Young Adult vs Adult fiction. Where’s the line?

david-almond-clayI’ve just finished reading Clay by David Almond. This is another gem by an award-winning author. (See my article on What Makes A Good Children’s Book for more on Almond’s work). Although it’s aimed at the YA market, it’s one of Almond’s most adult books and, like Pulman’s Dark Materials, is sure to find a crossover market.

Like Dark Materials, Clay grapples with issues of faith and the nature of God. It’s about two teenagers – a boy cast out of a seminary for practising evil arts and an impressionable altar boy. Together the boys create a monster out of clay but the question is, which of the boys is its master. The story follows the dark descent of the altar boy into a twilight world of insanity and murder as he tries to retain his goodness and humanity. Almond’s spartan text allows for no distraction from the central action. His characterisation is carried mainly through dialogue in an accessible rendition of a Geordie dialect. It’s an incredible book that I fully recommend.

Almond deals with very adult issues in this book. It’s been a while since I was a teen, but I’m not sure I would have grasped it all back then. Like much YA fiction, its confusing where the distinction lies. It seems to me that the only thing that gives it that label is the presence of a young protagonist. I think too of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Yann Martell’s Life of Pi. Both of them were written for adult readerships but have now been given a YA label. A stage production I saw of Pi recently was certainly aimed at teenagers with some of the darker images and themes glossed over. Is this a good thing? Do very good books lose an adult readership by giving them a YA label? On the other hand, if adults consider themselves too ‘grown up’ to read YA fiction it’s their own loss. What’s your opinion?

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