As I am attempting the Nanowrimo challenge with my creative writing students, I'm at the 43,000 word mark of my attempt at a Young Adult novel. This question comes up for though: at what point is a YA novel no longer YA and leaps into something else? Is it coarse language? Sex? Explicit coarse language and explicit sex? For example, the YA novel Sold is about female prostitution. Was the line crossed there? Actually, I don't think so. Yet, where is the line? What is the difference between a YA novel and an adult novel?
The lines are becoming increasingly blurred as access to sex and violence and death is unchecked everyplace else.
Is the line how an author handles any of these topics? Is the difference simply that a YA book has a YA protagonist? If this is true, is Romeo and Juliet a YA play? Is The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds YA or adult?
Sex and violence and death have always been around. They always sell.
It is the access to them which has changed. We've come a long way from my reading the Hardy Boys mysteries and my cousin Mary Beth loaning me The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams when I was 11. Those are what I had access to...and the occasional pages of a Playgirl or Hustler magazine, or nastier, left behind in an alley in Philadelphia.
The last two YA adults which I've read dealt with death in two very distinctive ways. Yet, there were moments in each where I had to pause and reconsider how heavy the situation grew. It is astonishing in some ways that kids are able to handle the topics. I don't know that I as a 11 or 12 or 13 year old would have been able to handle it. Maybe I would have.
The first novel which made me cry real tears, so much so that I sobbed, was Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. I absolutely lost on the rug in the family room of my parents house when the baby strangled to death on the umbilical cord and then Catherine hemorrhages and dies as well. I was 16.
I ask these questions because as I write my novel about growing up in the inner city I revisit some fairly gritty situations. Where is the line? I want to keep it honest, and in the YA genre, but where is the line?