Friday, March 08, 2002

The Difference Between YA And A

The answer to yesterday's question is, "I don't know." I only brought it up because I've seen some unusual titles on YA shelves.

When you get right down to it, this is still a free country and people can read pretty much whatever they want. (We have "challenged" books here. We don't actually ban them from every single library, bookstore, etc.) So how books are categorized shouldn't really matter all that much. Categorizing books as middle-grade, YA, or adult, simply helps readers to select titles that might interest them. There are 40,000 books published every year. (That's an old figure. The number may be higher.) If we had to go into Borders and wade through thousands of uncategorized books, many of us would just start watching a lot more television.

Categorization is good for us.

That being said, who decides these things? Do YA and younger books have kid main characters? What about Snow in August by Pete Hamil? Except for a kind of long middle section, it sure read like a kids' book to me. But evidently not to its publisher. I had a friend who refused to read To Kill A Mockingbird in her book group because she said it was a YA book. That would come as a surprise to more than a few people. In bookstores sometimes Brian Jacques' Redwall books are stashed in the YA section, sometimes they're in with adult science fiction and fantasy. I've also seen Grendel by John Gardner and The Awakening by Kate Chopin in the YA section. Now, though I doubt Gardner had the young in mind when he wrote Grendel (which has a really impressive Web presence), it is the Beowulf story from the monster's point of view and it's not unheard of for adolescent readers to enjoy epics. But The Awakening? Essentially, it's one of those unhappy woman stories. A Nineteenth Century unhappy woman story. What is there about it that would engage the interest of someone who isn't an unhappy woman? I know it is supposed to have been scandalous back in its day, but its day was a long time ago. I've read it twice (never as a young adult), and I still couldn't tell you more about it than that I think it's set in New Orleans. I admire the young person who could get through it.

The difference between YA and A books is another one of those things I don't know.

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