I became interested in the idea of Young Adult books as a concept when I was 2.3 books through a series when I realized it was Young Adult. And honestly, the only difference that I could tell was no swearing.
From what I can tell, the technical definition of Young Adult literature is whatever a publisher feels will sell better if they slap the label on it. Honestly, that’s about what I was expecting.
One thing that did stand out to me was that many folks feel that the two books that helped create the genre are The Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders, the latter being the first ‘official’ Young Adult book. And The Outsiders made perfect sense to me but the Catcher in the Rye was a surprise.
It shouldn’t be. Young protagonist? Check. Real life problems? Check. Coming of age? Well, some kind of milestone towards adulthood. Frankly, I am just thankful The Sorrows of Young Werther isn’t considered the proto-Young Adult novel.
I don’t know if I’m brave enough to reread The Catcher in the Rye. Every time I have read it, it’s been like reading a different book. Is Holden Caufield a brave, struggling youth or a jerk or sensitive kid who just doesn’t have coping skills? Depends on where you are when you read it.
I do remember in college arguing it was the great American novel but there was partially a rebellion against Moby Dick and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I also remember being surprised by how many girls I knew in middle school who loved the book until I realized that they identified with Phoebe, Holden’s sister.
If Wikipedia is anything to go by, a full half of the readers of Young Adult books are adults. Since I’m one of them, I’ll buy that. The Catcher in the Rye being a book that ended up bridging those two audiences (but I’m pretty sure those two audiences get very different things from the book) but apparently it was The Outsiders that made authors and publishers say ‘Hey, there’s something there! There’s product and profit to be made!”