Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When is a YA not a YA

Clearly we all have Passover/Easter fever or something. I almost forgot to post, too, and really don't have anything worth discussing.

And the one thing I have been thinking about, I want to wait to fully discuss, until after Molly and Sinead have seen the movie...

But as a teaser, I saw Hanna last week. It's a pretty great film, I think. Definitely a story I wish I'd written. Totally up my alley in terms of the kinds of stories I'm trying to write writing right now....

But it got me thinking about what makes a book or movie Young Adult vs adult. It's not just about the age of the protagonist. I've seen discussions on the topic before that made sense to me and if memory serves the differentiations had to do with the themes explored etc. but I don't think there are any obvious answers. It might be "you know it when you see it" and it might simply be a marketing decision. Some books, like the Harry Potter series and Twilight and The Hunger Games are clearly YA in my mind, but they get read by a ton of adults. But not all YA stories appeal to adults.

And I think with this current "hot trend" in YA a lot of books/stories are being released as YA that five or so years ago would have been published as adult books, regardless of the age of the protagonist.

Some books that come to mind that have kid protagonists but feel more like adult books to me include, Room, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, and The Book Thief. I recently bought a new YA, Between Shades of Gray, that I'm really looking forward to reading, and I suspect it might fall into that category, too. Certainly the topic feels adult to me, even though it was on the teen shelf at Indigo. (Thanks to new writer friend, Angela Cerrito, for pointing me to this book. Angela's debut novel The End of the Line has just been released, BTW. And it has a thirteen y/o protagonist but an adult sounding subject. Cannot WAIT to read.)

As for movies... I did post before about True Grit and how I thought it was kind of crazy that it was being marketed as an adult Western with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon as the stars, when clearly, to me, it was a young adult story with Hailee Steinfeld as its star...

Another book and movie that just sprang to mind is The Lovely Bones. I loved that book. LOVED it. And although the main character was young (and dead) I thought of it as an adult book. But I'll bet if it had been first released now, instead of in 2002, that it would have been released as YA. And they marketed the movie as YA, and it kind of bombed. I admit I haven't seen it, which is shocking because I see a lot (a ton) of films and was really looking forward to that one, until I started hearing negative things. Did they tame it down while trying to make it more of a teen story??

And then there's Hanna, with the same wonderful lead actress as The Lovely Bones, Saoirse Ronan. And while this story is clearly about a teen girl, and has fairy tale elements to it... To me it was completely an adult story.

Not sure I fully understand why I think this. Can't wait to discuss.

Anyone else seen Hanna? Thoughts?

12 comments:

Stephanie Doyle said...

Haven't seen it but really want to see it. I don't get motivated to go to the movies often - but they showed the previews for this at Jane Eyre and I really hope to get to see it before it leaves theaters.

Awesome discussion by the way...

Molly O'Keefe said...

I can not WAIT to see this movie - everything about it is appealing to me right now. your question is a rough one - my instinct was to say well of course it's about the themes - butbut maybe it's more about the stakes. thirteen year old in a life or death situation - YA. thirteen year old figuring out the meaning of life, with different stakes - adult. Don't know. Maybe it's also about the protagonist - Incident in the night - that protagonist was not accessible to kids in a lot of ways. Harry Potter - totally accessible no matter what happened to him.

Hanna - not that I've seen it, but perhaps not as accessible. Lovely Bones, not as accessible. Not sure, I want to drink five beers and think about this some more...

I so badly want to read ROOM, but I think my heart is too weak, maybe it's time I grew up.

Sinead M said...

great discussion topic. I've read Room and it is not a Teen book in any way, except that the protagonist is 5 and the book is written in his POV.
Interesting book, I was riveted, but can't say I loved it.

As for YA, such a strange line to walk the difference between YA and Ya adult and you're right, some YA should be marketed as adult, and some clearly belongs in the teen camp and what makes the difference is such an interesting conversation.

Eileen said...

ARRGHH! Wrote long thoughtful comment that blogger wouldn't let me post!

Eileen said...

Okay. Trying again.

I'm not sure how to make that decision about what is YA and what isn't. I know that I was surprised when I heard that Curious Incident was a YA novel. Even though the age of the protagonist was around 15 (or at least that's what I remember), it didn't strike me as YA in any way.

I read AFTER by Amy Efaw and even though that book dealt with much deeper and darker and very adult themes (sex, pregnancy, parental abuse), I would definitely classify it as a YA, although it was fascinating to read it as an adult. It was also fascinating to read it as an author. I had just read Tami Cowden's awesome book on archetypes and the two main characters (girl and lawyer) were so clearly The Waif and The Crusader. It was great to see Cowden's ideas play out on the page.

I think Molly has an interesting point about the accessibility of the protagonist as well. The protag of the Efaw book was SUCH a teenager and hers was the only POV. If they'd thrown in the lawyer's POV and/or the mother's POV . . . . I'm not sure it would have still been a YA.

Maureen McGowan said...

I thought it was about stakes until The Hunger Games, and would have put it the other way around... YA the stakes often seemed smaller to me, besting the bully, figuring out who you are, making parent proud, winning the big game, whereas there were more adult books with life or death stakes. Maybe not in romance, but in general...
I think the accessibility of the character idea is a great insight, too. Maybe even more than the themes or how deep it is... because to me, a lot of the best recent YAs are deeper than a lot of adult books and more willing to explore "big ideas" than a lot of adult genre books, anyway...

I still haven't read Room, either, and hadn't thought of it as YA until it was named one of the best YA books of the year by the Canadian Library Association... I don't know if the publisher was ever marketing it as YA, but clearly librarians are...

I think Curious Incident and The Book Thief were released as YA in some countries and adult in others.

Eileen said...

I always thought of The Book Thief as YA. I felt like it was a story that had been done and done and done. Kind of like those Luxe books. I felt like I'd seen that story over and over and over again. It was well-written and totally suitable for a YA audience that perhaps hadn't read that particular story before. I would have eaten those books up with a spoon as a teenager, but as an adult, I'd felt I'd seen them too many times to be interested.

Maureen McGowan said...

That's interesting about The Book Thief. Coming clean, I haven't read it, yet. LOL. I clearly was doing one of those cocktail party things where you talk about a book you've read stuff about, even though you haven't read it. ;)

But it was put out as adult in Australia and Germany before it was released in the US as YA. That's all I know. Sounds like the US publishers got it right.

Eileen said...

Or not. I know a lot of adults who loved both The Book Thief and the Luxe books. I just felt like they were stories I'd read before.

Then again, I felt that way about March, too. Civil War was yucky. Slavery is bad. Got it. The writing was top notch. I'm sure the research was exemplary. I was just bored.

Eileen said...

BTW, I only read The Book Thief because my book group read it. Probably would never have picked it up otherwise. Ditto on March.

Maureen McGowan said...

I picked up The Book Thief because it was repped by my new agency. :)

Sue said...

Loved the Book Thief. Totally bought it.

Hanna -- mmmm. . . loved the premise, loved the acting (though Blanchett's accent is a bit in and out), but, imho, the movie ended up being running, more running and then even more running. Oh, and killing.

It was shot beautifully, but it could have had a tad more plot development.

Still, I could be convinced otherwise over a few beers.

Sue D

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