Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who Is the YA Audience?

Or, Does Age Really Matter In Books?

teenager reading Image by Vanessa Yvonne

As several bloggers have mentioned before (My Friend Amy, and I think KMont from Lurv A La Mode and Katiebabs from Babling About Books, and More--sorry, I'm too lazy to look up the actual links), young adult as a genre modifier is pretty hinky.  Basically it's any book published with a teenage character, right?  Except I do think there are at least some books in all other genres that feature teenage characters... but let's not muddy up the issue.  YA=teenage protagonist.  That's all that we need to know.

But is it?  I talked a few weeks ago about how every main character in books seems to be a bibliophile; do teenagers or even younger kids need a character the same age in order to connect with them?  I would say... hell to the no.

Unlike interests such as reading, I would argue age is not something a lot of people connect with.  I'm not saying experience doesn't impart wisdom or confidence or whatever adjective you tell yourself you've gained when you blow out yet another candle on the birthday cake; just that some people gain a lot more of it in a shorter time span than others.  And said experience doesn't really preclude one from connecting with people older or younger than oneself.

For example, when I was in grade school I was reading books with main characters who were in their twenties and thirties, and I had absolutely no trouble connecting with them.  I might understand their characters differently now that I'm older, yes, but I still connected with them.  Now that I'm in my twenties, I read books about teenagers and kids.  Do I have any trouble understanding where they are coming from?  No. 

So why are books for the under-eighteen crowd grouped and marketed by age?  I think it's clear age has no sway over reading tastes or connecting with characters.  And don't say it's to protect teenagers from sex and bad language, because you can find both in YA novels these days.

How much do you think age matters when it comes to books?  Does the YA genre label have any use beyond marketing?

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