Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I'm your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.
Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs. We've also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned! Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.
Today's Special: What makes a story YA?
This is a topic I've been struggling with a lot lately. How do we know if a book is YA or not? I've had countless discussions with other writers on this subject and the conclusion is always the same: YA is hard to define but most readers know it when they see it. Here are five ways to tell if a book is YA or not.
1) Is the main character a teen?
I can't think of a single YA book where the protagonist is not a teen. The only example I can think of is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, where the main character starts out as a child and is only a teen in the latter part of the novel. For the most part, if the main character is a teen, then there's a good chance that the book is YA.
2) Are teens the intended audience?
There are many books that are not YA but have teenage protagonists, for example: J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. While these books may have been embraced by teens, they were first written for an adult audience. This is why in my mind, these books still fall outside the YA umbrella. We have to look at the author's intent; if the author intended to write a book for adults then I'm hard-pressed to label it YA.
3) Does it deal with teen issues?
While not every YA novel is all sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, they do all have to deal with issues that are important to teens. Romance and love. Friendship and betrayal. Grief and pain. If the main theme of the novel is not something that matters to teens, then the book is probably not YA. Most likely, it's some sort of crossover between YA and either middle grade or adult fiction.
4) Is there hope?
The main theme that differentiates YA from adult fiction is hope. In fiction for adults, it's perfectly acceptable to end a book with no hint of hope that things will get better. Adult readers seem to enjoy books where everyone winds up miserable, but teen readers are less likely to stand for it. Teens want to see a glimmer of hope on the horizon, even if everything seems to be falling apart.
5) Does it have that YA voice?
Voice is probably the element that best defines YA. While some books might be about teens or have themes that appeal to teens, if the voice of the narrator doesn't have that YA quality, it's hard to think of the book as truly YA. A vast number of YA novels are also written in first person so we definitely get that teenage voice telling the story.
What do you think? Which of these elements resonates most with you? Also, is there anything you'd add to the list?
Want to read a more about what makes a book YA? Fellow barista, Ghenet shares her favorites on her blog: All About Them Words. Check it out, then tell us what you think!