June 01, 2004

End the YA Ghetto

by Jude Feldman

When a customer comes to Borderlands and buys a young adult book, there's a good chance that book will never make it to a young adult.  I can't remember the last time that I sold a copy of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH (intended for readers aged 9 - 12) to someone under the age of 25.  There is a reason for this hoarding of teen books -- many of the best books I've read lately have been young adult titles.  TITHE by Holly Black, FIREBIRDS edited by Sharyn November, A STIR OF BONES by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, GREEN ANGEL by Alice Hoffman, BLUE MIRROR by Kathy Koja, and most recently the soon-to-be-released PREDATOR'S GOLD by Philip Reeve, the follow-up to MORTAL ENGINES.  Fiction written for young adults seems to me more dynamic, more risky, and, on the whole, better written than its adult counterpart.  I believe that teens (to their credit) are less forgiving readers;  less willing to put up with meandering plots, less tolerant of unbelievable characters and dialogue, and less likely to stick with an author who has "phoned in" a book.   In addition, since teens are assumed to have less disposable income, YA books are usually several dollars cheaper than "regular" books.  What does this mean for you as a savvy adult reader of teen-aimed books?  Better books, at a lower price!

The point of this missive is simply to request, rail, and (if necessary) beg for the dissolution of the "Young Adult Novel Ghetto".   As a bookseller, I have previously found myself in the slightly bizarre position of recommending a fantastic book to a customer and simultaneously trying to downplay the fact that it's a young adult book, for fear that the YA label might dissuade the potential reader.  No more!  I will proudly state that some of the best books are young adult books, and frequently the distinction is irrelevant, the decision of someone in a marketing department who may or may not have read the book.  ENDER'S GAME, an undisputed genre classic, was recently re-released under Tor's young adult imprint Starscape.  It would be a travesty if ENDER'S GAME were to lose adult readers because of its YA cover.  Besides, the attitude that makes a reader say "Oh, no, I won't read that -- it's for teens" is exactly the same type of snobbishness that relegated genre fiction to disreputability for so long.  Even now science fiction, fantasy and horror is struggling with the stigma of being something that readers "outgrow".  So we -- the intelligent, literate, and unrepentant champions of great genre fiction -- must defend good literature, regardless of the marketing designation under which it may lurk.

More YA authors to explore: Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Darren Shan, Pamela Dean, Lloyd Alexander, Garth Nix, Philip Pullman.