Jaclyn Moriarty wrote one of my favorite YA novels, Feeling Sorry for Celia. I read it when I was in high school and loved the honest look at how friendships change, paired with a hilarious and sharp voice.
Now she has a new book coming out and, during the writing and publishing process, grappled with the category. She’d initially envisioned it as a children’s book. When that wasn’t working, she wrote it as a YA novel. But her publishers read it and thought it might actually be a better fit in the adult section. Moriarty was worried that it wouldn’t end up appealing to adult readers and wouldn’t be available to teen readers. I like her publishers’ response:
“In the end my publishers said: Why does it have to be one thing or another? An adult book, a teen book, a cross-over book?’
‘It’s a book,’ they said. ‘We’ll publish it as a book.’”
Although I’m a huge supporter of YA as a genre and connecting teen readers with books that will resonate with their life experiences, I really like the simplicity of “It’s a book.” While it would be great to think that all readers approach books with an open mind, it’s easy to set up barriers for yourself. When Walt suggested we watch Battlestar Galactica, I balked. “I don’t like sci-fi,” I said. Except I ended up loving BSG and Doctor Who and lots of other sci-fi programs. I think a lot of people have the same reaction to YA and end up missing out on a lot of fantastic books.
But even with the support of her publisher, Moriarty still had to deal with the question of why she was writing outside of her genre. I’ve talked about this kind of thing with other YA writers, and the idea that you can only write stories as a YA author/fantasy writer/romance novelist is tough. Lots of times your ideas flow into the same category, but that’s not always the case. (Look at Lois Lowry’s bibliography to get a sense of what range an author can have.) There’s a lot of pressure to establish your voice/brand as an author, which largely means writing similar kinds of books. But are we limiting authors and readers by focusing so much on which category a book should fit into?
With more adult readers branching into YA, hopefully this won’t be too much of an issue in years to come. For now, I hope we can all encourage each other to look at books of all categories and genres as just that–books.
Make sure to check out the whole article about Moriarty’s latest book and the question of genre.
3 thoughts on “It’s a Book, and Other Ways to Look at the Genre Question”
YA isn’t really a genre, even though it’s used as one. It’s sort of the genre of last resort, used when it’s not obviously science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc. I think a lot of writers and publishers are uncomfortable with genre-less books, but sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
Honestly, at least half of the fiction that I have enjoyed recently has been labeled “YA”, and I’ll be 50 next year. Books are books, and if a book is good I don’t care how anybody else defines it.
I agree with MishaBurnett. I also read a lot of “YA” fiction, even though I’m not a “Young Adult” any more. If it’s a good story, with interesting characters, then I enjoy it. Who cares how it’s labeled?