than they are!? I have experienced this myself, that people asked me why I would read books like that (until I say something like “books like The Hunger Games” and they shut up because they’ve watched the movie and can’t say anything against it) but I am still okay with reading books that are for a different audience. Who cares who they are for as long as I have fun reading them!?

This categorization seems to pretty common though. Books like The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith have been categorized as YA because of it’s yound adult protagonist. But even Andrew Smith doesn’t see his books as YA in that way:

“I didn’t choose to write YA. It’s just what people called my novels. I don’t think they actually are YA. They’re just books. I wrote them for myself because they’re the types of novels I’d read if I found them in a bookstore. There are so many definitions of what YA is, and if you go by the one that says that what makes a book YA is the essentially adolescent experience of its protagonist, then that’s okay by me. The thing is, the audience for my books is READERS OF GOOD FICTION. My books are definitely not “aimed” at 12 – 18 year-olds.”

Of course categorizing by “FOR” isn’t easy because who is to say e.g. how much violence is okay for a book to be YA and how much is too much and needs to be adult. But I have more troubles with the ABOUT categorization because of the following examples:

+ Long series that cover many years, like Harry Potter, where characters grow up and change e.g. from child to young adult.

+ The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is about a 12 year-old but is definitely not a childrens’ book and might not even be something for every teen.

+ Books that have both adult and young adult POVs like The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.

For me categorizing books will always be about the topic of the book and its target audience and never about the characters but I would love to know how you do it. I sometimes don’t know what to choose when writing my review because the majority of people categorized it as the one and I would have categorized it as the other. 

How do you categorize a book as YA?