This came up when a friend asked for women of color or women writers’ books. So I pulled out my goodreads and gave a few suggestions. I included Dragon Pearl because- well because I kind of loved it and I want a bazillion people to read it. I made a comment “YA but doesn’t feel like it.” Someone raised a question with a link to this article.
Ok…. Breathe deeply and don’t get angry. So fifteen years ago when I first started looking at being a writer – specifically a Sci-fi/fantasy writer – the general was that women writers were predominately romance novelists. Apparently, they’ve been allowed to break into YA – but GOD FORBID they write for “real” sci-fi or fantasy fans.
If The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is “Young Adult” than so is every single book by John Scalzi – and they are NOT Young Adult. He is not classified as a YA author on any chart I know. The foul language alone in his books would cause every publisher to push it up to adult. And The Fifth Season has language, violence, sexual content…. It isn’t smut by any stretch, but it is DEFINITELY adult.
There are plenty of truly YA writers out there – Rachel Aaron, Tamora Pierce, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, Christopher Paolini, R.L. Stine, and dozens of others. Now, as I was trying to remember some of these I did a quick Google and found this ranking site of YA authors and there are a LOT of women on this list. Yay?
Don’t get me wrong – I think the number of women in the top 50 YA authors is awesome. I don’t think Wuthering Heights belongs as YA. There are few Ray Bradbury books I would recommend as YA (up to and including Fahrenheit 451). The Twilight series should never be read without an in-depth conversation on identifying unhealthy relationships and I sure as hell would try to dissuade anyone under 18 reading it. I also have never seen The Lord of the Rings on the YA aisle in the library or a bookstore. Why is Tolkien on this list? The Hobbit, sure. But LOTR?
I think part of the problem is in the definition “young adult.” This is generally a market of 14-20 year-old readers. But that is a significant difference in maturity and experiences. Using Twilight, I would never want to let a 14-year-old read it, but I might encourage a 19-year-old to read it and then read about abusive relationships and mental health. Similarly, this list has Rohl Dalh with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on this list – and I would never necessarily recommend that to anyone over 15 (honestly, I greatly disagree with him on this list. He is a middle-grades author at the high-age-end). But even The Secret Garden isn’t a book I’d recommend to a higher-age reader of the YA range.
I read YA – anyone who reads this blog knows this by now. I have read the Hunger Games trio, I have read the Selection series, I have read the Lunar Chronicle, I have read the first few in the Percy Jackson series (and then he just kept putting them out and lost interest). I also occasionally slip down to the middle grade books to see what the difference is – and there is a difference.
A Court of Thorns and Roses has a review on Goodreads that claims “… this book is, if you ask me, nothing more or less than softcore erotica. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re looking for. ” (Emily May, 2.5 star review). This is NOT Young Adult. Why would Amazon.com have it on “Teen” lists???
Yes, by the time I was 19 this is the kind of book I was reading. But if you don’t think Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is YA (and it is also NEVER shelved in YA) then this book shouldn’t be. I would argue The Selection series shouldn’t be. It might have a teenage protagonist, but so does Wheel of Time. And thinking about it, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard isn’t something I would classify as “Young Adult.”
Ok, without going through pretty much every “YA” book I’ve read in the last few years – I am not sure I still believe in a “young adult” category. OR this category needs to take in a lot of the existing fantasy/sci-fi writers. I think it needs to be treated more like movies. If you drop cursing, nudity, sexual content, explicit blood and violence (if anyone loses a limb!) – it shouldn’t be “young adult” anymore. The motion picture rating scale at least makes sense. Sometimes I think it’s a little silly, but at least it makes sense.
I think it would not be inappropriate for someone like The Author’s Guild (with support from others like NWU and SFWA) to make a move to call for a standardized rating. It would protect women authors from being mis-categorized. It would clarify for parents what is appropriate and give them a way to guide their younger kids towards or away from specific books or series.