Frank Cottrell Boyce and “Young Adult”

Thanks to Jenny Davidson who led me to this review by Frank Cottrell Boyce of Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go. I was curious to see what Boyce thought since I’m currently listening with great pleasure to his latest (Cosmic due out in the US next month— thanks to Kelly Herold for pointing out its availability at audible.com). He thinks very highly of it (and now I’m very eager to read it too!) and uses his critical knife for something else. (BTW: Jenny quoted this on her blog too; I’m quoting it here as well because I know this will be of interest to those in the YA world, some of whom may not read Jenny’s blog.)

If I have one quibble, it is that I think it should be sitting proudly on the shelf next to these books, rather than being hidden away in the “young adult” ghetto. There’s been a lot of fury among authors recently about the proposal to “age-band” children’s books, but in a way they’re too late. The real disaster has already happened. It’s called “young adult” fiction. It used to be the case that you moved on from children’s fiction to adult fiction, from The Owl Service, maybe, to Catcher in the Rye. There were, of course, some adult authors who were more fashionable with teenage readers than others – Salinger, Vonnegut, Maya Angelou. But these were chosen by teenagers themselves from the vast world of books. Some time ago, someone saw that trend and turned it into a demographic. Fortunes were made but something crucial was lost. We have already ghettoised teenagers’ tastes in music, in clothes and – God forgive us – in food. Can’t we at least let them share our reading? Is there anything more depressing than the sight of a “young adult” bookshelf in the corner of the shop. It’s the literary equivalent of the “kids’ menu” – something that says “please don’t bother the grown-ups”. If To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, that’s where it would be placed, among the chicken nuggets.

Variations of this idea have been bandied about before. Thoughts?

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Frank Cottrell Boyce and “Young Adult”

  1. It’s interesting; but I don’t see how his reading experience is everyones. Did I read adult books from the age 10 up? Yep, but not excusively so. As a teen, did I wish for a bigger selection of YA books? Yes. It’s not that certain adult authors were “fashionable”; its that certain adult authors had somethings that were included the YA experience I was looking for. So I see the expanded choices for today’s teen as a good thing and not a “ghetto” thing.

    I am amused at the idea of someone telling teens they cannot read adult; just as I amused of people telling me not to read YA.

    Much to muse on, which means I imagine I’ll be posting on this, also.

  2. Me too. I’ve had the review sitting next to me for a couple of days, in order to write something clever and thoughtful on the subject.

  3. Frank Cottrell Boyce

    I worry that the extract makes the article look like an attack on YA books when it fact it was giving five stars to a new YA book and saying it should – like a lot of YA – have a wider readership.
    My worry is not about readers. Readers are adventurous creatures. I know that.
    My worry is about what demographics do in the long term to the writers.
    I really do know about this because I work in the film industry.
    You start by aiming stuff at a demographic. You end up writing for that demographic. And that’s very narrowing both for the writer and the audience. Check out your multiplex if you don’t believe this

  4. Frank, thanks for commenting. I don’t think you need to worry that the extract suggests anything about the book you reviewed. The issue (which has come up before in other places) is about the concept of YA. One I’m mixed about myself which is why I wrote this post. I felt you made some important points very worth thinking about.

    As I just wrote, I’m unsure about this issue. On the one hand, I just read John Green’s forthcoming Paper Towns and it seems quintessential YA to me. That is what he wants to write and he hits the notes just right for that particular cohort of readers. It would fit perfectly in any YA section, it seems to me.

    On the other hand I continue to be bothered about the publication of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief in the US as YA when it was published first as an adult title in Australia. The book feels pretty adult to me — one of those on the cusp that will appeal to adults and teens alike. I think kids would have found that book if it had been in the adult section, adults less so when it was in the YA section.

    So, while I think there is definitely a place for books that speak to the particular concerns and issues of teens (and a place to shelf them so they can find them easily) I also am bothered when readership is unfortunately limited by a book being labeled YA. It isn’t that adults are sticking up their noses at YA, just that it doesn’t occur to them that there would be books in that section that would appeal to them.

  5. Lee

    I’ve been trying to keep out of this discussion, mostly because, liike Monica, I see it both ways. But Frank, I’m not sure what you’re suggesting as a solution – publish all YA books in future as adult books? Nor do I fully accept your point about film. The multiplex is not the only venue, and though indie filmmakers rarely become rich or have a huge following, I wouldn’t like to discount them either. And as film moves more and more online, we’re likely to see new models and trends, possibly a growing importance of . (Disclosure: my daughter, a composer and sound designer, is making her first indie film.)

  6. Lee

    Whoops, left something out: ‘growing importance of niche markets’

  7. This is one place where I happen to think the British and the Aussie have it right in the publishing realm when they publish titles like Curious Incident as both YA and Adult. We are starting to see more crossovers and they should be shelved in both areas. That increases potential readership, doesn’t it? And reduces the notion that authors are writing for a demographic?

  8. I’m not sure I understand the concern over what a book being published as YA does “in the long term to the writers.” It seems to me that the chances of a book being remembered long past its publication date are equal for adult and children’s publishing: Slim. And you could legitimately argue that many times the books that are influential to us as children and teenagers have a more significant place in our personal readerly pantheons than those we encounter when we are older.

    Most books aren’t around for the long term (and, yes, I think we all agree there are problems with that) and most writers toil in (at least semi-)obscurity. My impression is actually that the YA/children’s universe of publishing is somewhat less cutthroat in the time frame under which success/failure is decreed. In the time I’ve been watching things, it also seems to me that the YA/children’s field does a better job of recognizing a wider range of books come awards time (and not just the same five), giving yet another avenue through which deserving books may find greater readerships.

  9. Lee

    Gwenda, actually I do understand Frank’s concern about the long-term effect on writers – not in remaining in print or in memory, but in terms of their writing itself. I wish Frank would comment again here, and I apologise if I’m misinterpreting him, but it seems to me that the danger of writing for a specific market can mean accepting, even if semi-subconsciously, the expectations and demands and prescriptive norms of the owner-keepers of that market.

    In response, of course, I’d counter that there are writers, and books, that break the mould, and publishers who take risks, thereby stretching the rules and expanding the field, but these are the exceptions, and the risk still exists.

  10. If that is the case, then I don’t actually think that’s a valid point either — because, again, that can happen just as easily in adult fiction (and, in fact, I suspect you are more likely to be expected to write the same kind of book over and over again in adult fictionland). M.T. Anderson would be an example of a writer publishing wildly different books in the field, none of them showing a stagnation in quality or imagination (the opposite, of course).

  11. Julie

    Gwenda – You’re absolutely right about M.T. Anderson’s huge range and wonderful imagination, but my bet is he writes the story that needs to be written and then lets his publishers worry about how to market it. That had to be true with Octavian Nothing, which confounds even some adults as to its target audience – the best books often perplex people who like things in neat categories. What concerns me most is how an emphasis on target audience influences the process of writing itself. When writers stop writing their real stories – and by real, I mean authentic, told through a unique voice without any concern for marketing – and start putting the cart before the horse, then thoughts about the marketability of/demographic for the story begin to shape the story itself. This is more true when the writing leaps from picture or middle grade books up into the YA list. I know lots of adult writers try to appeal to a certain demographic, too, but does that mean it produces better stories? I’m less sure about that, and I suspect it does not.

  12. Pingback: wanderings for June 15th « YA Fabulous!

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