When I wrote A School for Sorcery, my first published novel, I wasn’t intentionally writing a book for teens. I wrote the kind of book I enjoy reading, and in line with the injunction to “write what you know,” I wrote about a school and students and teachers. I made it a boarding school, because that was what the plot demanded. And I included the kinds of conflicts that can occur among students and between teachers and students, but because I was writing a fantasy novel and because the school is a school for the magically gifted, the conflicts took on a fantastic aspect. I soon learned that to a publisher a book with a teen protagonist set in a school for magically gifted teens must be classified as “Young Adult.” I learned that the term “Young Adult,” or YA, referred to kids from age ten up. I did not feel that my books were appropriate for ten-year-olds, but my editor explained that they gave that age as the lower limit for YA books so as not to exclude precocious readers who read well above grade level.
When the book came out, I began hearing from readers, and while many of them were teens, I also heard from many adult readers. I found that reassuring, because it confirmed my belief that my books weren’t written just for teens. I had preteen readers, and I had adult readers. I heard from a grandmother who said she enjoyed my book but she feared it would give her grandchildren nightmares. I heard from other adults who said the book gave them nightmares. I never got that complaint from a child.
I’ve now published the fourth book in the Arucadi series that began with A School for Sorcery. Bryte’s Ascent has a younger protagonist than the other three books in the series. Nevertheless, I believe some adults will enjoy it as well as the teen readers it’s aimed at.
I firmly believe that a good book, well written, that tells a good story will be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I understand that for marketing purposes publishers need to target a book to a particular age group, but I don’t believe that readers will necessarily restrict themselves to books targeted to their age group. The Harry Potter books got kids reading and were rightly heralded for accomplishing that feat. But adults read and enjoyed the Harry Potter books right along with their children and grandchildren. Why? Because the books are clever, beautifully written, and deal with the eternal theme of the struggle between good and evil.
As a child, I was an avid reader and read everything I could get my hands on. That included many children’s books, but it also included adult books such as Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason mysteries and mysteries by Agatha Christie. This was when I was still in elementary school—fifth and sixth grades (when sixth grade was still part of elementary school). In junior high I discovered science fiction and read whatever I could get hold of. I don’t recall what else I read, but I do know that in high school I read mostly adult novels, but occasionally novels for teens and even some for younger children, as for example, George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie, which I only discovered when I was in my teens.
What determines whether a novel is worth reading is not the age group it’s written for but the quality of the writing and the universality of its theme. Adults shouldn’t feel embarrassed to read YA literature, and teens shouldn’t be discouraged from reading adult books when those books do not simply appeal to prurient interests. We need to be discriminating readers but should not rule out reading a book simply because we aren’t in its target audience.
I hope that my first four Arucadi novels will please children, teens, and adults. And I hope that Mistress of the Wind and its coming sequel, Bringers of Magic, which have adult characters and are written as adult books, will also please teen readers. I’m sure my readers will let me know. And I hope you who read my blog will share your thoughts on whether you sometimes enjoy reading YA literature.
If you’d like to read Bryte’s Ascent, you can find it here.