YAL - transcending generations and genres
Regardless of your age, you or someone you know has probably been fascinated by Harry, Ron and Hermione’s wizardry battles, or transfixed by the vampire and werewolf trials of Twilight. Or perhaps you or your friend has been mesmerised by John Green’s ‘Fault in Our Stars’ cancer stricken love story made into a 2014 blockbuster, a Tolkien classic, racial tensions in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, or in contrast the dystopian post-apocalyptic nation of Panem. Maybe you are a Judy Blume fan, you were captivated by the 1974 Cormier classic ‘The Chocolate War’ or could related to the Latino struggles denoted in ‘The House on Mango Street’?
Piecing life back together, super powers, mastery, heroes, villains, heroines, savages, self-destruction, time travel, the afterlife, zombies, drugs, lust, infatuation, morality, heated emotions, body image, wild and carefree adventures, real life issues and much more – the young adult literary (YAL) category touches on a vast array of topics. It transcends generations and genres. It breaks all moulds. It resonates beyond the societal spectrums and diverse age groups.
That could be why it is one of the fastest growing book categories for publishers. Take ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy as a benchmark, as of 2014, 65 million copies had been purchased in the U.S. alone and it has been sold into 56 territories in 51 languages to date . However that’s just one of the great offerings, in 2013 Young Adult Literature helped to shift more than 715 million books and 77% of young adult literature buyers were actually adults, with the largest segment of buyers — 43% ages 18 to 29 . The previous year, Bower Market Research, who are conducting an ongoing biannual study called ‘Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age’ pitched that number lower at 55% of buyers purchasing books designated by publishers for 12-17 year-olds were 18 or older, however they state the largest segment fell within the 30-44 bracket . According to author and the former president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, Michael Cart, the book industry is enjoying a second "golden age of young adult fiction" .
Although it is broadly agreed the primary YAL marketing audience is teenagers, the heated debate wages on in an effort to specifically define the intricacies of the category, alongside what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of language, tone, topics etc. Is the starting point for the category 12+, 14+ or 16+? Some connoisseurs use the ‘teen’ and ‘young adult’ references interchangeably . Young adult literature expert Michael Cart says the roots of young adult literature dates back to World War II when teenagers were first given a distinction as a social demographic in their own right. According to Cart ‘Seventeenth Summer’ by Maureen Daly is considered to be the first book written and published explicitly for teenagers. The term ‘young adult’ was coined by the Young Adult Library Services Association during the 1960s to represent the 12-18 range. Cart said “Novels of the time, like S. E. Hinton's ‘The Outsiders,’ offered a mature contemporary realism directed at adolescents. The focus on culture and serious themes in young adult paved the way for authors to write with more candor about teen issues in the 1970s.”
It is undoubtedly tricky to navigate the YAL environment whilst pitching to such broad audiences, the lines continue to be blurred. For some publishers, experts and journalists there seems to be a void between the more junior end of the category and those focusing on meatier ‘young adult’ issues which encompass more matures settings and language. Take Andrew Smith’s ‘Grasshopper Jungle’ for example, The Guardian journalist Imogen Russell Williams describes it ‘as a genre-melting account of perpetual adolescent horniness against a backdrop of mutated, man-eating human locusts, pulls no punches in its frank examination of teen lust, expressed throughout in pungent and profane language.’
There is no question though that overall more weight and recognition is being awarded to the writers, readers and lovers of young adult literary wonders. In July 2014, the first Young Adult Literature Convention was held as part of the London Film and Comic Con, the brainchild of the then Children’s Laureate and eminent author Malorie Blackman . The Book Trust who manage the event, is the UK’s largest reading council and receives sponsorship from the Arts Council England. It states the idea for a Children’s Laureate originates from a conversation between Ted Hughes, who at that point was Poet Laureate and the children’s writer Michael Morpurgo, who went on in due course to hold the title of the newly created honour himself. The post holder champions children’s literature and is recognised for their contributions to the world of children’s book. The Roald Dahl illustrator, Quentin Blake, was originally appointed in the role in 1999, today the title is held by Chris Riddell.
In February this year the first UKYA Extravaganza event was organised by authors Kerry Drewery and Emma Pass , which gave teen book lovers an opportunity to meet over 30 young adult authors . Scotland also played host to its first Yay YA event this year. The Young Adult Library Services Association of America has been ahead of the curve, it launched its Teen Read Week in 1998. The international news website, Publishers Weekly, notes how Bookstores are realising how increasingly pivotal the market is and are ‘upping the ante’ when it comes to young adult author events.
There must be multiple valid reasons why there has been such an upsurge in YA Literature popularity and credibility and the category is packing a real punch across the board. If you are looking to explore, check out these best-selling novels (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/young-adult/list.html, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/young-adult-books/best-of2015/, http://www.npr.org/2012/08/07/157795366/your-favorites-100-best-ever-teen-novels) or these blogs (https://yabookaddicts.wordpress.com; http://www.thisisteen.com/index.htm http://www.novelicious.com/2010/03/top-ten-our-top-ten-young-adult-fiction-blogs-and-websites.html ).
In a world of increasing superficiality and stress – escapism, literary genius and ‘real talk’ are powerful antidotes and if the statistics are anything to go by, the YAL global trend shows no signs of ebbing, far from it.