Saturday, February 16, 2008

Poor, Lost Twenty-Something

Hi, this is my first blog post, so I should probably start by introducing myself. I'm Sage (points to pretty angel icon down the side of the page). As you can see, I am not teen, but I still love YA.

But I'm having a problem with YA and my own novels. And it's this:

Twenty-somethings. People in college or recently on their own. Where do their stories go? Are they too old for YA? Too young for adult lit? The only place I've seen twenty-somethings of late have been in chick lit.
Now I know that people say that teens like to read about people their own age or older, but also they say they don't want to read about adults. Now I'm 27, and I'm out of college and living on my own, but I still don't consider myself a real adult. I don't consider myself a teen either, for obvious reasons. I am a young adult, but I don't know that I am a Young Adult. That, of course, doesn't keep me from reading the genre.

But where's the cut off for the characters? 18? They're legally adults, but still teens. 19? The last age to be a teenager, but you're out of high school. 21? Now you can legally drink, but still are seen as immature by many adults. 23? No longer an undergrad, are you still young enough to be YA? 24? Now, we're getting too far, aren't we? When I was little I believed that 24 was when you became an adult. (Now I know better.)

I have main characters of various ages. They range from 14 to 2000-and-something. Maturity-wise, they range from 12 to 26. Does the 2000-going-on-26-year-old belong in YA? I have been told by one reader that pacing-wise and word count-wise, the novel fits YA, but that the MC did seem a little older than YA. When writing DownLoad, which I do consider YA, I had to think hard about the age of the MCs. The male had to be a few years older than the female MC. She had to be in college. So they became 18 and 21. Too old, especially for him? I don't know.

Now I'm writing a new YA novel. I want the characters to be on their own with no parents in the picture. I want the main, main character to depend on the money she gets from her full time job. I feel pressured to make the mains all 18, which seems like it should be a safe YA age. But will YAers relate to someone out of school and living on their own? Or four someones? I hope so.

So what do you guys think? Where do you cut off the acceptable age of a YA main character? At what point do you start to think, "This isn't YA"? And have you read any YA with older main characters and thought that it worked (point me to them please)?


althrasher said...

I feel the same way! My current WIP has the MC at her first year in college, and I don't know if it will count as YA.

I'm interested to see responses to this, though.

bethany said...

Well, for me personally, I like high school books in YA. There's something fascinating about that place where you HAVE to go and are trapped with all these other people who you may or may not like, and the social rules and regulations and norms and just all the stuff that happens. This isn't to say that the years right after high school aren't fascinating, too. Some people sneak in with college aged stuff in YA, but I just recently heard about a great writer getting some rejections because the editors weren't looking for college stuff.

Like everything, it's about trends and about the writing. If it's a great book with great writing, I think it will find a place, but the road might be harder because agents/editors will be trying to place it, and of course marketing is a big deal.

Sage said...

Bethany: "There's something fascinating about that place where you HAVE to go and are trapped with all these other people who you may or may not like, and the social rules and regulations and norms and just all the stuff that happens."

Interesting. But what about teens who are similarly trapped in a job or trapped into another situation, where they must likewise deal with certain rules or norms and with people that they may or may not like? For example, a post-high-school teenaged Cinderella trapped in her job with three people who hate her?

SuzanneYoung said...

Sage, this is awesome question. At the end of one of my novels, my character was in college, and an editor asked me to change it because it would pull the novel out of YA. So, I'm not sure if there is an unsaid, or in this case said, cut off in the eyes of YA publishers.

I think that there are a lot of books falling in the in-between stage of YA and Chick Lit or other adult genre. I'm right there with you.

For my books, my MC's are always 18, but I would love to write a character in college. Maybe you should start a trend and I'll follow.

The Twenty-Something Genre. :D

courtney said...

I know there are YA novels out there with protags who are edging on 19. 21 might be stretching it a little--back in the day, I wrote a novel with a 21-year-old protaganist and when I was querying it (as an adult novel), an agent rejected it on the grounds that they didn't handle "borderline YA." It was a huge lightbulb moment for me. So while the age wasn't exactly YA, I think the themes were (post high school/real world blues). I started querying it as a borderline YA. It never took off.

So I think if the age can't reasonably determine whether or not your book is a YA the themes might. There are lots of adult books with college narrators that have crossover appeal to YA for those reasons. Like Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl books--not technically a YA, Sage, but you might find them worth a glance. If I can think of some more I'll let you know...

I stop at 18 as a character age, nowadays. It feels like it's on the cusp of many things. I can explore certain adult sensibilities and stay grounded in high school and explore those sensibilities as well (like Bethany, I like high school books in YA because the whole idea of a society within a society is darn fascinating to me). It's a good combo for me. I don't see myself going any older, ATM. But you never know!

I think it's possible to explore post-high school situations without going too far into the twenties (ie 22 and up).

Haphazard said...

I'm having trouble with this, too.

My MC is 21 years old. That's the same age as my brother, so I know realistically that people these age can act like children, though especially for my MC I think his maturity may have been stunted by outside forces.

He's not in college. I don't think he ever applied. Most of the story is a wild goose-chase for inheritance and getting caught in a web his late father set up before he died.

Because his parents were the ones that royally screwed him up in both leaving him in the situations in the story and also mentally, I think it may be YA because they're so important.

For the record, I don't like writing about high school. Living it is enough for me. :P

courtney said...

You know, the more I think on it, while books with 20-something narrators have the chance to crossover and appeal to YAs (like Secret Society Girl, The Curious Incident etc), I can't really see those books initially being acquired as a YA or marketed as YA after all. I imagine a younger sounding 20-year-old narrator would still go on the fiction shelves...

And it's sort of strange because books with teen and child narrators can fit comfortably in the general fiction section but it's not something you often see working in reverse (books with adult narrators fitting on the YA shelves).


Catherine said...

Oh yeah - ditto on this.

I think it's so much fun writing about that weird mental time in life when you're out of the house but still ahve no idea where you're going or what you';re doing. I like that sense of "anything could happen".

And yes, it means my charas are too old for YA and too young for adult markets. So I'm in limbo.

Seems a few of us are in that boat, i wonder if maybe you guys can organise an agent interview and ask just what we should be doing with those limbo novels. :D

Sage said...

In a similar vein, and still thinking about DownLoad, what about when you have both a teenaged AND an older MC? Let's pretend my female MC is a senoir in high school instead of a freshman in college, and still 18. But my male MC is still 21. Do we go by his age, or by hers? I say it's HIS story, but SHE's the one the readers are likely to relate to. So which age takes precedence (assuming non-teenager means non-YA)?

courtney said...

Let's pretend my female MC is a senoir in high school instead of a freshman in college, and still 18. But my male MC is still 21. Do we go by his age, or by hers? I say it's HIS story, but SHE's the one the readers are likely to relate to. So which age takes precedence (assuming non-teenager means non-YA)?

What's the narration like? Is it dual-narration? First person or third? Both? I'm inclined to say, if it's his story, his age would take precedence, even if the female character is someone teens can relate to. But I say that without reading it, so take that for what it's worth. :)

Trish Doller said...

A couple of adult books with younger MCs that have had YA crossover success would be Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl series and Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling books. You might check them out to see if they're similar to yours.

bethany said...

Couple of comments-
1. There are tons of things/settings/realities that are fascinating besides high school. Lots of books are set so that school doesn't play a big part, it just fascinates me for some reason, maybe a dark fascination?

So, sure, there are plenty of interesting scenarios. I think if you can make the mc 18 or younger, that it makes everything a little easier if YA is what you want. And if you can't? Do the best story possible. If it isn't YA, it might be a damn good story that ends up shelved elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Sage, I was *just* having this conversation! I have a novel that really is for 20-somethings and while I think of that as literally "young adult" it is not YA (12-16) which, in my mind, should be considered "teen." While there is talk about a new category, "tween," there has been nothing to address this viable category of true "young adults."

As far as I can fathom, anything that addresses issues that are older than 18 is classified as "adult" but might get a hipper sort of cover art.

I left feedback at the SCBWI that I'd love to see something address "crossover" novels (MG to YA, YA to adult, etc.) at next year's conference.

Maybe we can call it "Two-Ohs"? ;-)

-- duskydawn

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I know this is an older post, but I just caught up with my blog reading and got to it. I thought it was great timing, because I just asked my YA editor, Andrew Karre, the same thing, and he answered today on his blog.

Personally, I think it's a tremendous oversight. I was home-schooled and didn't get the traditional "coming of age" stuff until I was in college, and as the number of home-schoolers increases, I think that experience will become more and more typical.