How do we define the various demographics books are published for? Publishing is split into Adult publishing and Children’s publishing but what determines who a book is published for? This is something I’ve thought about for a long time (especially since my primary focus in undergrad was on Children’s lit) but it recently came up on Twitter and I thought it was worth talking about.
I think the first answer that always comes at point is the age of the main character but a number of books that would be YA/MG based on the age of the character are often published as Adult. For example, The Girl With All the Gifts. A non-literary example of this is Stranger Things – a show with younger characters that is aimed at an older audience.
So how is it that we determine who the audience of a piece of work is going to be? Is it based on the content within the book?
The short answer seems to be yes but it also brings up the question of what and how do we determine what is suitable for kids and this is not an easy question to answer.
Children’s literature is seen as a happy place full of unicorns and rainbows and that is simply not true. Children’s books have //always// been dark. From picture books that at first glance seem pretty innocent and turn into narratives about death to complex YA novels that tackle war and death, darkness is deeply embedded into the roots of children’s literature.
Anyone who has studied children’s literature for any period of time or even just reads children’s books frequently knows this. It is a truth universally acknowledged amongst us readers. And yet, there are some books I will read that I will instinctively say are not for children, all the while knowing that there isn’t truly a limit to what they can handle.
Although, perhaps that isn’t true. (ANECDOTE TIME) When I was 13, I read Mystic River by Dennis Lehane which is a complex book and its only purpose seemed to be to drive home the point that human beings truly suck. I read it because it was available in my school library. I thought it would be fine but I was definitely not okay reading that book and its complex exploration of the evils of humanity. I was traumatized by it and didn’t read a book for a long period of time after I finished reading it.
Having said this though, there was a part of me then and now that acknowledges that Mystic River was an incredibly well-written book (I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads I think???).
So. My long meandering argument has now just collapsed on top of itself. YAY. It was totally intentionally, you guys.
Maybe we will never have any concrete definers for what makes something YA/MG or Adult and will continue to rely on our own instincts or maybe we’ll just listen to authors who know their book best.