Call me late to the party, but I had a good laugh a while back when I discovered that Dan Brown is rewriting his hit book The Da Vinci Code for the Young Adult (YA) crowd. Apparently this version will be less complex plot wise, have a more accessible vocabulary, and will be shorter.
After cracking up I started scratching my head. This doesn’t make sense. You see, when I was in middle school (age range is 12-15), this book came out and it felt like everyone but me was reading it (I preferred Terry Brooks’ Shannara series). It wasn’t a book I was super interested in so I never bothered. And as I heard what my peers were saying I became grateful I never tried it, as what I was hearing wasn’t all that positive. For the most part, many of my peers were just reading it for the controversy. From my understanding, the same happened with the adult readership. It was only long after the Da Vinci Code craze died that I ever met anyone who enjoyed the book for what it was.
So why is Brown making it into a YA book? Obviously there’s the fact that the book is close to his heart, not to mention the potential money this book could bring. But considering how there’s a very large number of people who just felt “meh” about the book, and with “meh” movies based on the series, it seems like a dumbed down YA version puts too much on the line for both Brown and his publisher. Why not just write an all new book, separate from The Da Vici Code, for young adults? Why go this route?
I think it boils down to the fact that no one actually knows what YA is. Heck, before I wrote this out, I wasn’t sure I knew. So I decided to hit Facebook and a few other places including Goodreads reviews to see how people defined Young Adult lit.
Ask a teenager who reads YA what it is and you’ll get a pretty good answer. “YA is books about teenagers and their lives/adventures in all kinds of settings and situations.” Cool. Ask adults that read YA and you’ll get pretty much the same answer. Ask an adult that doesn’t read YA and you get a pretty different answer. I’ve seen criteria ranging from not as intelligent, not as long, and less mature themes.
But as someone who’s read YA books from age 7 onward that just doesn’t add up.
“Adult books are longer!” Well the longest book I’ve read just so happened to be Insomnia by Stephen King, which coincidentally is an adult book. It’s a whopping 787 pages. Until I read Insomnia, the longest book I had read was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, at 759 pages. Most of my YA reads are around 500 pages. Trust me, there is no lack of long books in the YA genre. And many of these are parts of series. The latest release in the Throne of Glass series (Empire of Storms) is 704 pages. As each book in the series has been a bit longer, I wouldn’t be surprised if the final book in the series wound up being close to 800 pages. Clearly if readers weren’t into long books there wouldn’t be so many in YA lit. But that’s what the readers want and that’s what the publishers provide.
I would say that content might be a deciding factor in separating Young Adult from Adult books but that’s not it either. Why? Cause Wintergirls is a book about eating disorders. Speak is a book about rape. The Raven Boys has a couple of f-bombs in it and talks heavily about abusive home situations. We Awaken is a book about young women discovering sexuality and love. And I haven’t even talked about Gossip Girl (for the sake of space, I won’t). These books all assume the reader is intelligent and can see the problems presented. These books have mystery, high drama, and great depth. As a whole, YA literature regularly tackles the most complex and pressing problems of our society, in and out of fantasy settings. True, the approaches will vary between adult and young adult books, but I find that young adult books talk about hard issues just as, if not more often, than adult books. I’ve seen some adult books take a sensitive topic such as abuse and handle it horribly. I have a long list of Young Adult books that handle the same topic beautifully. Now don’t say “well then, it’s the fantastical elements!” cause there’s plenty of adult books that are straight up fantasy or have fantastical parts.
The Matthew Swift series, or The Night Circus, or anything by Stephen King are all great options if you’re looking for fantasy or otherworldly in your adult reads. The Lord of the Rings, The Plucker, The Fire Rose, and the Shannara Chronicles are all fantasy books intended for adults. With Lord of the Rings and the Shannara Chronicles, you’ll see a crossover in audience. Why? Because despite these books being geared towards adults, young adults love them too, and that attention helps these books stay in the spotlight. You’re welcome.
So what makes Young Adult lit, young adult? Ultimately it’s the point of view. Katniss’ story in The Hunger Games trilogy was about war and politics, death and oppression, and plethora of other mature themes. But the story is categorized as Young Adult because that’s what Katniss is. In the first book she’s only sixteen. While the Matthew Swift series is high fantasy in a modern urban setting, it’s told from an adult perspective and therefore is considered adult (not to mention it has a grand deal more cursing than anything in The Raven Cycle). While adults and young adults alike adore the high fantasy elements of Lord of the Rings, Frodo is an adult, causing it to be categorized as an adult fantasy.
Perhaps adult books can curse more and go into more depth when it comes down to sexual themes. But part of the beauty of Young Adult literature is that the authors have found ways to talk about and share those experiences through implication. And sometimes that’s far more powerful and personal than what an adult book can give with an in depth description. Whatever “limitations” the genre has, readers and authors of Young Adult fiction have made those rules into something that makes the genre special and one of a kind.
So does Dan Brown need to write a young adult version of The Da Vinci Code? Nah. But then again, no one needs to re-write a book for an older/younger crowd. But for whatever reason, that’s what’s happening. I just hope that one day authors and publishers learn that we readers don’t need or want things dumbed down for us. We want books that challenge us, that meet us where we’re at, and tell us to go further. I feel like for those who did enjoy The Da Vinci Code, that book has done that for them already, which is wonderful. But if many young adults aren’t interested in the book as it is, I doubt they’ll be interested in it if the plot remains the same and things are made “young adult friendly.”
Everyone, regardless of age deserves and wants a good story. Adults read YA lit, and young adults (which has a massive age range) read adult books. The idea that either adult or young adult books need to change to be credible or readable is both sad and ridiculous. Good stories are good stories and they shouldn’t have to change to become valid for different groups.
What’s your take? How do you define YA lit on a personal level?