ThrillerFest Asks If Young Adult Novels Are Meant For Adults

The lines between Young Adult and adult literature can be blurry, making it hard to distinguish audiences. But engaging characters and dramatic plots often results in books that everyone — no matter age — can enjoy. Still, the question remains: are teen novels meant for adults? ThillerFest authors tackled this question at this year’s conference. Author of the Goosebumps books R.L. Stine hosted the panel and we’re excited to share some highlights from this rousing conversation. 

Moderator R.L. Stine with panelists Michelle Gagnon, Barry Lyga, Linda Gerber, Allen Zadoff, Lissa Price and Kat Rosenfeld

The panel started with R.L. Stine asking each author to quickly introduce their most recent or upcoming novel. And even though each of these authors write in the YA genre, there was plenty of diversity in the types of books represented. Kat Rosenfeld’s contemporary work Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone includes plenty of gossip and pop culture, while Linda Gerber's Lights, Camera, Cassidy series shows the fun side of solving mysteries. Featured action authors were Barry Lyga with his novel I Hunt Killers in which his main character, believe it or not, hunts killers! And Allen Zadoff puts a unique spin on the spy genre with his book Boy Nobody which stars a teen assassin. Michelle Gangon adds a touch of horror to a thrilling read in Don’t Turn Around in which a disease, only threatening teens, spreads globally. And Lissa Price, author of the futuristic-set tale, Starters, all about body 'borrowing', rounded out the speakers.

Veteran author R.L., who has penned dozens and dozens of middle grade and Young Adult books, was interested to hear what brought the panelists to the YA genre. Michelle Gagnon said that, for her, the appeal is the intensity that goes along writing from a teen character's POV. “It is their first time falling in love. First time away from home. First time almost being murdered!” Michelle said that writing YA came so natural to her that she wrote her first teen novel in only eight weeks.

Barry Lyga has the same connection to the genre. He said that when he first started writing, all of the adult characters in his manuscripts sounded like teens. So one day he started (purposefully) crafting a book with a younger character and by page three everything clicked and he was able to finish the story in only 5 weeks. (While this may seem amazingly quick to some, R.L. joked that he can’t imagine taking an entire five weeks to write a book. And Allen Zadoff one-upped both of them by (jokingly) telling the audience that he had actually started writing a book at the beginning of the panel and it was now ready to publish.) After the laughter subsided, Allen got serious and said that he has gravitated towards the Young Adult genre because it is an “amazing, creative, exciting and electric” genre. For him, the teen years were so emotionally powerful that he is drawn back to that time again and again.

Linda said that she writes YA because it gives her a lot of artistic freedom. There are endless characters and possibilities. Lissa cited the sheer excitement of the teen audience as the reason she keeps writing. Kat agreed with this wholeheartedly saying that there is nothing quite like a bunch of teen readers "geeking out" about awesome books. 

And speaking of awesome books, R.L. next asked what books the panelist are currently reading. While a few of the authors listed some classic (adult) works, it was unanimous that everyone primarily reads the genre that they write — Young Adult. Some favorite authors mentioned included John Green, Leigh Bardugo, Kristin Cashore and new author Rainbow Rowell. 

Having the speakers all listing books they like to read led back to the panel’s title: “Are Young Adult Novels Meant For Adults?” R.L. pointed out that recent statistics puts the numbers of teen readers versus adult readers for YA at almost half and half. The panelists were quick to make it clear that some of the blockbuster successes of just a few YA franchises like The Hunger Games, the Twilight Saga and the Harry Potter books, skews these numbers. Lissa said that while she is excited that these mega successes have brought YA to all readers’ attention, the primary audience for her books are teens. 

Barry agreed that YA is for young adults, however, it is not surprising to him that adults also enjoy the stories since these books cut “close to the bone.” He pointed to the directness of Young Adult books and the unflinching focus on difficult topics to what draws in audiences of all ages.

Whether you are a teen or adult, the Young Adult genre certainly has an eclectic mix of authors and characters. If you are looking to learn more about teen stories and gather additional recommendations, head over to RT’s Everything Young Adult page and make sure to return to the RT Daily Blog all week long for more news from ThrillerFest 2013!

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