Where is the Line for Young Adult Literature?

Normally I’m the last person in the world to advocate censorship. I hate the idea of things being taken away from audiences, or artistic expression being tampered with because a few people have decided that it’s best for everyone. I’ve seen the ‘someone think of the children’ argument a thousand times and it fails to impress in most cases. I’m not advocating that children or young adults shouldn’t be allowed to read certain things. This is just a question of classification. What makes a book ‘young adult?’ Where is the line for that genre?

To that end I will address three case studies, Harry Potter, Skulduggery Pleasant and Michael Grant.

9780545162074_p3_v1_s192x300Let’s start with Harry, as that’s the series everyone knows. I would argue that Harry Potter stopped being young adult literature about five books in. They’re excellent books, starring a young adult character, but the tone subject matter and themes of the Order of the Phoenix are very different to those of the Philosopher’s Stone. Harry is forced to deal with grown-up problems. There is murder, chaos and suffering and I would argue that the change in all those things places these books in completely different age ranges. Harry Potter aged with its audience and by the end of the series the people it was originally written for were in their twenties. Still, I suppose the book is still about a magic school, romance, friendship between teens and it does keep a certain innocence about it. The issues Harry goes through are still balanced against romances friendships and nonsense. Somewhere in the series the books stop being young adult so where does the series transfer from young adult fantasy to just pure fantasy?

Skulduggery_Pleasant_seriesSkulduggery Pleasant can make no such claim to beginning in innocence. In its first book there was murder and torture, people, creatures and all manner of things were torn limb from limb. However, the tone still had a certain whimsical fanciful quality to it. Is that what dictates its genre? The writing style? Because if that’s the case Harry Potter ceased to be a young adult series about half way through book three. Is it the tone? The events? Or is it just a young protagonist?

If it is the young protagonist then the newest Skulduggery Pleasant certainly does not qualify, the main character is twenty-two, but the whimsical tone keeps up. So, should it still be classed as Young Adult literature? Or is it time for the series to be taken out of that section and be allowed to stand on its own in the fantasy zeitgeist? Are the adventures of Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain now suited for the world at large?

Gone-by-Michael-Grant-seriesMy third case study addresses the question in the starkest light. The work of Michael Grant, the Gone, BZRK and Messenger of Fear series seem to be built around the concept of traumatising children. While they involve young adult characters the work is even more vicious for that. IT doesn’t have a childish tone, it deals with issues that, while some are child-related could just as easily have adults in the main roles with little issue. The main thing that seems to make these series young adult is the young adult protagonists, which is a little strange isn’t it? What other genre is defined by the fact that the protagonist falls within a certain demographic? Grant’s work even comes with a warning that it may be unacceptable for younger audiences. While being in a genre designed for younger audiences.

There are almost no consistent factors between these series than that. One series deals with ‘teenage’ issues like romance and petty feuding, one walks that lone, one doesn’t. One has a whimsical tone and one is unapologetically dark. One is more or less peaceful, a single death treated like a massive issue, one has a massacre at the end of the first book, portrayed rather graphically at that. Even the age of the protagonist doesn’t always stick within its own limits.

From what I can see it’s almost completely subjective. There seem to be no real rules or regulations. Maybe it’s just whatever ‘feels right?’ It’s something we need to ask ourselves about our classification systems.

By Robert Barlow

Advertisements
Published in: on July 29, 2017 at 4:58 am  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://ouroborusbookservices.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/where-is-the-line-for-young-adult-literature/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: