You know it when you see it
This is very clarifying, thank you for writing it! I had one agent respond to my manuscript with something like, "I like this, but think it would work better as YA. So if you decide to rewrite it as YA, let me know." And ever since I've been wondering, what did she mean, rewrite it as YA?? The protagonists were four girls between 18-20, although there were two moms with POV turns as secondary characters (so maybe that was what did it). I thought of it as a literary fiction novel that could be read by either teenagers or adults, but I was perplexed by what it would mean to take the same story and *make* it YA. I still don't 100% know what it would have meant for that book (and have put aside that project anyway for other reasons), but this is a very helpful breakdown of the general distinctions.
Thanks for this, Kate. NA seems to be a source of endless confusion. My question. though, is about the trend of books being marketed as YA that are clearly not about or directed at teens.
Example: Red, White, and Royal Blue - which I enjoyed very much - is about people in their twenties and, while I realize sex is okay in YA, that is graphic beyond what would be considered appropriate for a high school library even in a very "blue," progressive community with very liberal librarians doing the ordering. I know because I work in such a school.
Likewise, books by Mary H.K. Choi are marketed as YA despite being about high school grads doing very adult things and dealing with adult issues.
Do agents and editors really look at these books and think, "This is perfect for teen readers!" Or is it a marketing rather than a publishing decision?
Please understand, I'm not saying teens should be shielded from explicit material. As a high school teacher I've recommended to students books like Swipe Right for Murder and The Haters. But as someone who sees a major part of their life's work (more than 20 years as a teacher and counting; just starting out as a YA author) as getting teens to love reading, if some of these books I see featured on the YA display in Barnes & Noble are YA, we may need to reevaluate the category's usefulness.