Young Adult Labels: Positive or Negative?

I wonder if the label “Young Adult” does more harm or good to the books and authors that get categorized there?

When I was a kid, I don’t remember there being a Young Adult section in the bookstore or library.  That doesn’t mean there wasn’t one, just that if there was, I don’t remember it.  I remember the desire for more “adult” fare after I had devoured all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and Black Stallion series and the like.  I just don’t remember a section titled “Young Adult” that would have tempted a younger version of me to read something that adults might not want me to read.

Certainly there are books aimed at children and young adults that are worthwhile and rewarding for adults to read.  I’m all for getting more people to read and trying to hook young people on reading.  My motives are purely selfish.  The more people that read, the more books sell and the more profit there is to be had in the book industry.  More profit means more people will consider writing, or at least the writers I like will be able to make a living at it and not have to take time away from their writing to sell slurpys down at the 7-11 in order to pay the bills.  Result:  more and better books for me to read.

My question, though, has more to do with why certain books are labeled and shelved as young adult.  There is no question that the incredible success of the Harry Potter books, and other series like Twilight and Hunger Games, have shown that there is profit to be had in marketing books to young adults.  I wonder if certain books are re-labeled as YA simply  to stimulate sales.  Let me give you an example.  Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is one of my favorite books.  While the main characters are mostly children, I never considered this to be a children’s book or one aimed at children or young adults.  The book started out as a short story in the late 1970’s and was expanded to a full-length novel in the mid-80’s, winning both the Nebula and the Hugo in 1985/1986 respectively.  To my recollection, it was always shelved with Science Fiction.  It’s an enduring and popular book, which in recent years I’ve seen shelved as a Young Adult book.  It made me start to wonder, how much of the decision on where to shelve books, particularly YA books is about properly identifying what type of book it is, and how much is simply marketing?

The reason I think this question is important is because I think it plays into people’s being exposed to authors and stories they might not otherwise run across.  I understand with the state of book sales, particularly for brick and mortar stores, that there isn’t the space to shelve books in multiple sections, with the possible exception of the most popular authors.  But I skip over certain sections of the bookstore that shelves books that I typically don’t find interesting.  I wonder what I might be missing?

Maria Snyder is a favorite author of mine.  She has written fairly popular series such as the Poison Study series (one of my absolute favorites) as well as the Glass series, Inside Out/Outside In and the new Healer series.  The frustrating thing is I often have to order her books online because it is impossible to figure out where they are shelved!  I have seen them alternately shelved with YA, romance, science fiction and fantasy.  There are elements of all of these in her books, but I wonder if she wouldn’t be an even bigger success if there wasn’t the attempt, and an inconsistent one at that, to pigeonhole her in one particular section.  

I wish I could offer a solution, but I don’t really have one.  I’m all for getting more people to read and making it a lifelong habit.  It’s just that for every new (to me) author I do discover, I wonder how many other authors remain waiting for me on a shelf I never walk by.

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