Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Some Thoughts on YA

There are all sorts of blogs you can read to tell you that The Book Thief is a wonderful book, and I'm not going to contest any of them. Engaging, filled with characters you won't soon forget, a full scope rarely seen in YA, and a unique and important setting (Germans living in Nazi Germany--people who are not Nazis but simply trying to make ends when war makes them poorer than they already are)--it's a powerful book. It's also about friendship, discovery, and a love of words. And, of course, stealing books. I recommend it.

But, here's what has me interested: the marketing. Both The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger (see previous post) are marketed as Young Adult. I'm going to guess this was so that they would sell better. It's not a bad decision; I think these books would be appealing to a young adult audience. That said, they break two major "rules" of YA.

1) The protagonist should be a teenager. These books stretch both ends of that spectrum: BT features Leisel, who is 10 at the beginning and just 14 by the end. Messenger's protagonist, Ed, is 19. He drinks a lot of beer and lives on his own, as do his friends. It's not that you don't see this in YA, but somehow I have this image of his editor or agent saying "yeah, this book could go either way, so let's go YA because it's hot..." Just interesting. Hey, maybe I'm wrong.

2) Voice. There's no rule, but YA is typically written in a voice that feels very immediate and present, often in first person. Messenger's got that. But The Book Thief? You know who the narrator is?


Yup. On the face of it, the least personal and present voice you could think of. The book opens with Death describing his job, his fascination with the colors of the sky, and his encounters with Leisel. Not an instant attention grabber, at least for me.

It works, though. Death is very present and very relevant to a story set during WWII. It takes away some of the shock of, you know, death in the book, and Death's POV lets us see a far greater story than one girl's life.

Maybe I'm cynical, but I'm not sure Zusak could have broken in to the YA publishing world if The Book Thief were his first book. That said, I'm glad he did. I'm glad readers of all ages can read it.

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