Friday, 20 April 2012

We Sat Down For a Chat...about YA

Age guidance on book cover
When we started We Sat Down, Little M and I had very little idea of what YA fiction was. We would both raise a questioning eyebrow at each other when we came to the end of the 8-12 shelf.  Or when we asked for a particular title and the librarian would say, ‘oh, that one’s in YA’.  Or more confusingly, ‘yes, there’s a copy in the children’s section and YA’.  And just a couple of days ago, I was told off for using Little M’s children’s card to get YA books from the library.  They let me but mumbled that you can’t take adult books out on a children’s card (probably to do with avoiding potential fines…).

Of course, Little M’s interest is in finding books that she wants to read. For her, “adult books are boring” but some books are “too childish”. For me, I’m interested in books that we’ll both read because I do think many good books will carry across the generations.

We’ve both started sayings things to each other like “yes, you’ll like this one” or “no, I don’t think you’ll like it” and that’s marvellous.  But I’ve also found that I’m saying things like “maybe you should wait a couple more years”. It usually has sex in it. Or quantum physics. And then there are some books where I simply say “I wouldn’t bother.  It’s terribly written and there are so many other good books out there.”  And violence for the sake of it, well I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone (and it remains one of my bugbears about Divergent).

But now, we kind of get the idea that YA often starts at 12+.  But then there are group author blogs aimed at particular age groups. Like Girls Heart Books is aimed at readers 8-14. And newly-formed UKYA which sees itself as a step on from here starting at about 13+. And YA in general seems to be mainly for girls? But we’ve found a couple of book blogs that focus on ‘boy readers’ like The Bookzone and Literature for Lads. There's The Edge too where authors tackle controversial content issues.

And then publishers often have an altogether different age categorisation system. And there are some who simply seem to treat it as a new genre with a growing cult of fan-readers.  And the ‘ands’ go on and on – particularly among publishers and the would-be-literati.  What we’re really interested in (probably me more than Little M) is how much these distinctions help us to find the books that we really want to read.

There have been lively debates about this in response partly to some writer who was a bit snobby about it all but just this week the Booktrust’s series of children's book seminars at the London Book Fair sparked off a number of Twitter and blog debates.

When we set up this blog, we stuck a poll on it (as you do, playing around with widgets and stuff).  We asked whether or not age categories were useful for books. To bring that poll to a close, and in recognition of our recent booky explorations, we’ll be running a series of blog posts on the different sorts of boundaries that are part of the YA fiction environment.

We’ve been in conversation with some exciting and award-winning authors, including Sita Brahmachari (Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies). We’re delighted that we’ll be in conversation with them over the coming weeks……please come and join us.


  1. Fab article! (Writing interview questions for you two at the moment, by the way!)

    1. Haha! Now that's really having a chat...

      And thanks :)

  2. Aha, great stuff, and all things I continue to ponder as a writer, blogger, and reader too. YA is still an ill-defined category in the UK, and I'm still having conversations with other writers about what exactly it means to us versus a US audience. (Short answer: we're excited, but all a bit confused.)

    UKYA certainly doesn't intend to be aimed at girls - perhaps we need to work harder to make that clear! Though now I'm curious as to what gave that impression...

    Look forward to reading more of your posts exploring this stuff, and contributing too: will be in touch.

    1. Thanks Susie, and looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

      Maybe not having a well-defined definition is what it's all about: breaking new ground.

      Sorry, partly poor syntax on my part. I've changed the wording. I didn't mean that the UKYA blog was necessarily aimed at girls but rather that as a newcomer to YA, my overwhelming sense is that YA's core readership is expected to be girls. For example, there's a proliferation of romances - even in the dystopian novels and even if they are gritty. But that's also me assuming that only girls like romance....which opens up a whole debate about gender and heteronormativity.... :-)

  3. very intereting posts. I find myself recommending books to people then thin "oh, its YA but it is a little old for them?" a lot of the time so I'll be very interested in hearing more about this.

    I try and review "books for boys" as much as "girls" but I do find it quite hard to find, its certainly not prominent as "girl books" and I agree that its worse in the UK but we do still have some awesome "boys" books out there... I for one can't wait for the new Darren Shan book :)

    1. I agree with you Raimy, some YA books I look at and think oh boy, is this really for a 12 year old? And when I read it sometimes I think yes, ok, but other times I think, whoa, maybe not yet.

      Neither I nor Little M have read Darren Shan. The covers are too scary! I just wish there were more books that were clearly gender neutral. I think adventure and mystery can do that, some social realism (do you call that Contemporary?), and dystopian (if it goes slow on the romance though!).


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