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.

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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.

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I was going to write about RED, WHITE AND ROYAL BLUE but didn't want the post to get any longer. Guess what?? That's an adult book! Yes, it is a very YA cover. Is that on purpose? Probably! I thought it was YA when I picked it up, too! And you're right! Lots of school libraries are not going to pick that up! I don't know where it's shelved in B&N, but I'll have to go check next time I'm there. It could be on a YA display and under adult fiction at the same time. As far as I know, the teens LOVED that book. IN fact, I read it for my MG/YA book club! What does that all mean? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I've also read Mary H.K. Choi's books and agree they really blurring the lines, too.

But I don't really understand your question. Do you mean there should not be a YA table, or that we should move the goal posts on what is "YA?" or that publishers should not use very YA covers for books that push boundaries, like how they got rid of Joe Camel? I am on the same side as you about shielding teens. But I don't know what you mean by "reevaluate the category's usefulness." And I think you're making a pretty interesting point!

There are going to be YA novels that are not right for all readers. Retailers and librarians and teachers (and teens!) will need to evaluate them book by book to see if any one is right for them/their patrons/students. I don't think the label is the issue and I don't think either of these books are signs of a trend that YA is getting more and more and more risque, like a runaway train. Kids are smart (and so are teachers. :) ) They have a sense when something is not right for them. I knew it put down King's GERALD'S GAME when I was WAY WAY WAY too young to read it!

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Your answer - which was the one I was hoping for! - kind of negated my question, if that makes any sense. I was wondering if the industry was counting these not-really-YA books as YA, since I have seen them shelved in stores and promoted that way. If that's what was actually happening, there wouldn't really be much point in dividing books into those categories because the labels wouldn't mean anything. But it sounds like, as I hoped, any blurring of the categories is based on decisions being made on the retail level and/or in the cover design department, not because agents and editors are reading Gay-fetish erotica and thinking, "Gosh, this is perfect for 14 year-olds!"

I agree that readers of all ages, as well as teachers, librarians, and parents, are capable of figuring out whether a book is a good fit for an individual reader or population, but categories can be really helpful when selecting books for large populations of readers. As you know better than I do, there are a lot of books out there, so it's a big help as readers and consumers if we can make certain assumptions based on how a book is categorized. I suppose categories are like genres in that sense. If I buy a romance and it ends with the couple deciding that hate each other and never want to see each other again, I'm going to wonder why it was labeled romance. (Example: I'm sure I'm not the only one who knows romance lovers who were furious when they read IN FIVE YEARS, yet Goodreads still named it one of the best romance novels of the year, despite it clearly not being. And the book jacket makes it sound like an entirely different type of book than it is. Personally I bought it because I thought it was going to be a parallel universe story along the lines of SLIDING DOORS or THE TWO LIVES OF LYDIA BIRD. I digress, but in both situations you end up with people feeling they've been sold a book under false pretenses.)

As for kids loving RED WHITE AND ROYAL BLUE, I would say a couple things. First of all, if teens didn't sometimes love things intended for adults, our jobs as educators (and parents, pediatricians, etc.) would be a heck of a lot easier! Also, I'm totally onboard with people loving books not targeted at them. For example, I love lots of so-called "Women's Fiction" despite not being a woman. (Although, to be honest, I'm not entirely clear what makes it women's fiction except the protagonist and author both being women. Maybe you could address that in another week's newsletter?) So, I'm glad that there are categories and genres, but they only work if there is a relatively consistent classification system.

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