Tags: audience

What is YA anyhow? Smart stuff from editor Cheryl Klein

by Amber Keyser
Published on: May 12, 2014
Categories: Craft, Genre, Other Topics
Comments: No Comments

My dear friend and kick-ass writer, Cidney Swanson, gave me a copy of Cheryl Klein‘s book SECOND SIGHT: AN EDITOR’S TALKS ON WRITING, REVISING & PUBLISHING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS.  It is so awesome.

My favorite parts, which you should definitely read ASAP, are the sections when she shows multiple drafts of the same manuscript chapter through multiple rounds of revision.  This will help you learn to revise more than anything I can think of.  Go buy the book now!

But what I wanted to call out in this post is the chapter entitled “Theory: A Definition of Young Adult Literature.”  Since many of us Scrivas (Nicole, Mary, Ruth, Melissa, Addie, and me) write YA fiction, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes a good YA novel.  Cheryl Klein’s exploration of the form is spot on brilliant.

She says:

So I’ve been thinking off and on about a practical definition of YA literature — something I could look at to help me decide whether a manuscript is an adult novel or a middle-grade novel or, indeed, a YA. Such delineations don’t matter to me as a reader — a good book is a good book — but they do matter to me as an editor and publisher, because I want every book I publish to find the audience that is right for it, and sometimes, despite a child or teenage protagonist, a manuscript is meant for an adult audience. Hence I have written the definition below to help me think through these situations as they come up. This is very much a WORKING theory; I hope you all will offer challenges, counterexamples, additions or arguments to help me improve what I’m saying here. But here’s what I have right now — the definition broken into five parts for easier parsing:

  1. A YA novel is centrally interested in the experience and growth of

  2. its teenage protagonist(s),

  3. whose dramatized choices, actions, and concerns drive the

  4. story,

  5. and it is narrated with relative immediacy to that teenage perspective.


In the complete post, which you really must read, she deconstructs each of these points and adds a sixth implicit feature of YA.  I really thought Cheryl’s thoughts were wonderful.  Enjoy!

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