While I bore witness to the manga section at your local bookstore taking over the Western comics like, well, a tentacle monster, the young adult section threw me for a huge loop. In fact, the near-meteoric rise of young adult fiction occurred while I was too close to see it, being a year younger than Harry Potter. But looking at this sort of thing serves me as an aspiring editor and publisher, so we’re going to take a look at how young adult fiction conquered a shelf at my local Books-a-Million.
Like many things, it’s difficult to give an exact date when the young adult genre happened. Obviously, by “young adult”, we actually mean “teenager”, so we’re looking at the 1950s and onward, as that’s when teenagers started earning enough of a disposable income to become a viable market and targeted accordingly. (According to the Back to the Future director’s commentary, anyway.) In fact, the Young Adult Library Services Association, or YALSA, was founded in 1957.
The book that more or less started the young adult genre was S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, published in 1967. It was written by a young adult about young adults for young adults. From that point on, young adult fiction grew and grew, dealing with more and more difficult subjects. Awards started cropping up–the Margaret A. Edwards Award, awarded by YALSA, was established in 1988, and the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Young Adult Novel was established in 1989. Obviously, I can’t exactly speak to this time period, on account of not existing.
The period I can speak to has just as many awards–the Michael L. Pintz award, awarded by YALSA, was first awarded to Walter Dean Myer’s Monster in 2000, and the National Book Award added a Young People’s Literature category in 2000. But for me, young adult fiction as we know it began with the Stateside publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1998. The Harry Potter phenomenon, in my opinion, is what made young adult fiction into the juggernaut it can be today. Because of Harry Potter, we have midnight releases for young adult books. Twilight, whatever you think of it, translated that sort of hype to teenage romance. And lo, we have modern young adult fiction.
In other news, I’ve spent most of the week trying to get through The Burning City by Alaya Dawn Johnson; I finished on Friday evening, thankfully. I’ve got a nice lovely stack of library books yet again, and I’m currently reading Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti, since I adore Ancient Egypt. I also saw Inception on Friday, which was absolutely fantastic. I also made my way through all the RiffTrax for The Lord of the Rings, actually, which were quite good. (“I make a great Mother’s Day gift!”)
What do you think of the rise of young adult fiction?