Monday, July 29, 2013

What Is YA?

I finished reading Code Name Verity this weekend.  It was a fantastic book that I'd tried reading a
couple of times this year.  I bought the ebook and just couldn't get into it, but everyone told me it was amazing, so I bought the hardcover and dove in.  Instantly, I was transported into WWII.  It was a beautiful story of friendship, maybe one of the best I've read.

However, when I finished, I couldn't help thinking that it wasn't exactly YA.

I asked the amazing folks over at /r/YAWriters what they thought.  In other conversations I've had about what makes a book YA or not, the one inviolable rule I heard was that the protagonists absolutely had to be teens.  I'd read YA books where the protags weren't teens and adult books where they were, so I knew there were exceptions to the rule, but Code Name Verity felt like something different.  Maybe the ages of Maddie and Julie were explicitly stated at some point, but I honestly don't remember, and, more importantly, I didn't feel like they were teens.  18 or 19 at the oldest, they felt more like 20-23 to me.

But the overwhelming response to my question was that it was the voice of CNV that made it YA more than anything else.  A reader with the handle Fillanzea wrote:
It's too intimate. Even a very literary, character-driven historical fiction book for adults is expected to have a kind of sweep and scope that Code Name Verity doesn't have. And as rare as it is to find a YA book where the central love story is a platonic friendship between young women, it's even harder to find an adult book that takes friendship that seriously.
I have to admit that I love this idea.  The idea that YA can move beyond age as a delimiter of YA and focus on the property of YAness that exists within us all.  As soon as this commenter said it, it struck a chord.  YA does excel at the intimacy of characters.  In fact, every time I've tried to write a sweeping, action-oriented story, I lose interest because, for me, the story is always all about the characters.  The seriousness of friendship and love that's often lacking in adult books.

Still, I think that Code Name Verity and other books like it are important because they begin to bridge the gap between YA and adult books.  CNV and The Book Thief and Ready Player One are books that prove that YA books aren't just for kids.  They prove that there is this intangible quality to YA that makes its appeal universal.

Code Name Verity, I believe, could have been marketed to adults and done quite well.  In fact, I think the publisher would be smart to repackage it for adults and see what happens.  With adult book sales flagging, I think that intimacy Fillanzea spoke of might really appeal to adults, even the ones who think that YA isn't for them.

Either way, if you haven't read Code Name Verity, you should.  It's definitely worth your time and money.

1 comment:

  1. The Book Thief is a perfect example if you ask me. The protagonist isn't a teen, the narrator certainly isn't a teen, and hell, there aren't even any teens in it, but it still felt perfectly like YA to me.

    I'll have to read Verity.


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