Tuesday, 12 June 2012

SHIFT BLOG TOUR - What Makes A YA Novel A YA Novel?

When the lovely people at Electric Monkey Books asked me to be a part of the Shift blog tour I was thrilled.  I'm currently reading the book and am totally addicted, desperate to know what happens next.  And then getting the opportunity to have Em Bailey write something for my blog was just too awesome to pass up.  Here is her fantastic post......

What makes a YA novel a YA novel?

When I was a teenager YA didn’t really exist in the way that is does today. But even then there were books that felt different somehow - ones which focused on adolescent characters who did and discussed things I’d never read about in any other books. These books had an aura of “the forbidden” about them – which of course made them all the more alluring. You hid them at the bottom of your school bag to pull out only when no one else was around and discussed them in hushed tones in the school grounds. I remember being particularly riveted by Go Ask Alice – the (supposedly) factual first person account of a teenage girl's descent into drug addiction. This book scared the life out of me as a thirteen-year-old, because the narrator seemed so normal at the start, so much like me.

And then there were the Judy Blume books – ones like Forever and Tiger Eyes where the characters actually slept together! These books remain fixed in my memory in a way that few ‘grown-up’ books have done since. They were instructional too – providing me with information that I was way too shy to actually ask anyone. Their very existence (and the fact that it took a three week wait to get them from the library) was deeply comforting. Other people clearly had the same questions that I did.

Since then of course the whole YA category has expanded dramatically, now covering seemingly topic imaginable. Even so, I didn’t really consider writing one myself until I’d already written a number of books for younger readers.  And then one day a character started forming in my head – a teenage girl who could seemingly take on the appearance and personality of anyone around her – and I knew that she belonged in a YA novel.

Then I started wondering what a YA novel was exactly and how did it differ from literature for younger or older readers? Even after finishing Shift I’m still not entirely sure. In general terms I guess you could say that a YA novel is one written for teenagers and about teenagers. YA novels are often told in the first person, creating an intimate, personal feeling and the slightly pared-back language pushes the plot to centre stage. But none of these characteristics are true of all YA novels because the category is so broad and covers so many genres. Vampire romances, historical fiction, gritty realism – anything goes with YA. To be honest I’m not even sure what genre my own novel is exactly. Supernatural mystery? Psychological thriller? Luckily, YA allows for endless variations and permutations.

YA has been recently criticised for a perceived trend towards darkness (insert link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html). Perhaps there is an abundance of less-than-cheery themes in recent novels but I honestly believe that when most YA authors explore such topics they do it to cover issues that are pertinent to their readership. I would suggest that they also generally offer ways through the bleak times. Novels aimed specifically at adults seem to do this far less frequently and I think it’s this offering of hope and sense of solidarity that makes YA so appealing to readers – even ones who are technically not in the YA demographic.

One of the things I loved about working on Shift was how it allowed me to push things – characters, plot - much further than I could when writing a younger title. I felt almost giddy with the possibilities suddenly open to me. This is not to say that I don’t still love writing for a younger audience, because I do. But writing YA with the endless opportunities it offers – well, I can see how it could easily become an addiction.


  1. Thoughtful post. I love to hear what YA authors think about the category that their books have been placed in.

  2. I think one of the interesting thing about 'YA' is that it is not just teens that read it - I see people ranging from teens to their 40's browsing the section in the store I work in. I'm not sure how to define it either but I think it just boils down to brilliant writing and brilliant stories (that happen to centre around teens) making them appeal to a whole range of people.

    I also read Go Ask Alice (also scared me!) Judy Blume just blew me away - and made me realised how brilliant books could be.

    Fab post! :D

  3. Brilliant post - it's interesting that YA seems to be a category all of it's own that almost defies definition covering such a wide range of genres and which is read by those from teens upwards.