Tuesday, August 11, 2009

young adult vs. young protagonist

I intensely dislike the labels "young adult," "teen," and "juvenile" for books that happen to have older teen protagonists. I know that publishers must market books to their target audience, but can't libraries be above all that? Many of my favorite books are in the teen section of the library. I think many adults avoid that section and consequently, those books, because of the big old "teen" sign hanging over it. On the Goodreads site, I had labeled these books "YA," young adult. But why? What is a "young adult," anyway? In my mind, that's a pretty narrow category of folks. Like maybe just people in their early to mid- 20s. I wouldn't call a teenager a young adult. So, are these books meant only for people in their early to mid-20s? Of course not. A book labeled "young adult" could appeal to anyone from age 11 to 99. That label bugged me every time I visited Goodreads. So, I just changed it to "young protagonist." I am so much happier with this label. It makes no idiotic judgement about the age of the person who might read it. Rather, it merely makes a truthful statement about the age of the main character/s in the book. You might split hairs with me about who qualifies as "young." Probably that means under 20 in this context.

8 comments:

yesweareonmars said...

I know what you mean but I think Young Adult is a good description. They are moving into adulthood, understand a lot of adult humour and are starting to understand the complexities of the world (not to mention the fact that they can physically have babies *yikes*). So the term fits. Actually I think the term fits right through early 20's as well. At least it does with P (he's 19). Still I know what you mean. There isn't a word in English for them and in our culture they are not adults.

Mallory said...

The age is technically 12 through 19. (Believe me. I have a teacher who is a YA fanatic!) But there's a lot more that goes into a YA book than just the age. Like Lee says, they're moving into adulthood, and the point of the books are to address issues they would be faced with. That doesn't mean that the issues magically disappear at 20... although that would be nice. I think it has more to do with the fact that the issues are new to them, again like Lee says, "they can physically have babies." Before that point in their lives (roughly) that's not even something that pops into their heads, and at this point in our lives (all three of us being at different ages) we've been aware of that fact long enough that it's not anything we really deal with in the same way. That's just an example. Personally, I really couldn't care less what they label genres.

celtishbee said...

But there are some really great books that get by-passed by adults because of the "young adult" label.We all know the issues faced by young adults but labeling books "young adult" or "teen" does a disservice to older readers and authors by slotting books in a category usually ignored by older readers.

For instance, I wouldn't bother to check the children's section for reading material and frankly it's only been in the last 5 or 6 years that I have realized there are a great many "young adult" books that I have truley enjoyed.

Perhaps the publishing world and libraries could collaborate on a plan to make readers aware of the treasures available in the "young adult" category for all readers.

ML said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ML said...

I agree that the YA label is uncomfortable. The other day when I was asking if you had read "The Day No Pigs Would Die" I almost felt as if I had to make an excuse for reading a YA-labeled book (I don't mean to say that you made me feel that way, the label did). I think young protagonist is a more fitting (but still--is it necessary?) label.

Ave said...

I know what you mean ML, I recommended that very book to an adult patron the other day after our conversation, and I felt a little sheepish because it was labled juvenile.

yesweareonmars said...

I suppose they need some kind of distinction even though the stories are great. Maybe they should do what games do and just put ages 13 and up or 16 and up.

Mallory said...

Lee, that's actually not a bad idea. Yeah, Ave, that's one label that I don't think they should give to any book: juvenile. I think it implies immaturity and that even turns off the people who the books are marketed to.

I guess the thing that bugs me about all the labels is I think our society is already so wrapped up political correctness and people bending over backwards to not offend that it's so easy to offend people. Anything you say is the wrong thing. It just gets ridiculous. In fact, sometimes it comes up that I have a cousin who is married to a Mexican and people automatically assume I'm using it as a slang term and try to correct me: "You mean Hispanic." I just say, "Okay, a Hispanic from Mexico." My word. It's all because people have these labels in their heads.