(A post written awhile ago and never posted. An odd thing to do – thought I would send it out today.)
I still puzzle over the line between Adult fiction and YA fiction or teen fiction. Here is what Book Country Blog says and what The Guardian says:
Young adult literature is for readers aged between 12 and 18, although many adults are known to enjoy the genre as well. The conflicts the characters go through are relevant to teens. The protagonist as well as the majority of the key characters are in that age group as well. The protagonist is close to the experiences in the book; the story is not told with the hindsight of adulthood.
I’ve used the labels “teen” and “YA” interchangeably, but a quick straw poll of aficionados reveals two differing standpoints. Some feel they basically cover the same ground, and others think that while both refer to age categories “teen” covers 12-14, and “YA” is aimed at about 14+. For the latter, the later Harry Potter books, in which torture and murder come to the fore after the gentler series beginnings, would count as “teen”. YA, meanwhile, is more likely to deal frankly with sex, tackle challenging issues and adult relationships, and feature swearing.
The line between teen and YA I get! It really is an age thing – teen books reaching the younger group of 12 to 14 year olds, no sex really – a boyfriend girlfriend or thinking about it but really no action is taken, no really harsh language and the relationships although complicated are not terribly challenging to sort out.
The line between YA and Adult is much thinner. I suppose the break in the line is this – “The protagonist is close to the experiences in the book; the story is not told with the hindsight of adulthood.”
If I use this thinking – the protagonist is close to the experience, I must say the book I read this week was an adult book. The lead character telling the story is indeed looking back on events from an adult view but he puts us into the action in a way they you feel you are there with 14 year old, Kevin. I read this book thinking young adults would love this and there is a lot to think about while reading.
I plowed through The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton. (2015) It is a long book and a very quick read. Scotton builds our interest in the characters right away.
Kevin is navigating life in a family trying to find their way back from the loss of his little brother. It is clear that Kevin feels responsible for this death. He and his mother are spending the summer in the hills of Kentucky where she grew up. This change of location is an attempt to pull her out of the deep depression she has slid into after the loss.
The family arrives in the small town and the Appalachian Mountains around them become as much of a character in the novel as the people. The hills define who they are and how this group of characters see the world. The people we must deal with are – the one who owns the mines and the lives of many in the area, those who struggle in this sharply defined environment due to their different view of the world, Kevin’s Grandfather, Buzzy and Kevin.
This novel takes us right into the early 60’s – the politics of mountain top mining, the beginning of the environmental movement to save the mountains, the issues of gay rights (at this time there were little to no rights for gays in this rural setting), the racial tension that are lying under the surface and the coming of age for one two young teens who for different reasons feel on the outside of everything.
We live and breathe the mountains in all their glory as Kevin and Buzzy hike their way in and out of the local caves and trails. We feel the horror and fear for Mr. Paul who must deal with the bullies who confront his gay life style. We learn the history of this area through the stories people choose to share. We watch as Kevin’s Grandfather helps him and lots of the town navigate the fears and threats of this uneasy time. We slide between anger and fear to the glories of boys jumping into a clear mountain lake on a warm summers day. We learn along with Kevin and Buzzy as they must answer some tough questions about themselves and the people around them.
I have to admit I have no idea how I found this book. It was on my e-reader when I was looking for a new book to read last Friday evening. I was jumping between non-fiction books about gardening, not able to get involved in the middle grade fiction book I had started, our internet was out due to a local rain storm and so was thumbing through the books already loaded on the I-Pad.
Once I began reading it was like falling into Alice and Wonderlands hole. I tumbled into the people’s lives and Appalachian Mountains. I slowly surfaced Sunday night as I turned the last page. I was sorry to see if finish, happy for some, sadden for others and in wonderment of the skills of authors who are able to take us into a story and make it real.
I’m currently on The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black! Great post! It’s nice to see someone break down the Young Adult term for people who might not grasp it completely 🙂
I really like what Black did with The Darkest Part of the Forest. I will be interested to see what you think of it.
Having taught gifted readers for years, your trying to figure out adult, YA & teen was what we all struggled with. I found I had to know the books and the kids, at least what they were liking and reading. I read many adult books with them in groups like Willa Cather, Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, etc., and they also enjoyed middle grade stories. They are still kids after all. I’ll note your book, may not get to it soon, but it sounds nice, Joanne. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and findings.
So agree with you – you have to know your group!
Thanks for unpacking all these labels. It gets even crazier when different places categorize books using similar labels, but with different criteria. I used to have a grade 7 shelf in my library. I had read nearly everything on it. I agree with Linda B that reading them ourselves is often the only reliable way we can know what best fits our reader demographic.
I agree. When I taught 6th grade I needed to read before I could sort. So many different criteria.