Jeffe Kennedy Blog
RITA ® Award-Winning Author of Fantasy Romance
If someone were to ask me what I thought made a story qualify as YA fiction, I would say that:
1. The protagonist is generally a young adult or teenager
2. The story is usually about coming-of-age where the protagonist grows and matures in some way
3. There can be sex but it tends towards fade-to-black or not very explicit
Books filed under YA fantasy in my local library back in the day were the herald books by Mercedes Lackey and the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey (possible the original dragon rider trilogy too). Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books. Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy.
There wasn’t a lot of space devoted to it and I wouldn’t touch a book if it didn’t have magic or sci-fi of some sort so I moved on to the regular adult SFF books pretty quickly.
I agree with DS’s assessment, particularly about the age of the protagonist.
“New Adult” became really popular a few year ago to describe contemporary. It was loosely defined as about a character on their own for the first time: first job, first time living apart from their parents, etc. So it covered a lot of college settings and just graduated college type stories. For me YA and NA are more about the age of the characters and not in-and-of-themselves a genre because they do nothing to say what the book is actually about.
I also agree with you and others that sometimes part of calling a book YA is to designate that it is seen as “lesser.” This is the same attitude that some people have with blanketing all of romance as a lesser genre because it is often focused on female journeys. Sad because people miss out on a lot of good books by thinking that way, but it’s their loss.
I don’t tend to read as much YA Fantasy because the romance arc often doesn’t end with a HEA/HFN. I used to read more that could be classified as YA. But for the past few years I’ve needed the guarantee of a happy ending with my books. I read a few too many books in a row in YA where the main character died at the end, and so now I vet them a bit more or need a trusted recommendation before I’ll start one. I still do so occasionally, I just need to go into it with a different set of expectations. But I am definitely not up-to-date on what’s currently popular.
Genres set readers’ expectations. So why publishers and authors sometimes try to say a book is X when it’s really Y just sets up the book to fail in my opinion. The readers who want X won’t be satisfied and the readers who want to read Y won’t necessarily find it as they are looking for Y and being told this book is X. Nobody wins. The YA label is tricky as it can include multiple actual genres of books. So if it’s no longer being used to label the protagonist’s age, no one is going to find it a useful term.
That’s true. There are plenty of YA stories where people die. Annette Curtis Klause’s The Silver Kiss is not a happy book.
Something else that I feel is very popular in YA books are love triangles where the female protagonist agonizes over who to pick. I think I read somewhere that Suzanne Collins was made to add a 2nd love interest for Katniss in Hunger Games.
Reading about young people flailing around where love is concerned like a regency romance novel cranked up to 11 (Do they like me? Do they not like me? What do I do? I don’t want to hurt their feelings!) tends to fill me with anxiety and reminds me too much of the drama in my youth.
I’m constantly poking around for Kindle deals and whenever I see something promising categorized as YA, I’m always like “oh no, I don’t want teenage angst.” Not the most charitable thought, I’ll admit, but I know what I like to read.
I love you gals! Both of you have such smart stuff to say. 🙂
Amusingly apropos, a book blogger contacted me yesterday about THE ORCHID THRONE tour, and she happened to mention that she’d always thought THE MARK OF THE TALA should have been marketed as “High YA.” When I asked what *that* was – first time I’d heard the term – and she said “High YA is for teens that are 16+ so things like sex etc is fine. Like there’s a threesome in one of Sarah J. Maas’s titles.” Thing is, my heroine in ORCHID THRONE is 26 and the hero a few years older, so really it doesn’t meet any YA-ish criteria. Except the whole girls + kisses cooties factor.
Using Anne McCaffrey as an example, I’d say that the Harper Hall trilogy “feels” like YA to me, but Dragonriders is def adult.
I don’t mind love triangles per se, but I do mind when they’re forced or unduly angsty. The angsty thing is what usually turns me off of a YA book. If there’s too much wallowing in emotions and not enough DOING then my eyes roll back in my head. I get why readers love it, but my threshold is pretty low.
Totally agree on the false marketing! SO short-sighted – and shows a total lack of respect for reader preferences. The marketers doing this seem to assume that readers are just being silly about those HEA/HFNs and they’ll love it once they get there. NOT SO MUCH.
Yes! The wallowing and not doing annoys me so much.
The White Dragon could be considered more YA than Flight or Quest but Harper Hall books were very much YA. Menolly was young, she left her home, had an adventure, and secured for herself a new life.
I don’t think Orchid Throne is going to read as YA – 26 is too old for starters – but maybe the sparkly tiara on the cover is giving people Princess Diary vibes or something.
Manga comics have a rating for teens (12 or 13+) and older teens (16+). Anything worse usually arrives shrink-wrapped with a warning sticker about its explicit nature. So I get “High YA” but I’m also wondering if we really need more age group categories? Maybe we can merge it in with New Adult? Lol
I guess New Adult is “dead” – maybe because no one really wanted more age categories! Your breakdown of the Pern books makes a fine example: you can argue for different age categorizations for even the same book in a trilogy. Can’t we all just read and love fantasy?? 😀
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