YA Protagonists in Non-YA Fiction

At Original Content, Gail Gauthier has an excellent post about what separates YA from fiction written for adults with young protagonist. She compares two works with similar plots (blending families), one that’s YA and one that was written for adult readers. Although the waters are still murky, one difference Gauthier finds is interesting:

“The YA book has a more positive outcome than the adult short story. That is expected of books for young people. YA is expected to have a climactic epiphany of new maturity, maturity, I’m assuming, being considered a positive thing…I didn’t see anything positive there or anything that suggested that Joe [in the non-YA story] is more mature as a result of his experience, just far more troubled.”

For the most part, I think the term YA could be exchanged with Bildungsroman, so I think Gauthier’s point about the climatic epiphany of new maturity is a good one. I’d be curious to take a further look at adult literature with young adult narrators and see if they go the “coming of age” route as well or, as in Gauthier’s test, look more toward a downward spiral.

Also, I think voice ends up playing a big part. Adult lit with a teen narrator tends to have more of a distance–it could be the narrator looking back, or it could just be more of an authorial view. YA tends to stick closer with the narrator and his/her current emotional turmoil.

How do you differentiate the two?

0 thoughts on “YA Protagonists in Non-YA Fiction

  1. Brynn says:

    I just wrote about this issue recently after finishing Mal Peet’s new novel, “Life: An Exploded Diagram.” I felt that because the narrator was not a teen, but in middle age and reflecting back on his life, which only in part included his teen years, that it was not a YA novel. It also failed to have the positive outcome that you mention. The novel had a heavy and adult ending with the characters in middle age, which is atypical for the YA genre. The novel also begins with adults for the first 100 pages in adult situations, making the appeal for teens limited. I suppose it is more difficult to tell if the narrator is a teen, but if the narrator is an adult, I am likely to feel that the book is more appropriate for adults. I suppose that this particular novel does qualify as Bildungsroman, but I’m unconvinced that an adult narrator can tell a story for teens. Have you read this one?

    • Annie says:

      Hi Brynn! I haven’t read that yet, but I did see your review. The first 100 pages of adult stuff sounds off to me, even if the rest of the novel is great. I’m sure that would have put me off as a teen reader.

      And thanks so much for the post on your blog!! I tried to comment there but for some reason when I hit publish, I keep getting bounced back to the comment form. I think something is going on with WordPress open ID in Blogger.

  2. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    I’ve wondered this myself, but always in an off-handed, meandering kind of way. When presented with your assessment, it resonated:
    YA tends to stick closer with the narrator and his/her current emotional turmoil.

    May I just say, ditto?

      • Deborah the Closet Monster says:

        You’ve summed up the feelings I hadn’t yet found a way to articulate yet! I read a lot more adult literature as a child than I do now. It feels like there are so many more walls between me and the protagonist of adult novels; given that I read to experience the world as others feel and see it, that disengages me from reading.

  3. kirawalsh says:

    I love discussions along these lines…it seems related to the question of what separates middle grade and YA. I think you’re right about the bildungsroman in a lot of cases, but do you think the closer narration is due to the frequent use of first person, or is it more the sense of time and immediacy in the story (or something else I didn’t pick up on?) Great post!

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