Honey, I've Got a Non-Teen YA Protagonist (Or, "Mum, Dad, I'm Moving in With a 907 Year Old Time Lord")
I'm unsure whether I write this post more as a reader or as a writer. Alas, we shall have to stay tuned to see what the verdict is.
Just very quickly before I begin, I'd like to divert your attention to another matter: the absolutely gorgeous Aimee L. Salter took time away from her life to write a post about none other than moi. And you know what? It made my week. A snapshot: "If her profile is to be believed, at just sixteen years old this chick has developed a voice, intellect and amusingly snide pretentiousness I can only aspire to". *Gives bow* Hon, I am indeed sixteen, seventeen in October. I also wish I could send you a planet or something gift-wrapped for the post.
Now, age. Specifically, protagonist age.
I see this matter pop up every-bloody-where.
The basic question seems to be: can you classify a novel as YA if the protagonist doesn't fall within the Holy YA Age Range of thirteen to eighteen? And the general consensus? MCs beyond this range = très tough sale.
Comments and arguments seem to be based around the idea that senior students and university students don't read, or that younger teenagers don't relate to protagonists that are university-aged. The question-asker usually, by this stage, has hummed and agreed and lowers their MC's age to below 18 without another thought.
Me, a lurker and YA-aged myself, am standing at the back waving my arms around. STOP IT. It is impossible to make accurate generalisations about a good majority of the YA audience. I beseech you. Think about the television shows that are popular among us. Sure, you have things such as Glee, based in high school, but then you have university-aged Gossip Girl and Gilmore Girls and then you have all those shows we're obsessed with that are populated by adult characters. We can't relate to who?
A lot of these people expect people my age and above to be tossed into the endless adult ocean and empathise with a middle-aged man who's facing his midlife crisis? Sure, there are kids I know that are probably experiencing a premature midlife crisis, but wouldn't it be more practical to thrown in a couple older YA characters? That isn't to say that it would turn me off a book if the protagonist were middle-aged. I'm trying, and failing, to enforce my point that there are always those older adolescents who've been reading about 30-year-old fantasy heroes since they were ten, or who you'd have to pry the middle grade section from upon their death bed.
Age doesn't matter as much as you'd think.
And from what I've observed, especially recently, children and teenage readers tend to read up in regard to age. I remember I first read an Agatha Christie when I was eleven, and that when I was around that age, nearly all of my books had 13 to 16 year old protagonists. I had no problem whatsoever relating to these older characters. Also, think about this: at that age and even a little younger, kids watch TV shows with 16 year old characters. (EG: Lizzie McGuire for me, maybe Hannah Montana and iCarly for today's kids?) They have no problem relating to them, and that's how they learn about adolescent life and learn to anticipate what waits for them in their imminent teen years.
Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer jumps that huge gorge on Bart's skate board? Remember how bloody huge that gorge was? Well, now that I'm in my last two years of high school, I've reached the edge of YA where I have the publishing industry on the other side, in the Adult world, waving their picket signs at me and chanting "JUMP DAMN IT!"
Maybe I'd like to anticipate my university years. To be honest, the idea of that new life, that new routine, scares the absolute shit out of me. What should I expect? Why can't people my age get the same treatment as our ten year old counterparts? I think most of us would like to know. What is university like? What is renting your first apartment, or starting your career like?
Now, I know it's a given that if I'm talking about this, I'm going to have to bring up New Adult. Yes, you are right in imagining me hanging my head. Okay. Compose yourself, Nina. While I whole-heartedly support this concept, waiting around for New Adult is like waiting around for that Stargate Atlantis movie.
Personally, I think that when it comes to classifying YA, themes should take precedence over age. (I'd like to also just mention that tone does take precedence when an adult novel containing a young cast gets to stay in the adult section.) Tone and themes are key. Take my novel, RETURN, for example. I know, I know, I heard your collective sigh. But hear me out. My cast comprises of six uncostumed heroes, from eighteen to twenty-one. But even then, they're still trying to find themselves. Their coming-of-age journeys haven't ended. They haven't matured entirely, well, not all of them. They still act like teenagers. To a certain extent, I think everyone retains parts of their adolescent selves. I can tell you right now that they could all be in their twenties and I would swear up and down that the novel, right down to its tone and messages, screams YA.
And when an author has just dropped the age of their protagonists to fall within the Holy YA Age Range, it's incredibly obvious to the reader. Incredibly. And sometimes, for the characters that we're trying to create, particularly in Fantasy, it just isn't feasible to have a fifteen year old. Warriors, assassins, superheroes. No one would take a gritty YA novel with a fifteen year old [insert crazy career] seriously. If my characters were all three years younger, it wouldn't be possible for them to have accumulated the knowledge, the experience that they have. Making them their respective ages gives them that by default.
So, in closing, I ask of you: what are your thoughts of the Holy YA Age Range? Would you be interested in fiction with university-aged protagonists? Would you buy books with main characters in the dead zone of nineteen to twenty-five (ish)? Do you think that there are certain authors who should've had older protagonists, or do you think that the audience themselves could just up the ages while they're reading to create more "believable characters"?