Y.A. for Grownups is a weekly series in which we talk about Y.A. literature—from the now nostalgia-infused stories we devoured as kids to more contemporary tomes being read by young people today.
When we launched our series on Young Adult fiction for the many adults who are reading those books, we didn't consider it a statement about the official publishing-world definition of "Y.A." That's why, in our first installation, we included a number of technically non-Young-Adult books. Some, like From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Beverly Cleary's Ramona series, are what you'd call "middle grade," or even "children's," for the under-12 set. Books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Anne of Green Gables came before the term "Y.A." came into wide use, and so, while they featured girl characters of a certain age, and continue to be read fondly by girls of various ages, they were technically books for grown-ups. Meanwhile, the later books in the Harry Potter and Twilight series, for instance, skew on the older side of Y.A., with very adult situations unfolding for older characters—perhaps another reason they've found such a cross-over audience with adults.
For our purposes, it doesn't so much matter what the strict publishing definition of Y.A. is: this series is about re-reading the books we grew up on, and revisiting them in new ways, as well as looking at new books that captivate not only kids but also adults. We cared less about what they were sold as, or what part of the library or bookstore we found them in, as long as they were books we felt strongly about as adults, even if they were technically targeted to younger readers. It did matter to some of our readers, however, who pointed out—very nicely, we'd add—that we weren't quite being accurate with our terminology here:
This essay is not about YA but middle-school girl heroes. But it has a wonderful side effect for me. I just now realized 6--10 of these books will make a great double-birthday gift for my two grand-daughters who are in low- and high-end middle school.
Really love the intent behind this, and if it's a regular column, I will keep reading. But yes, you clearly need some insight from editors and librarians, as you're not understanding the difference between middle grade and YA. Very different themes, focus, treatment, and issues.
Of course, these are valid points, and lead to interesting questions. What exactly is "Y.A."? What does it mean? Why did it begin in the first place, and when was that? What has it become since? We conferred with librarians, agents, publishing world executives, and the experts of the Internet to put together a primer of sorts. They don't all agree, either—nor is this current-day definition one that will remain so forever. As author Michael Cart, writing for YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, for which he is a former president, explains, "The term 'young adult literature' is inherently amorphous, for its constituent terms 'young adult' and 'literature' are dynamic, changing as culture and society — which provide their context — change."