07 October, 2012

YA Shame and Stigma

This blog post is also available as a podcast.

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Please note, the quotes from Facebook are used with the author's permission. Any emphasis (BOLD formatting) in those quotes is mine, and you can follow the links to view the quotes in their original context for as long as the wall post is available to the public. I have left out other commenter's names in quotes, but they can be seen on the original Facebook post.

EDITS: Isaac took down the original wall post, which is fine with me, but the comments are below and I have it saved as text and screenshot as well. I didn't get the somewhat backhanded apology post saved. I encourage anyone who tweets, comments, or otherwise contacts him to please remain civil. Some of us are adults, it's up to you to decide which ones of us those are ;)

To be fair, when I said I was doing "a blog post" he may not have understood just how many devoted readers that post would have. In one day the post and the podcast have received over 3200 views, many comments, and lots of tweets. Thanks to all who have commented and shared this discussion.

I also want to make it clear, I still hope people will read Warm Bodies. I liked it. You might, too.

My post:

I came across an interesting post on Facebook yesterday by author Isaac Marion. Marion is the 31-year-old author of the debut novel Warm Bodies (Atria, 2011), about a zombie named R who, during a routine meal begins experiencing flashes of memory and emotion as he consumes a young man's brain. Labeled by some reviewers as a "zombie romance", the movie adaptation of this book "about being alive, being dead, and the blurry line in between" is due out in February 2013 from Summit Entertainment.

The post that caught my eye was this:

At least one Barnes & Noble store has Warm Bodies in the "Fiction" section instead of "Young Adult". Funny that the big corporate chain store everyone talks trash about understands its books better than most the local indies...
"At least one Barnes & Noble store has Warm Bodies in the "Fiction" section instead of "Young Adult". Funny that the big corporate chain store everyone talks trash about understands its books better than most [of] the local indies..."

Something about this seemed dissonant to me. It's not like that time Borders insisted on shelving Neil Strauss's Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life in Business: Personal Finance instead of Outdoor Sports: Survival Skills. I had, after all, learned about Warm Bodies from Maggie Stiefvater, a popular YA author. I'm certain I'm only one of thousands of readers and bloggers who was convinced by her glowing recommendation. I not only bought the book; at the time, I was still a merchandising manager at Borders, so I ordered in copies (though I was not supposed to) and handsold them, some to teens and others to adults.

I did know that the novel was considered "adult" as opposed to "young adult", but after reading it recognized elements that would make it an appealing crossover. I made sure it was shelved and displayed in the adult Fiction/Lit section as the Borders subject code specified, but occasionally when I had extra copies I'd throw one on a rotating zombie endcap in YA, next to books like Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry and The Forest of Hands & Teeth by Carrie Ryan. In Borders parlance, we referred to this as cross-merchandising, intended to draw sales from anticipating more than one display where a customer might browse for an item in the store. Lesser-known and first-time authors typically benefit from this arbitrary arrangement by having their book placed next to those of authors who are already established and popular; this placement was in addition to having the store's last remaining copy spine-out on the shelf where it belongs in its normal category.

I also blogged about it here, on a blog which primarily reviews books for young adults and younger. I really liked this book, and I used multiple channels of influence to try to get people to read it, for no other reason than that. While I harbor no illusions that I had anything much to do with its success and movie deal, if you look at the comments on the review I did convince a few YA readers to read it who otherwise would not have picked up the book.

After a few comments on the thread, Isaac replied:
"This YA thing is going to be a rash on my eyeballs for this book's entire run..."
"Since it seems impossible to correct, I guess I'll just have to practice not ranting about it."
It became apparent to me he felt ashamed, or more likely annoyed, to have his book associated with the YA category. A reader also noted that she found the book in the Horror section and would not have picked up the book had it been in YA, validating Marion's fear that readers who otherwise would have read the book are being alienated by the young adult label. His subsequent comments made it clear to me that he did not know much about the genre in the first place:

"I don't know who started the idea that it's a YA book but it drives me crazy. There's one character in the entire story who's younger than 20 (Julie, 19) the writing is not simplified for a young reading level at all, containing lots of big ol' fancy words like "loquacious" and "sepulchral", and there's nothing teen-specific about its themes. Not to mention the copious amounts of "adult content". I would love to know what about all that screams "YOUNG READERS" to book stores..."

At that point, I could no longer help myself and jumped into the conversation, to try to suss out why the YA label was so objectionable, trying to make the point that the emerging adulthood themes in Warm Bodies, as well as the viral effect of Maggie's recommendation may have caused some people (and, unfortunately, indie bookstores) to believe Warm Bodies was a YA novel. Marion responded:

"The problem that I have with YA as a genre is that no one wants every book with young characters to be called a children's book--that would pull thousands of classics off the adult shelves--so the only useful definition I can imagine would be books that are specifically geared toward kids in terms of content, style, and complexity--ie, books that are simpler and more easily digestible than adult books. Otherwise, why draw that distinction? Why limit the audience instead of just leaving it open to the reader's judgement? The only function the YA label can really serve is to warn adult readers, "Stay away from this if you want substance." Which is really unfortunate, because no doubt a lot of substantial books get buried by this label."

I found this bleak perspective surprising, especially coming from a mainstream published author. I often hear YA disparaged as no more than a marketing ploy the publishing industry came up with in order to sell more books, though this opinion I typically hear from people with little professional book knowledge. To tell the truth, even those who read it often, the authors who write it, and the educators and librarians who study and promulgate it, seem to have a really hard time defining what YA literature even is. It's not simply material written for an audience aged 12 to 17 years; a guideline on the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) website notes an expanded definition including persons as young as ten and as old as 25. A recent study from Bowker says that 55% of buyers of YA books are adults over 18, and that 78% reported that the purchase was for their own reading. If age of audience is not the dividing line, what is?

To say they are less complex, easier to digest, and lacking in substance is too simplistic. Not only are there YA novels of quality to which those descriptions do not apply, there are also adult novels that do deserve those labels. And as with any genre, the cream rises to the top. Take Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief, for example: award-winning, slated for a feature film, and on the New York Times children's bestsellers list since its US publication in 2006, it's not one of "a lot of substantial books... buried by this label". Let's not even talk about The Hunger Games.

I also have trouble believing that the YA label has turned away more readers than it has garnered for his book. Below the professional quotes on the author's Reviews page, two of the three blogs quoted are YA blogs (the third is defunct). The studio that is making the film adaptation, Summit, owes much of its fame to the success of the Twilight film franchise based on a series of young adult novels written by Stephenie Meyer. Meyer also blurbed the book, saying “Isaac Marion has created the most unexpected romantic lead I’ve ever encountered. I never thought I could care so passionately for a zombie.” One might speculate based on Summit's purchase of other YA-audience adult books like Stephen Chbosky's Perks of Being a Wallflower, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, as well as optioning Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus) that the studio also bought rights to Warm Bodies partly due to its YA appeal. A commenter on the thread shared the fact that she bought the novel after spotting it in the YA section of a bookstore; another learned about the book from the entertainment site Oh No They Didn't, which reported that Summit was touting the Warm Bodies film as a "Zombie Twilight".

Okay, so I'll admit, with all of its shortcomings, perhaps the Twilight series is not necessarily the best brand to align yourself with unless your only interest is making a lot of money. However, that still does not appear to be the issue. Marion continues:

"That is what I'm saying--it's for ALL audiences. And to me, the YA label says, "This is specifically for kids." Otherwise, what purpose does it serve?"
"I just think it's a ridiculous, pointless category. "Children's" is a useful category because it tells people it's written at a young reading level and doesn't contain any objectionable content. "Adult" is a useful category because it tells you it's not "Children's". YA is a useless category because teenagers and twentysomethings can and SHOULD read whatever the hell they want."
(Aside: I actually agree with that last part--though lots of book-banning censorship-happy adults would probably not.)

The only purpose I can see for the YA label is to insult authors who thought they wrote a book for grownups.
...Everything has its place, but having your book placed in a category for people who are "too young to read (or in some cases to understand) the full mature themes in a lot of adult books" when what you thought you wrote was...an adult book with full mature themes...is very frustrating. And that's exactly why it's not an inclusive genre, because--at least to the outside observer--it appears to promise books without mature themes, which isn't interesting to people who WANT mature themes.
Here we come to the root of the problem: the perception of YA by people who are unfamiliar with the genre. The author admits in a private message that his attitude is based on the general public's negative view of the YA label:

"that late-teens and early-twenty-somethings who are plenty old enough to grasp adult literature will only read books that condescend to them, so we should add a label to let them know which books will do so...
"I think books should either be written for children--by which I mean CHILDREN, not people who can drive cars and vote and fight in wars--or adults. I don't see the purpose of this vague middle category. Let the reader decide if a book's too lofty and obscure for them. Don't put a label on it reassuring them, "This book will not expose you to anything you aren't ready for." 
Wow, I thought, he's never heard of Meghan Cox Gurdon? She'd tell him there are lots of objectionable adult themes in YA novels that CHILDREN should not be exposed to. I have to argue back that they've both got this backwards: that YA is intended to explore the challenges of changing from child to adult, that YA is inclusive of the interests of both children and adults, and that you shouldn't let a label prevent you from exposing yourself to great books. It's obvious to me that Marion is missing an important piece of the puzzle. Apart from laws which decide when a person is old enough to drive or go to war, to smoke and drink, to vote and fuck, there is no dividing line between child and adult, certainly when it comes to reading, and the nebulousness of that middle area, that blurry line between child and adult is precisely the reader that YA seeks to engage. 

Author and educator Carol Tanzman notes:
Before there was YA, teens read "adult" books. The problem there is that there was very little connection to their "real" lives--what about Ethan Frome is particularly relatable to a 15 year old? YA grew as a specific genre to meet the needs of readers who want and need to see a world that reflects their concerns, wishes, dreams, fears (whether in contemporary/dystopian/sci-fi, etc.). They can then have an opportunity to reflect upon something that interests them as all good literature leads readers to do. Also, since 55% of all YA books are bought by adults, there is a huge crossover that shows that teen concerns are interesting/relatable/familiar to adults.
 Author and teen librarian Tammy Blackwell adds:
I think it's important for teens to feel like there is something just for them, that reflects their experiences. Most of them are struggling to find where they fit in in this world, and YA books reflect that journey and help them find their way. Teens need YA. The YA label isn't an insult; it's an honor.
 Reader (and adult ;) Emily Turner says:
I feel like YA is only an insult if you think writing books for young adults means that they are written more simply, lower quality, less layered, etc. But if you think of YA like a genre, like horror, sci-fi, any other genre, then it's just like what Tammy said -- it signifies the book will have themes that may be of specific interest to young adults. [Marion] is treating YA authors as if they don't write as well as "adult" authors, which isn't true... and perpetuating that also is insulting to teen readers, as if they can't "understand" anything more "deep", even when they are reading "adult" books in their English classes.
All things considered, I still don't think I can convince Marion that

  1. His book somewhat fits the label
  2. Applying the label to Warm Bodies does not mean that his book is simplistic, without substance, and lacking full mature themes
  3. The term YA is helpful in marketing his book to readers who will appreciate it for what it is: a compelling story of an imperfect creature who wants to live
  4. That the label is useful for specifying a genre addressing the "physical, intellectual, emotional, and societal" (YALSA) needs of developing adults searching for their identities (much as his main character, R, is seeking to define his zombiehood and newfound humanity)
Furthermore, he's not the only one with this myopic view. There are many variations on it, too. Last year, Meghan Cox Gurdon inflamed the kidlit world with her Wall Street Journal article "Darkness Too Visible", claiming that YA novels were becoming too dark, and that themes were too mature and inappropriate for young people. Joel Stein of Time Magazine opined earlier this year in the New York Times that adults should only read adult books. To top it all off, another new category is supposedly emerging this year, called New Adult literature, Upper-YA, Mature Young Adult, or College-Lit. I'll admit it, I have more questions than answers when it comes to evaluating the stigma of labeling books as "Young Adult" or "YA".

My questions boil down to these two:
  • What will it take to convince the general public that the term YA is a meaningful label for a valuable genre that encompasses a wide variety of interests and has the same fluctuations in style, complexity, and merit as any other genre of writing?
  • How many people avoided reading or purchasing Warm Bodies because they associated it with the YA label? How many bought it because of it?
Comment, people. I really, truly want to know the answers.

Find Isaac Marion at
Read his blog at Burning Building

Find Warm Bodies on

And if you shelve this book in a store, for the love of Pete, shelve it in Adult Fiction.
Isaac says Sci-Fi/Fantasy would be his second choice.
Do not put it in YA. Just... don't.


  1. First of all, I need to stress here again that I am not "treating YA authors as if they don't write as well as adult authors." I wasn't even talking about YA authors, or YA books for that matter. I was only talking about the concept behind the category, which seems so maddeningly vague that it could muddle the perception of what a book is about more than clarify it.

    I do like this idea of Emily's: "But if you think of YA like a genre, like horror, sci-fi, any other genre, then it's just like what Tammy said -- it signifies the book will have themes that may be of specific interest to young adults."

    THAT makes sense to me and would be a valid use of the YA label. The problem is, that is NOT how books are sorted. There are hundreds of classic novels and highly-regarded modern works that are almost entirely about young adults, the experience of growing up, etc, and yet are HIGHLY unlikely to be placed in the YA section, simply because they're written by "respectable" authors and no New Yorker-reading literary aesthete wants to be caught browsing the YA aisles. So no matter how young its characters or how youth-relevant its themes may be, if a book's intent is seen as "serious" enough, it will still be classified as adult fiction by book stores, catalogues, reviewers, blogs, etc. Examples: "The Fortress of Solitude", "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", etc.

    This isn't the YA genre's fault, and I actually think Emily's definition would make a very useful category, but no one in the book industry is treating it that way. And since they're not, I have no choice but to look at the YA label as a stamp of disapproval from the adult literary world, simply because of examples like the ones I listed. If a book "transcends" the YA genre, it no longer gets called YA, just like books that "transcend" any other genre. (For example, "Zone One", Colson Whitehead's straight-up traditional zombie apocalypse novel that I'm sure has never once been put in the Horror section.) And if you have to transcend a genre, that implies a judgement against the genre. I didn't make this up, but until the definitions change, I have no choice but to navigate by them.

    Again, I'm not attacking this genre or any of the books in it or the authors who write them. My issue is only with the way the label is being used by the literary scene, which is really what you should be arguing against.

    1. You have issue with how the label is being used by the literary scene- okay, I get that. Many of us often have this issue, but don't you think you may be perpetuating the misuse with a lot of what you're saying? You could help many people change the way they see the YA label, and yet you seem to have this attitude that says, "Ew, get it away from me."

      This is not to say that I demand you like the YA category because your book has been associated with it, but please don't add to people's stigma against YA books. We've enough of that already.

    2. I don't choose which books are shelved together. I don't choose which books get reviewed by adult publications. I don't organize book festivals or create marketing plans or write literary blogs. It's not my job to change the way the YA label is perceived, because I can't. I'm just a writer and a reader, navigating the book world according to the maps those people have created.

    3. I think you missed my point... Would you say that you are or are not adding to the stigma currently held against YA? Set aside whatever the literary scene has established, just consider right now how YOU are adding to the situation.

    4. Isaac, I love you, but right now, I don't like you.

  2. Addendum: If the YA label was as useful and inclusive as you say it is--and as I think it SHOULD be--all those books I mentioned would be stocked on the YA shelves, along with "The Virgin Suicides", "Middlesex", Peter Rock's "My Abandonment", most of Salinger's work, and a hundred other examples you can probably think of quicker than me. But they aren't, and that fact alone is the sum of my argument. Unless the book world drops its double standard for what it considers YA and stops exempting serious literary authors from the label, the label will remain a stigma in the eyes of adult readers.

    1. Most of Salinger's work IS on the YA shelf. I believe The Virgin Suicides and The Bell Jar and Animal Farm and other classic literary works are too.

      It is not the book world that has a double standard. The only people I've heard express snobby opinions about YA books are those who have graduated from or taught at MFA programs. Most readers know that YA encompasses literary fiction as well as commercial fiction. I think you should get out more, talk to all kinds of readers, and browse the YA shelves of your local bookstore.

    2. I don't think that's entirely correct either--there are classics put out in YA edition where no changes are made to the text; they change the cover to make a mainstream YA buyer want to pick up and purchase the book. I've seen this with Wuthering Heights, The Virgin Suicides, etc. Either the publisher or the bookstore buyer makes that distinction, more often than not, the publisher. It's a marketing ploy to sell more classics.

  3. Wonderful article. Anyone who thinks children's and YA writers condescend to their readers has clearly not read any recent books in either genre. "Spellbinder" and "Midnight Gate" are middle grade, but I didn't use a limited vocabulary when I wrote them. I used my vocabulary because I was writing them for me, not some nebulous idea of a "child." If other people like them, that's a bonus. I appreciate that YA is more difficult to define. My ex-agent told me that Sam, the main character in my YA novel, "Paradigm," was "too cocky" and should be more unsure of himself. I couldn't actually think of a 17-year old who isn't cocky, but I toned him down a bit...only then my publisher complained that they liked him over confident.

    Perhaps Marion is thinking of books he read as a child. Not too long ago I read "The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe to my nephew and was stunned to discover how condescending it was. Times have changed and children's literature in all genres has changed as well. I'd suggest that Marion crack open a few YA books and have a read before insulting both the readers and authors of a genre that is frequently more challenging and multi-layered than some of the supposedly "adult" books elsewhere in the store.

    K. Rant over.

    1. I'm not insulting anybody. I'm not even talking about the books or the authors. I'm talking about the category itself and its definition. I have no doubt there are a lot of very good books that I've overlooked in my lifetime due to them being marketed to teenagers instead of adults. Is that my fault? Is it my responsibility to ignore all the marketing and take chances on books whose own publishers are insisting they were written for younger audiences?

      Notice there is no YA category in film. There are "family films" which promise kid-friendly themes and content, and then there's everything else. Why is that? Why do books need this subdivision if movies don't? In a video store, Percy Jackson and the Olympians would be on the same shelf as The Virgin Suicides, and it would be up to me to determine which one is kids-only and which one is universal. In a bookstore, Percy would be in YA and Virgin Suicides would be in Literature. What can that possibly communicate to me other than, "One of these books--both of which are about kids--is FOR kids, and the other is for adults"?

    2. Percy Jackson is a middle grade series meant for children about 9-12. It's not classified as YA, though some teens and adults read the series. I bet the Percy Jackson movies are in the family film section of the video store.

    3. I have to interject on the topic of movie placement. I work for the Los Angeles Public Library and we do have a Young Adult video section with Young Adult themed movies from Percy Jackson to The Virgin Suicides. I'm not sure what the case in within other library systems.

  4. A - you have written a fantastic post. Kudos to you. Now where do I even begin. First, I am very much an adult - educated and quite capable of reading books with fancy words and advanced concepts. However, there are many times when I have found more meaningful and well written novels in the section for children's or YA sections than I have in the so called adult section of the bookstore in the last several years. Second, Marion obviously hasn't read anything by Andrew Smith - who I greatly respect as an intelligent and gifted writer and one who doesn't seem to have an issue that his books are labelled YA. And this is just one example of a brilliant writer who is not "dumbing it" down for teenagers. And personally, I can care less if uppity New York literary types won't pick up a book because of the location it is found in the bookstore. If we continue to hold attitudes that Marion has expressed in the comments and on the facebook post - books will never be shelved in a variety of locations so that a wider audience will be able to locate and read worthy books - and really isn't that what is most important?!

    1. Like I've been saying over and over, my issue isn't with the books themselves. Please stop accusing me of insulting YA authors and listing examples of good authors who get classified as YA. That's not my point. My issue is with the category itself and the way the book world uses it.

    2. Isaac, I think they're trying to zero in on your feeling that labeling it young adult insults your great, written-for-adults, mature-themed novel. It's not that you're insulting others, it's that YOU feel insulted when people think your book is YA. You wouldn't have made that initial post if it didn't bother you. Sure, we'd like to change the way the world views the genre, but that's not happening here and now. It's an ongoing project for most of us. But more than anything, and I've already said I don't think you can be convinced, I wish you'd stop seeing the category as other people's idea of a put-down.

    3. Orson Scott Card published ENDER'S GAME as an adult novel, but I haven't heard peep one from him since it's become a mega YA-YR (young reader) perennial bestseller, soon to hit Rowling-seller territory when the movie comes out. The themes were definitely adult; the main characters were very young children.

      The same thing happened with his Alvin Maker series. They began shelved as adult, then appeared in the teen section, because speculative fiction fans don't care where they find their favorite authors, whatever age the fan.

      Alethea was trying to do you a favor, Mr. Marion, by introducing your book to a rabid audience for zombie fiction. As I said, fans of speculative fiction--including teenagers--don't care about the material if it gives them what they crave, and zombies are very popular with them.

    4. Thanks for recognizing that, Tamora (may I call you Tammy? o_o" *starstruck*) -- I was, and still am, trying to help connect readers with books they will love. I do feel a bit weird that my post reflects poorly on Isaac, yet I still really want people to go pick up the book and read it. I'm much more interested in readers enjoying the book than I am in making him feel bad about anything... in the back of my mind I'm still hoping he drops the elitist viewpoint. Not holding my breath, though.

  5. Firstly, wonderful, wonderful post. It made me mad, then made me think and truly examine my own views on the YA distinction. I can understand where Mr. Marion is coming from (especially the points he makes in his comments). There are a lot of books shelved in the YA sections of books stores that are much lower in quality than the books he names; BUT not ALL of the books written for Young Adults are lower quality! There are books of all qualities in the YA section just like there are books of all qualities in the adult section. I really wonder if Mr. Marion has read many YA novels, because there is a big distinction between the novels he names and most of the books in the YA section (at least to me). This distinction has nothing to do with quality of writing, though. Thematically, books like Middlesex or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close are so drastically different from most of the YA books I have read. Sure, you do get a book every once in a while that seems misplaced and is probably only categorized the way it is because somebody somewhere thinks it will sell better under that category. For the most part, though, I feel like the adult books I read have a completely different flavor than the YA books I read, although they may be, and often are, equally well written. I really, truly encourage Mr. Marion to read a book by Margo Lanagan, or Melina Marchetta,or Markus Zusak, or any other of the wonderfully talented authors who are writing YA lit today (for heavens sake,just read down the Printz list if you want some great books!). I think he will find that their books are every bit as challenging and deep as the best books written for adults.

    1. I feel like everyone is missing my point no matter how many times I say it so I must be communicating it poorly. I don't need recommendations for good YA books. I don't need to be convinced that such a thing is possible. I have no opinion on that. My entire Facebook thread, and all my comments on this blog, are about my issues with YA as a category and the way it's being handled by the book industry. That's all that's relevant to me. If people have been trained to see a book on the YA shelf and automatically assume it's aimed at the same audience as Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, etc, that's a problem for me, because that's not where I aimed my book.

    2. Here's what I get from your comments:

      Your concern as an author is that the intended audience of your novel, adults who read serious and important literature, may get the impression that your book is a YA novel and summarily dismiss it without bothering to look beyond the marketing label. Is this closer to the truth?

    3. I don't think you're communicating poorly, Isaac. I think that the phrase "rash on (my) eyeballs" just makes it hard to see the comments in another light, if that helps. Given YA's sales versus adult literary fiction, it might be a lucrative rash indeed!

      This is a really interesting discussion, as it highlights exactly what Isaac is saying repeatedly here: an author doesn't have much say after his book is out in the world. Maybe you had other readers in mind, Isaac, but if sophisticated young readers are also enjoying it, and bookstores are selling books with it shelved as YA as well as adult, maybe it's something to embrace rather than compare it to an unpleasant ailment?

      As a side note, YA author Cecil Castellucci once drew a very simple distinction between YA / and books with teen characters categorized as adult fiction. It might
      be helpful here, as Isaac's examples do fit this: books looking back on the experience of adolescence tend to be for adults vs. books from a teen POV in the moment tend to be for teens.

      I haven't read Isaac's book, but it sounds like the very nature of it (looking back at memories) makes it a better fit in the adult fiction section. Your frustration on that point is coming across loud and clear, Isaac, never fear.

      Fantastic article, Alethea.

    4. I agree with Kristen on this one. It's hard to take a comment that includes rash and eyeballs in anything but a negative light (ouch).

      It's true that an author has no say as to where their books are shelved or who decides to read it after it's out in the world. But in the case of Warm Bodies, it seems to be a book that appeals to both adults and young adults. I think this crossover appeal should be seen as a good thing, not bad. Not even going into the fact that many adults read young adult novels, teens often read books much more mature in theme than their teen status might suggest. I know that when I was a teenager, I was reading adult literary fiction, horror, mysteries, and anything else I could get my hands on.

      While I understand the author's frustration, saying that you don't want your book in YA perpetuates the idea that the genre is somehow lesser. Instead, I think he should celebrate the fact that his book appeals to more than one type of reader.

  6. I don't see a problem with books being cross listed. If a book is placed in the adult section - because that is where the adults look for books like this. Can it not also be placed in the teen section - so that teens who are also looking for a book like this can find it?

    I see the point about the "serious" literature not making its way over to the YA shelves, and I wonder why we don't also cross shelve those books. My guess is that teens who are seeking leisure reads are looking for more modern releases.

    There are publications that highlight a group of books as "Adult books for teens" - books that were specifically written for adults but will likely find a teen audience that needs or wants those themes. It sounds like this book may be one that fits this category.

    Why do we need a YA label? Teens and young adults want to have something that is theirs. Are they going to go back and read books marketed for children? Not likely. Will they completely venture into the adult section? Perhaps, perhaps not. If it encourages them to read more, is that really a problem?

    1. Thanks, Maria. I have a friend who is a bookseller, great at recommending books, lots of clout with readers, but he only reads lofty tomes--big exception for graphic novels--and once that I know of, he stooped so low as to read a YA book. He enjoyed it! I'm glad he gave it a chance. But I think Isaac's objection is that people who are like my friend, but who won't touch YA with a 10-foot pole, will treat his book that way... and we wouldn't be having this discussion if people like that didn't exist. They're out there and I wish they would loosen up.

  7. The author sees the YA label as a warning that the novel won't have substance or sophisticated vocabulary. For instance, he differentiates his book from YA books because the writing is "not simplified for a young reading level at all, containing big ol' fancy words." Hardly anyone else sees the label like that.

    The author also repeatedly talks about YA books as being written for children. No one but him believes that. YA books are written for teens. Most are for ages 12 and up. That's just basic knowledge.

    To spend so much time ranting against the YA label without knowing the first thing about it seems like a poor use of his time and effort. And if he was so opposed to being labeled as a YA writer, why did he agree to sell his book rights to Summit, a company best known for making movies from YA books. He is crying all the way to the bank.

    Many writers of books for adults have happily written for the YA market. Sherman Alexie's best and most profitable book, a National Book Award winner, was expressly written as a YA novel. Many adults happily read it too.

    Most people know that YA novels vary greatly. Many are commercial and many are literary and many are a mix of the two. Just as not all books for adults are like Fifty Shades of Gray, not all YA books are like Twilight.

    The author's refusal to be associated with a YA label and his erroneous beliefs about the nature of YA novels, beliefs that very few people share, is almost like a Caucasian saying it's an insult to be mistaken for someone of a different race because most people believe that Caucasians are better. It's just perpetuating something that most people don't believe.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Debra. I do disagree with this part of your comment: "beliefs that very few people share". We wouldn't be having this discussion if the belief were not prevalent. I say this even though I spend lots of time with lovers of YA: bloggers, librarians, authors, teachers, publishing reps, and readers, too. You'd think I'd run into less people who dismiss YA as Isaac does; he's the first in the industry I've encountered who has publicly stated that viewpoint.

  8. Great post! And great discussion comments.


    1. Thanks, Angie! It's a little scary. D: I hope Isaac's not too beat up by it.

  9. One of the most important things I learned about the written word is that it may do more or less than what the author intended.

    So, the intended audience might be adults, but if it's been read by those who market it with a "strike while the iron is hot" mentality determine the target audience might just be YA, then they must know what they're doing. In fact, the YA trends for this year definitely are zombies.

    Let's not ignore the fact that the Walking Dead is based off a graphic novel by Robert Kirkman. Most graphic novels are primarily featured in the YA section of most libraries because that's the audience that reads them most...except for some of the later ones that have now been labeled as horror. However, it's still a graphic novel (not to be confused with comic) - which too many people make that distinction and just assume that they're simply cartoons, which couldn't be further from the truth.

    It started out as a graphic novel that mostly teens read because of the "graphic novels are just cartoon books for kids" stigma that DC and Marvel comics helped to perpetuate. Yes, I liked many comics/cartoons in my day, but generally US produced works do oversimplify things and talk down to their audience...graphic novels (most have foreign authors) don't...

    My point - a graphic novel, something most adults skip over thinking it's aimed at teens and children simply because it uses pictures to help tell the story, has sparked a very popular TV drama produced by AMC that attracts a wide variety of ages. The more this happens, the more adults see the merits of modern YA fiction. Just as you have to be selective about which adult book you pick up and read, you need to be selective about which YA book you pick up...

    So, instead of complaining about a classification such as YA, work to remove that stigma. Complaining that it's a negative and useless won't change how people see it, but it will only serve to perpetuate that stigma. Focus that "anger" at the people that really are the problem - those that snub the YA labels.

    Work to encourage the "literary" crowd you think would read a book about a zombie apocalypse to appreciate the YA label rather than snub it. Point them to the gems that exist on the YA shelves, and the ones that exist in both places and ask them to consider the real reason why they won't even consider looking on a YA shelf. Their answers may surprise you.

    And make no mistake, calling the classification useless and demeaning to an author (especially when you target "adults") is the same as subbing the genre and its authors because many young adults are just that, "adults" ...

    By the way, did you know that the current studies are indicating that the human brain doesn't mature by the age of 18, but takes longer? So, even if your definition of an adult is someone 18+, it doesn't mean their brain is completely matured - so you could say that your target audience is really a mixed bag of ages... :)

    1. Thanks, Carrie! You hit the nail on the head: I would like to help remove that perception that YA is "for kids", "simplistic", and lacking maturity. :)

  10. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    While I understand a certain amount of disappointment and perhaps even frustration with having a book categorized for an audience for which it had not been intended, it seems short-sighted and rather ungracious to completely disavow association with the young adult category. (Without any knowledge of WARM BODIES' marketing/shelving, I read the book and shelved it on GoodReads as both "adult" and "mature YA," because many of its elements, as well as the way it is written, would be appealing to readers of both adult and teen fiction.) I think this book actually has more of a chance to be noticed and appreciated within the young adult community than it does by adult genre readers.

    I am taken aback to see the vehemence of this reaction from an author whose book I loved and have recommended over and over again to the very audience for which there seems to be scant respect. Wanting a book to be regarded as a serious literary work and appealing to a vast number of young adult readers--many of whom happen to be adults, by the way--aren't mutually exclusive things. But actively perpetuating the notion that YA is an insult (and there is no other way to interpret phrases such as "a stamp of disapproval," "a rash on the eyeball") does no favors to the reading community in general or to the book itself.

    It really doesn't matter what audience a book was written for, as once a book is out in the world, authors don't have any control over how people react to it. Readers and professionals alike have recognized and responded to the theme of self-discovery in WARM BODIES. It's rather unbelievable to me that an author would do anything other than celebrate the fact that his words are finding an audience.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    1. I agree so much with all that you've said here, Wendy. Once a book goes out into the world, an author essentially loses control of it. It's in the hands of the readers, whomever they may be, and that's exactly how it should be. And it boggles my mind to think that any author would be angry that his book found a different audience than solely the one he intended - shouldn't that be a good thing? In any case, whether or not he "aimed" his book at adults, it appears to resonate with many young adults. Apparently that bothers the author, but that's simply a truth he needs to face (and will embrace, if he has any sense).

      It's amusing to me how quickly some writers get egos once they're published. I assume Marion was once an aspiring writer who only dreamed anyone - young or old - would one day read his words.

    2. I agree, Claire. If a book finds a larger/different audience than that for which it was written, that's not something to decry unless you have a serious lack of respect for readers. And honestly, he doesn't even need to embrace YA readers if he's embarrassed to be associated with the genre. But making elitist remarks about it, as if the categorization was the death knell to a superb literary work, comes off in a very off-putting way.

      Wanting more adult readers is understandable, but this type of negativity isn't going to help secure them. I wonder how popular this book would be if it were not for the many YA readers who have embraced it, and if the author will make those same sorts of criticisms about the film adaptation that will most assuredly be marketed to teenagers as well.

  11. "I do like this idea of Emily's: "But if you think of YA like a genre, like horror, sci-fi, any other genre, then it's just like what Tammy said -- it signifies the book will have themes that may be of specific interest to young adults."

    THAT makes sense to me and would be a valid use of the YA label. The problem is, that is NOT how books are sorted."

    This is totally true. I think people who are part of the BOOK WORLD think of it like a genre, but regular consumers probably see it as a books for teens that will make you look childish to read. It is a shame that this is the way of things. Great post though, very interesting. In my library we have it in the adult section, no question, but I do put it on zombie book lists and recommend it to my teens. It is simply a great book and I feel like it has themes in it that teens will understand and characters that they can relate to.
    I do have to think about where to put books sometimes, so that they can reach the maximum audience. We luckily have rotating displays at the front desk, so I can group some adult and YA together and trick both adults and teens into reading outside the box. :)

    1. "but regular consumers probably see it as a books for teens that will make you look childish to read."

      I'm sure lots of "grownups" devouring books about a teenage boy flying on a broom, then flocking theaters to see the animated version, thought they looked childish... This is sparking a great debate, but I'm failing to understand what it will accomplish in the end. The kid's book seller in me wants and will keep selling children's books to adults buying for other adults and offering those books as graduation or retirement presents; I will keep delighting in (possibly aggravating an "adult" author by) shelving his book in the YA section whenever I see fit. My main focus is the reader and giving him or her the opportunity to discover a book they will fall in love with. For the rest, there's ice cream and therapy.

  12. Interesting. You see, I shop in the YA section and the adult fiction sections for different reasons, but at the end of the day I am looking for something to read.
    The YA section at my bookstore is located in between children's lit and the science books. So it is an interesting placement. I do get the impression that many people assume ya = for teens = childish. I had that impression for a long time, too. The only way for people to get over the stigma is to become open minded - but what are the chances?

    1. I know, it seems kind of hopeless XD grrrr.

      Thanks for your comment. I worked in/ran a bookstore for almost 14 years and I see categories just as ways to find books by subject, not a restriction of "I will look cooler if I only read from this section". I will read YA, trashy romance, literary fiction, math books, scifi/fantasy--and all in public. I don't care who sees me. Unless my fly is open :o

  13. Erhmergerd! Someone think of the children! There be big words in this here literary novel!

    I DNF'd it at fifty pages. If I want a literary monster book I'll read Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf which was actually literary and not just containing big words.

  14. Personally, I love the YA label. That's where I always look for books first and I'm 30 years old.

    1. Me too--I'm 34. Do you read adult literary fiction as well, because really I think the section he worries about is not you (adult who reads YA) or me (adult who reads YA and also adult literary fiction) but the reader who only reads adult literary fiction and will instantly dismiss a book as not worth their time if it's "marked" YA.

  15. Mr. Marion - I think I understand what you are saying. It's the classification of your book as YA that disturbs you, not YA books themselves. But I don't think you've given a clear explanation as to why that is? Do you really think that it will hurt the commercial prospects of your book to get cross listed as YA? If so, why do you think that?

    Because that is the only reason I can see why you would complain. You imply that you respect YA authors and YA readers, so from that stand point it shouldn't bother you to be associated with them. I'm just a little surprised that given today's marketplace that the YA label would spell financial doom.

  16. "Children's" is a useful category because it tells people it's written at a young reading level and doesn't contain any objectionable content. "Adult" is a useful category because it tells you it's not "Children's". YA is a useless category because teenagers and twentysomethings can and SHOULD read whatever the hell they want."

    I wonder, does Isaac Marion remember what it was like to be a young adult? I know it's a term whose definition varies, but I like to peg it at approximately 14-22, from being a teenager in high school to an adult-in-name-only just out of college. Based on my own experience, and the shared experiences of both friends and strangers, this is a period of life that is exactly as nebulous, misunderstood, and frequently dismissed as the YA genre.

    It's also a period of life during which one is unlikely to know one's place, because having outgrown the label of "child," the label of "adult" might not yet fit. Why should we be forced to pick one or the other when choosing the books that speak to us? To say that there are no themes unique to the young adult experience and therefore deserving of a separate label is to deny any specificity to that experience, and to do nothing to support or improve the lives of the young people pushing their way through. If anything, it perpetuates the shame and confusion that many young adults feel as they attempt to find their place in the world.

    What's more, as an avid reader throughout my life, I can testify to the fact that it's only now, at age 26, that I'm beginning to appreciate and seek out the literary fiction that I think Mr. Marion means when he talks about "adult" literature. Additionally books like The Catcher in the Rye are able to cross-over from YA to literary fiction largely because they are written by and about men. To date, the only comparable crossover I've been able to think of that is both by and about a woman is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This is just one reason I always caution against claiming that the best books will crossover no matter what.

    Mr. Marion, your vehement embarrassment and apparent hatred for a genre that has clearly welcomed you is off-putting, to say the least, and I'm no longer interested in reading your book. Blech.

    1. I understand how you feel, though to be fair, I think he's become more accepting over the course of the debate :)


    2. And yet he continues to talk in terms of "authors of books that have ended up in the YA category"—as though it's absurd to think that anyone would write for it intentionally.

      Regardless, thank you for putting your post together, because conversations like this need to be had, if only so that we can see that for every detractor, there are dozens of people who love and appreciate what YA is capable of as a genre.

    3. Haha, yes. Always with the backhanded insults XD My friend commented (via text) that maybe he wrote a YA book and just didn't know it and is now in denial. -___-

  17. Also wanted to say that my library actually does have The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex in the YA section.

    1. I think he really specifically means bookstores, though I know a lot of YA librarians would cross-shelve those and WB too, especially if they have teens who read adult fiction.

  18. Every time I see these debates I get more and more frustrated. In the time since I began publishing as a writer for teens, I've seen the field spread and diversify far beyond what it was when I was a teen (and reading from the adult stacks). These people who scoff at YA seem like voices from the 60s and 70s.

    I'm one of those authors who is constantly asked "How did you get away with that?" My answer is always, "I don't know. I wasn't trying to get away with something. It's just a part of my characters' lives." I write in medieval-esque universes, where our teenagers are considered adults. The worlds are brutal; some of them are engaged in combat, some in police work. There is disease, crime, hazing, and severe poverty. I write about all of it. I also write about bodies maturing, women giving birth, surgery, and sewage. I don't pull punches on language, either, and by language I mean big words, not swearing (well, not always swearing, but it's medieval, so it's learning swearing). I consistently rank high on those Lexile things. And all of the writers I like are the same.

    The thing that makes YA a separate category, I feel, is that teenagers have agency. What they do has an effect on their lives and often on the lives of others. But that doesn't mean the books are infantile. If they were, teenagers wouldn't read them. Anyone who knows teenagers know that if they think a book is infantile, they will abandon it, quickly.

    I've recently read Maggie Stiefvater's newest book, and Libba Bray's, and Rachel Hartman's SERAPHINA. You don't find stuff this good in the adult shelves. Well, seldom.

    1. Ms. Pierce, earlier this month you responded to a comment left by my mother, Elizabeth Hutchinson, on the NY Times interview with Lois Lowry; then, you followed up with further comments of your own, all in support of young adults and the literature they (we) read.

      Now, seeing you here, once again defending the literature that I love so much, means more than I can ever express. I think your definition of YA as a separate genre, based on the agency of its teen characters, is one of the more succinct I've ever read, and I look forward to using it in future discussions of the genre.

      Thank you for doing what you do, both in and out of your books. I've been a fan for 15+ years, and introducing your stories to children of my own is something I can't wait to do.

    2. I know! I'm actually kind of glad similar debates have come up like the too-dark-YA and adults-shouldn't-read-YA... my tummy used to drop to the floor like we were having an earthquake or something, but really someone was just bashing the label. This time, while I was disturbed and frustrated, I think I held it together ok. I don't think his reservations are unfounded; I just don't think they're right, either.

    3. @Anna thanks for replying--I think my mind blanked out for several hours when I realized who "tammypierce" was. . _ .

  19. One of the things I love best in YA fiction is that it often covers a personal journey, that allows the reader to really relate to and empathize with the character. When we take away adult themes of careers, families, kids, etc we get to the raw, emotional and entertaining journey the character goes through as they find themselves, and/or find their first love. Is that making it stripped down? Perhaps. Or maybe, it makes it more complex. Regardless, it is enjoyable.

  20. If I've been reading properly, Marion's issue is not that his book has been labelled as anything other than adult fiction, but that because his book has been labelled as YA, it will deter many adult readers who see YA in a negative light.

    How many adults do you know sheepishly admit that they have read a popular YA title? When you travel outside of the blogosphere, a certain amount of shame accompanies telling people that you read YA, because there is a stigma attached to the label. One that says that YA books are dumbed-down and cater to children.

    Someone found this picture in a popular book store, and I would argue that this is a dominating attitude for anyone who isn't part of the YA community.

    While I would hope that authors would embrace the cross-over appeal of their novel, I can also see how it might be upsetting to see your book - that you wrote with a certain audience in mind - be given a label that for a large group of people, has a negative connotation. I can see why Marion might think that he now faces an uphill battle, in order to convince his targeted audience that his material wasn't written for children.

    Do I agree with all of this stigma? Hell no! I love YA and think it is an extremely important genre. But the shame behind the YA label is something that I have witnessed first hand, and so I can't fault Marion for being upset.

  21. Thanks to Alethea for bringing this book to my attention. I was just leaving Borders (after having worked there for 12 years) when the title came out - so I missed seeing it on the selves there. (I bought the kindle version - read it. liked it.)

    I can tell you right now, I probably would have missed this book entirely. I'm not a huge fiction reader. I rarely make it to the Horror section. When I do make it to the bookstore, I live in the Sci-Fi and YA sections almost exclusively. I most definitely would have picked this up if it had been on an endcap in the YA section.

    The Young Adult genre is not the YA section of old. It's grown up! It has genre sections inside genre sections! The books at times are more adult then those you would find in the fiction section. These titles now, have more life and vitality then ever. They've the ability to both rip you to shreds emotionally and build you back up again.

    There is such a vast difference from the books I saw and read as teen in 1980's to the ones now. There was hardly anything of substance back then.

    I spent my entire bookselling era towing the line for YA. I was there for the emergence of Twilight. Harry Potter was just walking into the stores - and L.J. Smith's Vampire Diaries had been sitting there on the shelves since the 90's. Waiting for their time to come. Every new and exciting book that came in I pushed onto teens and adults. YOU WILL LOVE THIS! and they did.

    YA is not a dirty word or a scarlet letter. It's a badge of honor.

    1. Thanks Bexx. I'm going to have to get the Dearly/Lia Habel books asap, since you said! Glad you liked WB. I thought it was good.

  22. I am not offended if Mr. Marion is embarrassed by the YA designation that has been thrust upon his book. I don't doubt that some consumers share his prejudices and he'll lose a few like-minded readers in the process. But having read the excerpt of "Warm Bodies" on his web site, I find it surprising that he says "the writing is not simplified for a young reading level at all" and that he distances it from the YA "books that are simpler and more easily digestible than adult books."

    Perhaps the language and style become more complex in subsequent chapters and my point is moot, but what I read was simple, easily digestible prose. Not a bad thing, but certainly something that young readers can handle. If you plug the first 1000 words into the Lexile Framework, it results in a 780L score, which places it squarely in the Percy Jackson, Twilight and Hunger Games range (7th and 8th grade). The Lexile system is far from perfect, and doesn't account for themes and subject matter, but from a purely stylistic point of view, it shows "Warm Bodies" to be accessible to young readers.

    Just as Mr. Marion seemingly overestimates his stylistic prowess (again, that may change in subsequent chapters), I wonder if he overestimates the thematic complexity of his book. Or, perhaps more appropriately, underestimates young readers' abilities to spot thematic complexity. When I was in high school we read "The Great Gatsby" and "Beloved" and "The Metamorphosis" and many other thematically complex books. Did we pick up on all the nuances? Probably not, but most adults don't either. Intelligence is a nebulous thing. You don't suddenly reach enlightenment at 18 and magically understand what "loquacious" and "sepulchral" mean, nor do you become more adept at literary analysis. Education and experience helps, though Mr. Marion (who proudly says on his web site that he did not attend college) may downplay the value of education.

    For a debut author, Mr. Marion has already found ridiculous success. Stephanie Meyer blurb. Glowing reviews in major publications. Movie deal! Since I haven't read more than the first handful of pages, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say it's because he's written a stunning and engaging novel. But if his novel wasn't put into the hands of a prominent YA author, if it wasn't shown to have universal appeal--something studio execs crave (there's a reason why they're scouring YA shelves to find tentpole films)--then it might have been lost in the adult section, considered a minor work on the bandwagon driven by "The Passage" and "Zone One" and "World War Z." Sure, it might have found a few more of Mr. Marion's like-minded readers, but thousands of others might have missed out on it. Let's be honest, YA is one of the most vibrant parts of the book industry right now and publishing companies are positioning books there so that they can find more success, not less.

    Mr. Marion may not measure his success in terms of readership and sales. The prestige of playing in the big leagues of "adult authors" may be enough. I doubt that, though. Writers crave readers. And YA can give Mr. Marion readers who not only understand his book, but love his book. Many in the YA community may be offended by his comments, but if he chooses to embrace the YA label, he should be accepted with open arms. Because his success will be YA's success, and might help shift the perceptions of people who think like him.

  23. This is a great article and discussion; I'm just commenting to say I actually picked up Warm Bodies because it was shelved under YA. I can't comprehend where Isaac Marion got his initial perspective from.

  24. Very interesting discussion. I've always come down on the idea that author intent only really matters until the book hits print. Once that threshold has been crossed, then it's really up to audiences and readers as to where the book goes from there. Terry Goodkind had gotten into a similar hot-water situation when he objected--vociferously--to his Sword of Truth books being labeled as "Fantasy." He didn't like the label, objected that he hadn't intended them to be limited to a genre, and made all sorts of other remarks that were interpreted as hurtful by the fantasy community that had embraced his novels.

    I think it's perfectly fine to discuss the drawbacks of different marketing ploys that try to pigeonhole books into a single category. But then again, isn't the point of all of this to get people reading books? I mean, it's a team sport, in my opinion. If a book takes off in Germany but fizzles in America, does the author mourn the fact that his or her intended American audience didn't "get it"?

    Once a book is written, its audience will find it. If that audience turns out to be hordes of YA fans, what is the loss? You might have "intended" the book to be an "adult" book, but if it has traits that speak to a different audience, how is that a problem?

    I remember talking to Shannon Hale about Goose Girl right after it had come out. She said she'd written it, thinking of it as an adult book. It was only once she tried to get it published that she was told it was YA. She said, "Really?", then sort of shrugged and embraced it. I think her books and career has blossomed as a result.

    In the end, I think YA and fantasy and genre fiction in general is particularly prickly when it comes to anyone critiquing it. Too often, you've got the "big boy" authors and critics dismissing genre or YA as less worthy or less literary. When anyone is speaking about the literary landscape that YA covers, he or she needs to be cognizant of the conversation going on in that area.

    1. Thanks, Bryce! I very much appreciate this comment, esp. since you are both a librarian and an author. I often wonder why we have to apologize YA/fantasy at all. Can't we just enjoy the books we love without looking down on each other for reading one thing or another?

  25. Couple of comments. One the issue of a "awkward marketing" that Marion seems to think is the real issue (it's not). Clearly there is nothing wrong with the label YA as a marketing tool. YA novels make up fully 1/5 of the overall Amazon bestsellers for 2012 so far. This competing with various "non-fiction" about visiting heaven and a whole slew of "novels" about being tied up with silk ties and beaten. (as an aside, if someone were to write a book about being tied up and beaten in heaven I would read it) Frankly is WARM BODIES had been marketed harder as a YA, it would have had a good chance of making the bestseller lists. And for the record, there is a parallel in the labeling and shelving of movies. Movies aimed at mature adults are called "drama" or sometimes "romance". Action/Adventure, horror, comedy (rated below R), thriller and other "genre" is marketed at young adults 14-35. Almost ALL movies are (unlike almost all books). That the nature of the movie industry, so it's not really a useful comparison. If the movie market was like the book market, video stores would have genre sections and an "adult (non porn)" section for things like The English Patient and Three Colors Red. Just as book stores have the opposite (genre sections and a YA section).

    My second point is, for future reference all those who don't want their books mistaken for YA I have a simple suggestion: get your love interest/eye candy/sex object manic pixie dream girl out of her teens. Since R doesn't know how old he is and Julie is 19, it's fair for readers to enjoy the impression that R is a young man too (I saw him this way, though I felt that Marion imagined him older). But part of the charm of WB is the youth of Julie, not just as a sex object, but as an incomplete adult finding herself together with another "incomplete adult". Frankly if R is a grown man, he's kind of immature, even for a zombie.

    In the end this is the test for writers: if your story only works with characters below, say 20, those who haven't attempted careers yet, who have limited sexual or romantic experience, who are viewed by the "adults" in the book and possibly even by themselves as incomplete then you are writing YA. Congratulations.

    To illustrate: Two men are being attacked by bears. One thinks "I'll never meet my grandchildren and I think I left the kettle on" the other thinks "I've never had a proper blow-job and mom will be mortified that I died with this awful haircut." Book A is adult. Book B, YA. Simple.

    1. LMAO Gabrielle! Seriously people if you are ever lucky enough to be at a conference with her, go talk to her, she is smart, hilarious, and a great conversationalist. Seriously glad I sat next to you at the Walden Pond MG mixer.

    2. Did I meet you there at ALA in LA? I was very drunk for the entire week so memories are hazy. I remember wine. And headaches. And stalking Neal Shusterman. And crashing Penguin parties.

    3. Yep! We were talking with your sister and her friend. I remember achy feet and back pain D: I should have had more drinks maybe ^_^ Had fun anyway!

  26. A lot of great points have been made here but I feel like some questions got overlooked in the specificity of discussing WB/Marion. I wrote a blog post in response hoping to ask those questions. I defend Marion a bit because I see what he's trying to say, but mostly I wanted to ask things. The blog is here: http://jessicacorra.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/the-great-ya-debate/

    I really don't want to talk about WB, but the greater implications of YA itself. :)

  27. Wow! What a can of worms this opened up.

    There are books of all quality levels written in all genres/subgenres and for all intended audiences. It's a shame that some people insist on assuming a lack of depth and sophistication for childrens/YA books.

    A picture book may be as concrete as an ABC book or as poetic and abstract as ON THE DAY YOU WERE BORN...and those are to read to babies and two-year-olds.

    The YA label isn't just to keep what some customers may assume are adult themes out of books...it's about coming of age and deciding who you're going to be, which most adults can relate to since many of us remember that feeling or are still going through it...That's what makes YA a necessary label and one many readers of all ages can relate to.

    I'm tempted not to read something from an author who can be so critical of the genre I know, love and write, but since Maggie Stiefvater recommends it I'll still probably seek it out...See, the power of being associated with YA?

  28. I found Warm Bodies in the horror section of the chapters I shop at. I have never seen it in the YA section of any of the bookstores in my city.
    But if it had been in the YA I would still have bought it.
    I am 21 and I buy books from all parts of a book store. The labels don't really stop me, honestly I think the horror section is one of the only ones I rarely buy from. I also love YA. I buy mostly from YA but like I said above I also buy a lot from the Adult/Fantasy etc.

  29. Oh my god. Reading this made me so stressed out. It's something I'm pretty passionate about, and I wrote a blog post a little while ago that might interest you and your readers.

    I think Isaac made a really good point when he said (above): "Unless the book world drops its double standard for what it considers YA and stops exempting serious literary authors from the label, the label will remain a stigma in the eyes of adult readers."

    Isaac's fear that being labelled YA will make "grown-ups" value his book less makes me sad.

    We are the book world. The writers, readers, librarians, booksellers, publishers. Let's make everyone realise that literary YA exists and deserves to be viewed with as much respect as adult literary fiction. YA is not a genre. It's a category, and is useful and wonderful and VARIED.


  30. The author doesn't consider his book a YA, then why was Stephenie Meyer, the queen of YA blurbed on it?

    I read Warm Bodies and it feels very much like a YA with the tone and the characters and because it was given that label and again blurbed by one of the biggest YA authors, it probably sold better.

  31. very interesting post with, I think, a lot of good points and a lot of things worthy of discussion.

    In my personal opinion, and the way I categorize my personal ideas of books, labeling a book middle grade indicates that while the themes and story may be interesting, the characters and story will probably be at a lower reading level - something written to be easily grasped and consumed by a 9-12 year old. Still good books, but a little simpler. But that's just my personal classification.

    I think Marion raises an interesting point in, what is the purpose of a YA label? I don't even always know when shelving books on my goodreads when YA is an appropriate shelf and when it's not. Though, I love YA books so I tend to err towards shelving something YA so I can find it when I go browsing there.

    But if YA is something other than a Children's or Adult label - something that isn't meant to indicate the appropriateness or the reading level of a book - if it's a genre like Suspense or Romance that encompasses other genres then I think it helps guide readers to books they'll enjoy. Books that often have a fresher voice, are more visceral and emotional and oftentimes simply fun. And most books bear the label of several genres.

    I think once the book is published you have to let it go and let the readers make of it what they will. As long as it's not wholly misleading (like calling historical fiction sci-fi) why argue?

  32. Love the post! I think it's a topic worth the debate. I'm 31 and love YA books and authors, but I also read those written for adults. I think it's all about what you can relate to, no matter your age, on what you choose to read. The YA label helps teens know that there is a better chance (alhtough not a definitive chance) they can relate to the themes, characters, problems within that story probably more than they could a book on the adult shelves, such as Nora Roberts or Alice Sebold (as an adult I still don't relate well to some on those shelves). I understand what Marion is saying and I do believe he's not attacking the authors or books themselves, but I think he's wrong in thinking that his book crossing over in any way limits his audience. If anything it grows it. Teens and adults do choose their own books and if that's the type of story they want they will go to wherever it shelved, adult or ya.

  33. Maybe I'll be lynched for saying this, but I sort of understand where that author is coming from (mind you, I've never heard of his book or him before reading this post). I love both YA and adult books, I think each have their own merits and I wouldn't say the themes in YA books are any less important or weighty than those in adult books, but nevertheless, the stigma exists.

    My friends who once read YA books don't read them anymore because they've been 'disillusioned' by what they've read in the past. They just feel they've grown up and it's true that they believe it's childish to read YA books. Sometimes I feel embarrassed looking at my Goodreads homepage with myself still reading YA books compared to the things my friends are reading, it's hard to escape the pressures of peer opinion... But good books are good books so I'll keep reading them. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like that and so even people who have read YA before and know what they're like may not read it anymore because of the stigma associated with it.

    I understand why the author would fear his book would be glanced over by a lot of readers because of that very reason. Of course he should probably be more open minded and be happy that it can be viewed as both an adult and a YA book, but I don't think he's a horrible person for fearing the stigma associated with the YA genre... It permeates the book genre world and isn't going to die anytime soon. =/

    Of course I understand from the view point of avid YA readers and the authors that what he says is insulting. I also disagree that the YA label itself shouldn't exist at all, and also that some of the classics he mentioned before are shelved in the YA section as far as I've seen. I think he should just admit that he doesn't like/understand YA fiction, and that he fears the stigma and feels insulted it was labelled as such (I suppose there would be further outcry if he did though). ^^;;

    1. Thanks for your opinion. I do agree with him in a way, but I also don't think it benefits him to help perpetuate the idea that all YA is puerile stuff--it's an untrue idea, as untrue as the idea that all adult literary books are brilliant (some of them are rubbish, frankly) and it irks me that he is in a position to influence others to open their minds to what the label YA really means, but chooses to maintain the attitude that serious/real authors are excluded from YA.

      Please also note that I'm not trying to lynch you, nor have I ever said he's a horrible person :)

    2. Yes, I meant those things more to some of the comments I've read rather than your post itself, I should probably have made that clear. ^^;; I thought your post was very good, well through out and presented. :)

      I agree that in his position he shouldn't be further stigmatising the YA label, hopefully the discussions here will help him to be more open towards it rather than holding on to his current narrow view of it.

    3. :) Thanks... in any case, check out his book, you might like it!

  34. I'm in a funny position here.

    I disagree with AND completely understand his perspective. Why? Because I was homeschooled K-12, had no friends, and until my twenties, only read books that were considerably older than I was. (Those were the ones available in my parents' collection. We were really in the boonies - no library near us.)

    Every time I encountered books written for so-called youth, I was repulsed. They seemed stupid; shallow. The humor was dumb, the problems the kids faced seemed unrealistic, and they all seemed designed to rub some ridiculously simplified moral in the readers' faces.

    For decades, I genuinely thought all of YA was like that. And then I read Sarah Reese Brennan.

    I can't recall who convinced me to read The Demon's Lexicon, but the moment I did, I was utterly, COMPLETELY hooked on this "new" YA. Books for youth, as a whole (not counting the few forward-thinking folks) had changed MARKEDLY since the 1970's, and I'd had no idea.

    They were all about plot. Hard questions. Incredible characters. Relevant humor, up-to-date magic, teens dealing with heavy problems in a way that draws the reader along their emotional journey. WOW.

    YA... wow. I can't believe how much I missed.

    So yes: I understand where this author is coming from. I understand he's confused. But he really, really needs to go read what's out there before assuming that everything is still about boyfriends, babysitters, and baseball.

    YA has genuinely become one of the most richly diverse genres out there.

  35. It seems that this guy simply has the wrong idea going on in his head. He doesn't see the purpose of YA, he said it himself, and that is the perfect self-debunking of his own opinions.
    One of the main reasons YA has emerged as a genre in the first place and has become more and more prominent, (and is something that author is blind to), is the fact that children are becoming grown-ups earlier and earlier in their lives, at younger and younger ages than in the past. YA is all about that broad range of years when you grow up, when you become an adult. The middle genre between children's lit and adult lit is equally important.

  36. Ok. So the book isn't YA. But there is a Stephanie Meyer quote on the front...

  37. Okay I FINALLY read your post in-depth - I was so worried I'd be too pissed that I was afraid to come here for weeks :)

    First - wow this is a like a Best Of list of commenters! The great Tamora Pierce, my mentor Kristen, Maggie's always to-the-point quips, on and on.

    And yes, very well-written points. The funny thing is, I was only interested in reading this book because 1) I thought it was YA (it's very hard to get me to read an adult book) and 2) my boyfriend told me about the "Zombie Twilight" movie that was coming out.

    1. LOL. Thanks, Sophia. I am trying to stop appending "even though the author was kind of a jerk that time" to everything I write about the book or Isaac Marion. Because I still really really want people to read the novel and watch the movie. :)

  38. I'm 21. I'm considered an adult and I read a lot of YA. When I get dirty looks for marching straight to the YA section of the bookstore, I shrug them off. Why? BECAUSE I'M AN ADULT. I read whatever the hell I want. You know what I find childish? Worrying that people will judge you based on the books you are reading. If that's how shallow the people you surround yourself with are, I would say you need to meet some new people.

  39. I will say though, that when I transitioned from high school to college, I felt a little lost. I told myself that I needed to read more adult fiction because it's what I felt like "society" was telling me to do. Luckily, I found the YA book community, booktubers on YouTube, and the Vlogbrothers. I fell back in love with YA and I now have a YA book blog (I'm just starting out) and am on my way to becoming a youth services librarian. This is what I'm most passionate about and I will never stop working protect the name of YA and making sure that teens know that their experiences and feelings are IMPORTANT which is what I love most about the genre.
    I love that there are adults who strive to make sure children and teens know that they are not forgotten. When they feel like the adults in their lives have written them off and stereotyped them, they can pick up a YA novel and be reminded that they are important and especially that they are not alone. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this post and the comments that follow it. I feel like this is a topic that is usually swept under the rug. It's great to know that there are people that are still fighting for YA fiction.

  40. Wow. I'm so glad I found this post. My response Part 1. (Sorry, I got all rambling and ranting but I still feel the need to join in and post it all. )

    I totally agree with you on the terrible stigma people have against YA books. I hate it so much. I proudly read YA books.

    I mean it's not like every fiction book is better, just like YA isn't automatically worse. I can name plenty of terrible "adult" books.

    I get the author's reaction but I don't agree with it. His initial response just added to the stigma. While now we get to have a conversation about it and he's clarified his position, it's basically clean up time.

    The stigma is wrong and harmful. I think it does come from that line of thinking where people are just suppose to "grow up" and leave their childhood in the past. I don't get that. I mean the issues being dealt with while growing up shape who you are as a person. It's still apart of you. The setting may have changed from a high school to an office building but the problems of navigating relationships, gossip,responsibilities are still there. YA has a different setting and view point but it still deals with issues that are in adult books. There are books about young people struggling with bills and jobs and families to take care of too.

    YA isn't a genre free of issues and tough topic. There are plenty that deal with rape, death, abuse, drugs, and sex. YA has plenty of sub-genres like Mature YA or New YA and even "regular" YA has strong topics. One of my favorite books is Ellen Hopkins' Crank. I fell in love with it because it's poetic and deals with addiction, sex, love and loss. It's powerful. I hadn't read anything like it and growing up with addicted friends and family, it really helped me.

    Just like the best book talking about rape, I've found in the YA genre. I haven't found support or understand or really proper handling of rape in adult book. The adult books I've read dealing with rape usually just trigger me and just feel so wrong. It's hard to explain. Hmm..for instance in A.M. Holme's new book May We Be Forgiven there's a minor throwaway scene that involved the main character telling a 35 year old daughter to not stop her father from raping her mother. The main character just shrugs it off and she, rightly, gets pissed at him. Yes, that may be an accurate portrayal of how that main character, who's a middle aged white man, would react but I hated it. It upset me. Going through what I went through and talking to so many others like me, that little paragraph scene killed the entire book. (Though the book wasn't going well for me anyways.)

    It seems like since YA is geared towards young adults, including 18-25, that it has to update more. It keeps up with the issues. It becomes more progressive. I just don't identify often with how things are handled or portrayed in adult books. Like where are the "adult" books dealing with online threats and bullying? That's not just a kid or a school thing. There are grown ass people harassing and making threats online so where are the books? I've read some in Woman’s fiction regarding stalkers online and rape, but why is that shoved off into Woman’s fiction? Books in YA dealing with such issues aren't gendered into a sub-genre, it's fully apart of the genre. It's an issue young adults are talking about and dealing with. YA books are getting the attention and starting the conversations about these topics while adult books aren't.

    (I don't know why that is, though I'm sure there's speculation about it. That just how it appears to me.)

    1. My response continued, Part Two.

      It's not because I'm stunted or immature that while I read YA when I'm adult. It's because I haven't found the stories, the topics that are important to me in adult fiction. That's where I fit in still and enjoy it. It's not less than or worse than general fiction, it's just different.

      I still read fiction but for those topics that are personal I stick to YA for a reason.

      Reading is really personal and to attack an entire genre of amazing work just because of fear is upsetting. What about all those people like me who found the book because of the YA label? If someone avoids a book because of an arbitrary label than that's their problem. Why assume you'll lose more reader than gain because of the YA label? Why care more about the lost assuming "adult" reader than YA readers gained like me?

      That's why the his initial reaction is so upsetting and grating for me. It doesn't matter that he wasn't trying to get personal or purposefully attacking YA authors/books. Just the support of the stigma against YA is personal because reading and loving YA is personal. His initial statement just perpetuated the stigma against YA and if he really disagrees with the way the literary world uses the YA label, then that's what he should have said. Instead he attacked the label, without qualification or understanding. Now he's saying everyone misunderstood him.

      Now it's clarified and cleaned up but his initial reaction of "Don't label me like one of them" caused me to have an initial reaction of "Fine, I won't read your book, jerk". And I still feel like he's putting off really owning up and realizing why people are upset. Repeating "that's not what I meant" isn't really helpful. Words have meanings and connotations, right? So why not admit you worded it wrong or saying people are understanding you. We read and understood the initial response, it was just wrong. Stop saying people are missing the point when clearly they aren't. That's just frustrating.

      I still want to read the book because of the blurb and great reviews. However, without this post and without this clarification on his response, I might have avoided it just so I wouldn't support someone that is so offended and hates the YA label. Books are personal and sometimes if you disagree or don't like the author, it's enough to make you avoid their book(s).

      That's not going to happen for me and Warm Bodies but that's only because of this post. The YA label expanded his reader base and he is just making it smaller by his statements against the YA label. His initial statements weren't against how the literary world uses the YA label. With his comments "containing lots of big ol' fancy words", and "it's a rash on my eye ball", it's clear he has accepted that the YA is bad. It's not and he didn't stand up for it. He still isn't and hasn't to my knowledge taken back his harsh words instead of trying to hand wave the issue away with "You aren't understanding my big grown up talk" defense. If he really didn't hate the label and understood, he'd accept people using it personally. Throwing a fit and asking people not to use it just seems so childish and isn't helpful.

      It makes me want to label it YA because I think it fits in the New Adult side of the spectrum. It almost drove me away from the author and the book completely. Not due to the label but by the author's reactions. Just like author's who respond badly to negative reviews, author's reactions are important and influential.

      This is good conversation to have and I'm glad it's being talked about to fight against the stigma. I just know I'm not a fan of his though I'll hopefully be a fan of his book.

  41. Wow, lots of defensive people here who seem to be so busy being offended that they miss what Marion was saying. If I understand it: his problem is not that his book was shelved as YA but that YA exists as a category AT ALL. And I have to say, I kind of agree with this perspective. After all, if YA is just as well-written and complex as "adult literature" (and I personally believe that it is), and, if adults are reading it in even greater numbers than teens, then what is the point of it as a category? The label is utterly meaningless. Labels by their very nature tend to "ghettoize" by declaring that something should appeal to a smaller subset instead of the full mainstream audience. Fiction is fiction. Why must it be "young adult fiction" or "women's fiction" or "minority fiction," etc? Why must there be "genre fiction" and "literary fiction"? I think all of these terms do more to isolate than include.