Adult books for fans of YA

Maggie Stiefvater recently posted about YA as a genre:

I did a poll last year on my readers’ ages. I got 10k responses. Overwhelmingly they were 18 and up, with the vast majority in the 18-35 range. From a professional writer’s side of the table, I write stories that will please my existing reader base, and my readers are aging. They began reading me in high school and kept reading me. So I age up, up, up — until one could argue I’ve been writing adult books for years now.

But also, I write for me. Stories that intrigue me. Stories that are about questions I’m grappling with, or situations I’ve lived through, or themes I want to live with for a year. And I’m getting older. I began publishing YA when I was 25.

That means I was processing my young adult years. I wrote for myself, which is to say, I was also writing for other young people. However, as I get older, if I still write for myself, without considering my audience . . . I keep writing for the person I am processing.

If I want to write for teens, I will need to add in a conscious filter to be sure I’m writing a YA story. Because otherwise, guess who loves my books? 18-35 year olds. SHOCKING

YA is no longer an age range, it’s a philosophy, it’s a promise of a certain kind of character-driven story, and that’s why readers come to it no matter what age they are. We [need to] find another way to label them so we understand that these books embody that immediate, close POV, progressive, genre-combining power that draws readers to YA now, without taking teen shelfspace.

I say this at every event I do these days: YA is changing! It’s not fiction for teenagers anymore, because older people read it too. There needs to be a distinction between ‘teen’ and ‘YA’ fiction. We’re in a place where books get criticised for having characters who ‘act like children’, in a book for children, about children, because there are so many books about early-twenties characters in the YA section, that it skews what the genre should be.

A significant subset of YA books are in that genre because there’s no other category where young writers can publish the kinds of books they want to write, without calling it YA. This is really frustrating, because it limits the type of books I can write.

I write characters, not age-ranges. I would write the same protagonist in the same way if they were 17 or 21 – because I’m writing a character who I want to write and read about, who I can relate to, who experiences the world in the way that a 26-year-old like me does now. But there’s currently an upper limit on the age I can give that character, because if they were a few years old, what genre would it be – adult sci-fi? That’s not where my readers are. That’s not where readers who are looking for the kind of books that I am writing are going.

In ten years, will I be writing YA? I think I’ll be writing the same kind of books, but they won’t be called YA anymore. There will be a new category that makes more sense of the chaotic jumble of books being marketed at some nebulous demographic none of us quite understand. The genre is in huge flux right now, which is incredibly exciting from a writing perspective – we’re shaping the literary landscape into what we want it to be.

I don’t have an answer to this – I just wanted to share some of my thoughts here, and Maggie’s, who consistently tweets about this in a thoughtful way that makes me think. Maggie also mentioned some books she loves which are adult but embody the tone of what we currently think of as YA genre (….for now.)

Another observation: I’ve actually read two adult novels in the past year’s time that are classified as adult and felt like YA (philosophically, tonally. They were All the Birds in the Sky, by and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by . They belong roundly in adult, but I think they’re also what adult YA readers are looking for when they come to YA. I think . . .

This was a huge eye-opening moment for me, because a few of these are my favourite books, and this is why I love them. So I thought I’d share some other books which feel like YA, but are shelved as Adult fiction (but I hugely recommend The Watchmaker of Filigree Street too.)

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers – Becky Chambers never fail to make my heart brim with love for humans and her wonderful visions of aliens. Her books always offer such unique and optimistic looks on difficult issues like gender, social equality, racism and hope. I wouldn’t mind living in her future, which isn’t something I say often about science fiction.

The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan – Magic and fairy tales, families and death, stone and water and bones. The writing is so poetic and easy to read, and I swallowed it up.

Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett – A fantasy world of mechanic dragons and their hyper-masculine riders, and the magicians they team up with. Delicious indulgent fun.

Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal  – Magical regency romp around the world with magic and science and the boundary between the two.

A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland – An old man is trapped in prison, accused of witchcraft. An old man who has spent his life learning how to tell stories, and manipulate perceptions. An old man who will do anything to get free. An old man, who single-handedley manages to take down an entire government from a prison cell…..

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – This is the perfect mix of the magical regency London of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Georgette Heyer’s shamelessly trope-filled romances, and the charm and relationship dynamics of Sabriel. The whole book make me squirm with delight – from the UNICORNS to GIANT FURIOUS MERMAIDS to the CLOUD FLYING. Just – I want to tell you about every scene, because every scene is a delight. If you’re looking for more diverse fantasy, then this is the place to look.

Do you agree that there’s such a thing as ‘YA style’ adult fiction? What books do you think fit that tone? (Because I want to read them all.)

Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including Green Rising, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. She is a RLF Royal Fellow, freelance editor and screenwriter. Lauren is the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League, and on the board of the Authors & Illustrators Sustainability Working Group through the Society of Authors. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide and been translated into six languages. The Quiet at the End of the World was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2022. She has taught creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands.

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