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YA? Literary fiction? Does it matter?!!

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I know this is an well worn topic but it continues to interest me. I just read "The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller and I thought it was wonderful. It was published as adult literary fiction but it had a YA feel to it as it was a coming of age story of Patroclus, Achille's lover. The NYT book review was scathing and yet I loved it; it seemed to me that the reviewer was bashing it, in part, because it was "YA" rather than adult fiction. (is that a problem?!)

Anyway, I just picked up "The Testament of Jessie Lamb," a dystopian sci-fi book that was a runner up for the Booker Prize, ostensibly adult literary fiction and the library has slapped a big fat red "YA" sticker on its spine. ???? It's written in first person point of view from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl but it's pretty heavy material. And very well written.

"The Book Thief" comes to mind as well- I know that's been thoroughly discussed. Anyway, I was curious if anyone had read the above books and had any new thoughts on this topic.

Here's the link to the NYT review of The Song of Achilles. I don't agree with much of it at all and I was sad for this author that this reviewer was so harsh. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/books/review/the-song-of-achilles-by-madeline-miller.html?pagewanted=all

Lisa
#1 - July 14, 2012, 07:25 AM
Lisa
@elisaitw

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I read both adult and YA fiction, and there are not bright lines between them. For example, I haven't read THE TESTAMENT OF JESSIE LAMB, but I've often thought that NEVER LET ME GO (adult), and THE WAY WE LIVE NOW (YA) are equally brilliant literary dystopians about a future Britain gone wrong.

Plenty of books are marketed as YA here and adult abroad, or vice versa. Honestly, an author has a good shot at finding more readers (and even more adult readers these days!) being marketed as YA as literary fiction.
#2 - July 14, 2012, 07:44 AM
Kell Andrews
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THE BOOK DRAGON, Sterling, October 2, 2018
MIRA FORECASTS THE FUTURE, Sterling, 2016

HOW I LIVE NOW?
#3 - July 14, 2012, 07:57 AM
The Echo Room (Tor Teen, 2018)
Where Futures End (Penguin, 2016)
www.parkerpeevyhouse.com

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I love all those books; Never Let Me Go is amazing! How I Live Now is so well done on so many levels. Thanks for reminding me of those.

I highly recommend The Testament of Jessie Lamb; I'm only halfway through but the voice is so well done and the dystopian world is so depressingly convincing. A little too close to the present world for my liking!

I wonder if there are any craft considerations that make people label the work as "YA" or is it just "marketing" distinctions? There are plenty of adult literary fiction novels that tell stories of young adulthood that are not considered YA. Perhaps it's the voice? Sometimes the perspective is that of an adult looking back on the young adult self and that seems to put the book in the "adult" category. . .
#4 - July 14, 2012, 08:15 AM
Lisa
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Off the cuff I can think of two superb books written as YA but marketed for adults, at least initially, and rightly so: The Secret Life of Bees, (by Sue Monk Kidd) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (by Mark Haddon.) I have read interviews where the authors said they thought of their stories as YA with relevancy for adults.
I also recall Maurice Sendak saying he didn't write for children, he wrote, and his publishers told him his work was for children.
Marketing and library-shelving categories are fuzzier when it comes to the very best books, because they don't fit as neatly as genre or commercial fiction does.
#5 - July 14, 2012, 08:30 AM
THE VOICE OF THUNDER, WiDo Publishing
THERE'S A TURKEY AT THE DOOR, Hometown520

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I recall seeing that the Australian novel Jasper Jones was awarded some literary prizes down under as a mainstream novel, but was issued in the U.S. as YA, perhaps for marketing reasons? It's written from the view of a teenager who gets caught up in the death of a classmate. I was just skimming a copy of Swamplandia, the award-winning novel from last year or so which is narrated in the first person by a 13-year-old girl. Maybe one of the differences is the Swamplandia narrator has the vocabulary and sensitivity of a 25-year-old English PhD. I'm currently reading Richard Ford's newly issued Canada, which will probably be nominated for a bunch of awards. The fifteen-year-old narrative POV is clearly filtered through the perspective of a man who is writing in his mature years. Likewise for Lorrie Moore's Gate at the Stairs, which has the patina of a first-person 19-year-old narrator, but has subtle clues that the narrator is now a mature English professor, hence the gorgeous language. This perspective issue is also why, to my mind, Prep is adult fiction, although set in a high school boarding school.
#6 - July 14, 2012, 09:45 AM
« Last Edit: July 14, 2012, 10:09 AM by LTMadison »
In Real Life, Tuttle Publishing, Fall 2014

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Right, HOW WE LIVE NOW. Rosoff, not Trollope!
#7 - July 14, 2012, 09:49 AM
Kell Andrews
www.kellandrews.com
Twitter @kellandrewsPA

THE BOOK DRAGON, Sterling, October 2, 2018
MIRA FORECASTS THE FUTURE, Sterling, 2016

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Fun discussion; I love how you put this: "Maybe one of the differences is the Swamplandia narrator has the vocabulary and sensitivity of a 25-year-old English PhD." !! So true (I started reading it but couldn't get into it). Perhaps that's what distinguishes some of these books that are called "adult" as opposed to "YA." Jessie Lamb, however, is written in first person, and the 16 year old voice sounds very adolescent. When I surfed some British reviews, it seemed to be perceived as adult fiction on that continent. . .
#8 - July 14, 2012, 12:02 PM
Lisa
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You all have already hit on the point that marketing has a lot to do with it, especially in the cases where a book is published as adult in one country and YA in another. I have also heard of authors who thought they were writing for adults but whose agents or editors decided they were not. (I've never heard the opposite, with writers thinking they were writing YA but being told adult---can anyone think of examples?)

Another thing with coming of age literary stories, again already touched on here (so I guess I'm just repeating what everybody has already said!), is that when an adult narrates his or her teen years, that usually marks the book as adult, not YA. Lots of Alex award winners come from this category.
#9 - July 14, 2012, 04:53 PM

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Here's a tale along those lines-a man in my MFA program submitted a fantasy novel to work on in the adult fiction "track" and was essentially told that he was accepted-but into the "writing for young people" track instead. He was startled and unhappy but accepted. . .there are academic and literary politics that come into play as well

(as an aside-this is Lesley university's mfa program which is wonderful, I think)

Lisa
#10 - July 14, 2012, 06:26 PM
Lisa
@elisaitw

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there are academic and literary politics that come into play as well

Don't even get me STARTED on the academic and literary politics of YA/adult! (Actually, this topic has been pretty well hashed out on other threads, but that doesn't stop me from having very strong opinions about the topic, based on personal experience. And not very positive opinions. Grrr.)
#11 - July 15, 2012, 05:43 PM

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