Young Adult fiction and To Kill a Mockingbird

The recent print edition of Entertainment Weekly had a one-page story commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release (July 11) of To Kill a Mockingbird (TKaM). An interesting part of this piece: a discussion about whether TKaM would be be marketed as a Young Adult book rather than as general fiction if it were released today.

Besides suggesting that current marketing schemes are often fit to consumer niches, it raises an interesting question: what exactly is the difference between young adult fiction and adult fiction besides characters that are different ages?

A book like TKaM clearly transcends the boundaries of the Young Adult world. While its main character is young, the themes are mature and the storyline is realistic. A number of Young Adult books address broader themes (particularly the differences between good and evil) but similarly to adult fiction, there are both fun and serious reads. On one hand, the Young Adult world consists of  books like the shallow yet fun Diary of a Wimpy Kid. On the other hand, there is a book like Number the Stars.

One advantage I can see of having a young protagonist is that such characters are often more innocent or naive. These characters, like Scout, can question the way the world works. Young Adult plot lines are rarely full of miserable characters (see my post on One Day); they are usually curious and active.

My favorite “Young Adult” books from years ago (a limited category since I preferred non-fiction books from a young age):

1. The Phantom Tollbooth. In a genre, fantasy, that I tend not to like but this one works.

2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. An engaging classic. Addresses larger themes while not being condescending to children. Part of a larger series.

3. The Hardy Boys. Not great writing but engaging stories. But a question: how come Frank and Joe never got older over a 60 year stretch? Shouldn’t there be prequels, Hardy Boy adult books, etc by this point?