(This is one in a series of blogs on frequently asked question that I posted on MySpace when I began that blog. I’m guessing most of my visitors to this site have not seen them.)
I want to talk about the labels (figurative labels, not price stickers and such) that we put on books. Particularly the ones that relate to reading levels. As in, This one is for a teenager. This one is for an adult.
Like there’s such a huge difference.
Here’s my opinion in a nutshell: I think it’s all meaningless.
A few examples. When I wrote Pay It Forward, I intended it for adults. But the year after it was released, the American Library Association put it on its "Best Books for Young Adults" list. So now it’s YA. So now angry parents write to me and say, How can you put such smut in a teen book? "Well, sorry. Didn’t know." What I don’t say is, "Your teen is not shocked by that ’smut.’ That’s just you." I try to be polite.
Another example. I originally wrote Chasing Windmills to be YA. After all, it’s about two young people falling in love on the subway system under Manhattan in the middle of the night. What could be more YA than that? So I wrote it all from Sebastian’s point of view, and presented it to my YA editor (at Knopf) who liked it very much. But didn’t think it was YA. Hmm. I really thought it was. But I’ve been wrong before. So I rewrote it from both characters’ point of view. Adding Maria’s point of view will make it much more clearly adult, I thought (remember, I’ve been wrong before). I presented it to my adult editor (at Doubleday) who published it. Before it was even released Publisher’s weekly said, "While this is being billed as an adult novel, its closest stylistic relative is S.E. Hinton’s YA classic The Outsiders." And then it got a glowing review in School Library Journal, which classified it as High School/Adult. So, it crossed right over.
It’s official. I don’t know anything.
Or… Or…maybe there’s really nothing to know. Maybe the whole reading level thing is meaningless. Maybe the books are for who they’re for. Maybe they should be read by anyone and everyone they will speak to. And maybe age is the least important factor of all.
Grownups (I do not classify myself as one, despite the advanced age of my outsides) seem a lot more dense about this concept than teens. Teens know they’re mature enough and sophisticated enough to read adult fiction. But lots of adults don’t seem to get that teen fiction is a really great read for anyone. I got more groans and complaints from my adult readers because, after four years off from publishing, my first book out was YA (Becoming Chloe). "Oh, no," they said. "We’ve been waiting all this time for a new book. And now we hear you’re writing for children?" Excuse me? Children? Chloe is suitable for about 14 through adult. I would never put it in the hands of a child. It has more mature subject matter than three out of four of my adult books. When I finally convinced the grown-up fans to read it, they wrote back and said, "Wow. I never would have known this was YA."
Well, what do you think YA is, anyway?
When I was 14, my favorite book (and movie) was Midnight Cowboy. It’s a highly sophisticated reading level.
So, I’m here on MySpace, I’m thrilled to be here, and I want to introduce myself and invite you to get to know me. I want to open as many dialogues as possible with teens who read. No, strike that. Let me start over. With people who read. Your age is the least of my concerns.
So, just a “FAQ” blog to help you get to know me. I’m an author, and I write both YA and adult books. I just have no idea which is which.