A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

YA Classification Not a Commentary on Quality

by on February 28, 2013

Recently the movie version of the book Warm Bodies came out in theatres.  This movie was marketed to young adults and was made by the same company that put out the Twilight movies (Summit Entertainment).  Unfortunately, that is not the audience that Isaac Marion (author of Warm Bodies) had in mind for his novel.  When asked about his book being classified as Young Adult (YA) Marion said that he didn’t think while writing it that the book would be marketed to children.  He goes on to say “What does it mean to be YA fiction? To me it implies that it’s dumbed-down somehow, that it’s more simplistic than “adult” fiction.” [1]  He goes on to say that having the book shelved with the YA books will make adults embarrassed to read the novel.

Every author writes a book for his or her own audience, although they may write a novel that ends up appealing to a wider range than the author originally envisioned.  In my library we have Diary of a Wimpy Kid books in both the Junior Fiction and Young Adult Fiction sections, and there are many YA cross-over hits that have hit the adult market (Twilight and The Hunger Games especially).  I think that Marion’s reasoning for not wanting his book classified as YA stems from an area of misunderstanding.

Books are classified based on anticipated audience, and while reading level does play a factor, it is not the sole determination of what age group a book is marketed towards.  If this were the case, then most books would be placed in the YA category because according to the U.S. National Adult Literacy Survey[2] most adults read at approximately a seventh grade reading level.  Marion says that his book contains a lot of graphic violence, drug use, sex, foul language, and other adult themes.  These are all reasons to classify it as an adult novel, but none of these items singles out how this book is more complexly written than a YA novel.

In contrast to Marion’s views on the YA classification, just recently the Printz Award winner was announced.  The Printz Award is given out every year to the best written book for teens, and is based entirely on literary merit[3].  This award highlights the YA novels that are complex and well written.  This award is one of the ways in which librarians and other book lovers are trying to reduce the stigma that is still associated with the YA classification.

Each author should be able to write for his or her intended audience.  Hopefully though, more authors and readers will classify books based on something other than reading level.  By his words Marion’s book includes graphic depictions of many adult topics; this alone could be enough to have the book classified as an adult novel.  But, that level of description does not mean that the book is better written than a novel written for a teen audience.  Hopefully, as more adults continue to read cross-over titles, and as the Printz Award ages and gains recognition, readers will see the YA classification as an indication that the novel has themes that will appeal to teen readers, and not see the classification as a comment on the quality of the novel’s writing.

[1] http://www.zombiesworld.com/interview-of-isaac-marion-about-warm-bodies/

[2] http://qpc.co.la.ca.us/cms1_033658.pdf

[3] http://www.ala.org/yalsa/printz