Last week my book club met to discuss Red Rising by Pierce Brown. In my review of the book here, I mentioned that I could have sworn at one point I had seen the book categorized as a YA novel, but instead it belongs in adult fiction. Several other members of my book club had the same experience, which prompted a discussion about whether or not this book should have been classified as YA. This got me thinking about what makes a book YA and not Adult fiction?
There’s been a lot of debate, and I’m sure there always will be, on the merit of reading YA literature. Some people think intelligent, functioning adults should not be reading books written for teenagers, while others argue that you should be able to read whatever you want, and there is nothing wrong with reading YA literature. I love reading just about anything and everything I can get my hands on. Last year around this time I wrote a column about reading YA books in which I mentioned that sometimes, it’s nice to just read a book that’s not too dense and doesn’t take me weeks to finish. This also makes me wonder about the difference between YA and Adult novels.
If you were to describe the difference between a YA novel and an Adult novel, how would you do it? It’s not easy, but I know I view YA novels and adult novels differently, even though I love both. I tend to think of YA as lighter, easier, and more refreshing reads; they’re also more colorful. I can’t really describe what I mean by that, but books like Harry Potter are a perfect example. To me, YA tends to be colorful and imaginative in a way different than adult fiction. Not that adult fiction lacks imagination – there are plenty of scifi and fantasy novels out there full of imagination – but YA novels just have a different feel. They’re not as “dark” as adult novels. I really can’t think of a better way to describe it than that, and it’s more a feeling I get when I read than a concrete description.
Reading Red Rising, to me, felt like reading an adult novel. The story was very similar to The Hunger Games, and it focused on teenagers, but it didn’t read like the YA novels I’m used to. It had that dark grittiness that I tend to associate with adult novels, and it was in many ways far more brutal than The Hunger Games. So though the main characters were mostly in the same age range, and it had a lot of the other elements of a YA novel, it still felt like I was definitely reading Adult fiction.
On the flip side, last year I read The Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz. This book was labeled as an adult novel, but it read like a YA novel. I don’t know if it was the length of the story, the choices in the font, or the story itself – which was more simplistic than a typical adult novel storyline – but it just did not feel like adult fiction. The only thing that could possibly classify it as adult was some of the language and sex scenes, but you get that in YA novels now anyway.
So is there a definite difference between YA and Adult fiction? And should that difference exist? Why can’t novels as complex as Red Rising be targeted to teens? And why aren’t more novels written that way for teens? I was reading John Grisham and Michael Crichton before I was 13, so teenagers can certainly handle adult novels. Is this a conscious choice or just how things seem to fall? And why is the more colorful, creative style of YA fiction looked down on by adult readers?
Has anyone else experienced this or had similar thoughts?