For the past five weeks, there's been me, M, and four other authors discussing their views on what YA fiction actually is. What are the boundaries, if any? This week, we're delighted to welcome blogger Jim Dean to the discussion. Jim runs the blog YA Yeah Yeah and is also a reviewer for The Bookbag.
M: Your blog’s name and slogan says a lot: YA Yeah Yeah: "You say Young Adult fiction, I say YEAH!" What do you think characterises YA fiction? How do you see it as different from Middle Grade or Adult fiction?
YA deals with teen characters and has coming of age elements. Except when it doesn't.
Clear as mud, huh? It's a really interesting, and difficult, question. I would definitely say that most YA books have main characters aged between 13 and 18, and that most of them feature these characters growing as people throughout the novel. That doesn't mean they always do, and it doesn't mean that any book with these features is YA. For example, I recently read Rosalie Warren's Charity's Child, which features some great character development for the main narrator, a teenage girl whose best friend falls pregnant. However, it didn't strike me as a YA novel, perhaps because there's additional narration from the diary of an adult, the pastor at the girls' church.
MG books are generally shorter, and feature younger main characters, who are more limited in what they can do - parents will usually have more of an influence/restraint on them, for example.
I appear to have skimmed the surface of that question at best, but it's taken me a week to get to that level of clarity, so I'll move on...
M: What is it about YA fiction that makes you say YEAH?
Perhaps because teenagers are often thought of as having a rather short attention span, authors seem much more willing to get to the point quickly! You rarely get pages of writing - however beautiful - that don't advance the plot or develop characters, and since teens are some of the most interesting people in the world, it's great to see them change over the course of a novel or series.
M: Do you think that content guidance on YA book covers is useful (e.g. age guidance)?
I'm not overly keen, to be honest. Partly it's because the 'parental advisory' sticker seems to get slapped on as a way of trying to raise sales by looking 'edgy' some of the time, and partly it's because what's suitable for one teen at the age of 13 may not be remotely suitable for another teen until a few years down the road. I think reviewers giving some idea of what content may be unsuitable for younger teens is more useful, personally.
M: What are your top book recommendations suitable for readers age 11-14?
Anything by Karen McCombie is wonderful, with her new one Life According To... Alice B Lovely standing out as perhaps her best!
Cathy Hopkins and Cathy Cassidy are two other authors who are really consistent when it comes to producing excellent books - my favourites for each are the Mates, Dates... books by Hopkins and Cassidy's current series, The Chocolate Box Girls.
Without wanting to be sexist, boys are more likely to find stuff they're interested in if they turn to Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series - gory but perfect for this age group, Will Hill's epic Department 19 series, Jon Mayhew's loosely linked Mortlock novels or Darren Shan's many books.
One book which I think both boys and girls will love if they're looking for a cosy read with wonderful characters and a fabulous location is Ellie Irving's For The Record, which sees a young boy try to save his village from demolition by getting the residents to break 50 world records in a week. It's sweet, touching, and one of the most underrated books of the last few years.
M: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to contribute to this topic?
Just that it's fabulous to be part of a wonderful community and I think if we'd had this amount of book blogs and so on available when I was a teen (which couldn't really have happened as no-one I knew had the internet!) I don't think I'd ever have stopped reading YA books! I'm sure that they would have helped me find the best of the stuff out there, and am very jealous of teens today who have so many ways to learn about great books.
Thanks so much for taking part in this, Jim. And you always manage to come up with some slightly angles and different book suggestions to everybody else.