YA = Young Adult — But What Does That Mean in Mysteries?

imagesAfter mentioning that writing a YA for “the kid you used to be” doesn’t necessarily reach today’s YA mystery market (https://sincne.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/ya-mysteries-not-for-the-kid-you-used-to-be/), I decided to refresh some definitions of YA and link up to some good resources. You’re a mystery writer — you already have characters, plot, and clever twists in mind. But you want to match them to today’s teen readers, right?

First of all, young adult is defined by YALSA — the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association — as ages 12 to 18. YA books began to be pointed out in the 1950s, when the two classics in the field, Catcher in the Rye and The Lord of the Flies, arrived. These books were written for adult readers, but they spurred attention to the need for books that were “developmentally appropriate” for teens. One of the noted books that followed was Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Today, YALSA has a mission statement that includes access to “materials and services”; it’s worth exploring the organization’s website: http://www.ala.org/yalsa. Here you can find an “app” for locating good books for teens, for instance, as well as more conventional resource lists. I particularly like one that you can download by simply “Googling” this: John Charles and Joanna Morrison, “Clueless? Adult Mysteries with Young Adult Appeal.” It was issued at the end of 2012, and includes, for instance, books by Clea Simon, Nevada Barr, Sue Grafton, Charles Todd, and Lucy Burdette. You probably own some of these … I certainly do, and have read many of the others.

Reading this piece by John Charles and Joanna Morrison also highlights the range of mysteries likely to appeal to teen readers. Sure, it helps if there’s a teen protagonist, but that’s not a must. Nor does the mystery have to be gentle or “cozy.” (Heads up, what’s known as “hard-boiled” among adult mystery readers and writers is often called “edgy” instead in the YA field.) But the issues at stake in the book must be issues that interest teen readers. That opens a lot of doors, as the list illustrates — consider disappearances, blackmail, bullying, twists of history, conflicts of good and evil, and the personal issues that teens all face: fitting in or not, friendship, becoming independent, balancing loyalty and integrity. Add some suspense (you know how to do that, right?) and those issues are even more compelling for YA readers.

With this in mind, a good way to turn around that idea of “writing for the kids” is to look at the mysteries you’ve enjoyed recently, and make your own short list of a couple of them you’d feel comfortable sharing with the teens you know. Let me know where that process takes you, as you move into considering writing — or reading! — a mystery for young adults this week.


About bethkanellbooks

My life is always a three-strand braid: love for Vermont, love of mysteries, and the need to write (and write better and better). Come visit and chat at any of my blogs and posts -- there's a big wonderful world of writing and reading, and we're in it together.
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