Thursday, May 12, 2011

What Makes a Book Young Adult, Anyway?

Even though I spend most of my time working on my Hogwarts book, I still occasionally think about what I will write once it's finished. After all, if I ever want to be published, I can't keep writing what is essentially fan fic. I do have a story in mind, but there is still one big decision to make -- the age of the main character.

My first instinct would be to have the MC be a twelve year old boy, which would make it a MG (middle grade) novel, since I think my whimsical writing style lends itself to that age group. But as the story involves learning about magic in a castle, I wonder if that will make it too much like Harry Potter.

I could easily have the MC be someone who just finished college, and that does have a certain appeal to me. After all, think of all those people who grew up with Harry Potter, but have since graduated from college and who desire to read stories similar to the HP series, but filled with characters closer to their own ages. Unfortunately, I've been told by a few authors that adults read mostly dark fantasy or high fantasy, with very little whimsicalness.

I could make the MC a teenager, which would make it more of a YA (young adult) book, but I've been told that YA books are heavily focused on female protagonists, with lots of emotional angst, and coming of age themes. Most importantly, they require being able to write in a YA voice. Don't think I would be very good at that.

Why am I mentioning all this?

Last week I picked up The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott. I haven't finished the book yet, but I already have one big question.

Is this book considered YA?

I mean, it was in the teen fantasy section, and the MC's are in high school, but they don't sound like high-schoolers at all. Scott occasionally reminds us that the MC's are young by giving them thoughts such as "she hated it when adults did that", but 99.9% of the time the MC's talk, act, and think like adults.

The book made the best sellers list, and there are three sequels, so it must be at least somewhat popular, so I can only see two possibilities. Either this book is not considered YA (so lots of adults or middle graders must be reading it instead) or YA books don't require all that much of a YA voice to be successful.

Anybody know the answer?

1 comment:

  1. Regarding how similar the plot arc you describe is to, say Harry Potter, I think that setting and the "society" chosen go a long way towards establishing the desired conflicts and differentiation can be born from that.

    Consider Harry Potter's world compared to that presented in the television series "Merlin". Both of these track a YA as they learn magic in a castle. In the Potter verse, we are set in more or less modern-day where magic is practiced in secret, hidden from every day by illusion. Harry's closest friends and allies are there to support him in his magical challenges.

    In Merlin, on the other hand, we are set in pre-industrial times where magic is well known by all, but outlawed such that the cost of practicing (or even having magical talent) is Death. For Merlin, even his closest friends must be kept in the dark about magic.

    The differences in setting and societies perception of magic presents both MCs with a very different set of challenges to overcome when magic is required to solve a particular problem. I don't know if this information is useful or not, and I haven't taken much time to think it through... But thought I would share anyway. Cheers~