The OF Blog: What again does "YA" entail?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

What again does "YA" entail?

Just a little rumination over the term, as I am almost done reading the entire 2011 National Book Awards shortlist for "Young Persons' Literature."  Over the next few days, likely starting later this afternoon, I am going to be writing reviews of the following books:

Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again

Albert Marrin, Flesh & Blood:  The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy

Gary D. Schmidt, Okay for Now

Debby Dahl Edwardson, My Name is Not Easy

Franny Billingsley, Chime

I've finished reading the first four and hope to finish the Billingsley tonight or tomorrow at the latest.  I am impressed, as I usually am when I sample recommended YA titles, at the directness and emotional pull of the majority of the tales.  The narrative "rawness" (in the sense of these usually being told from first-person PoVs, with prose shaped to reflect this) usually cuts to the quick and I find that to be a welcome change of pace from my usual fare.  To me at least, the term "Young Adult Literature" seems to indicate tales in which the story motifs, fantastical and naturalistic alike, will appeal strongly to teens (and often to those a generation or two older than that) because the main characters are viewing their environs in similar fashions to what the reader might do in such a situation.

Yet despite my own generally positive views toward this seemingly amorphous field, I do encounter the term being tossed about as a pejorative toward works that do not contain adolescent protagonists nor do such stories contain storylines to which such readers might easily relate.  While it's tempting to sink to the level of that debate and take sides and employ ad hominems, it just wouldn't answer the nagging question of what people mean when they say "YA."

What do you think it means?  If you've read works where such a title might apply, which ones are the better ones that you've encountered in recent years?

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