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BEA trendspotting: YA Crossovers

2013 June 5
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Last year around this time, I spent a lot of timing sighing over my Twitter feed as authors, librarians, and publishing types that I follow and admire tweeted excitedly about BEA. After three days of keeping tabs on publishing’s biggest weekend, I resolved to go in 2013, and with a little luck and a couple of vacation days, I was able to make it happen. I spent most of Thursday and Friday roaming the massive exhibits hall, going to panels, meeting authors, and picking up ARCs that I’m excited to share with the teen readers at my library. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just for things that piqued my interest: new titles from authors that I or readers at my library love, plots that sounded fresh, covers that drew me in. I wasn’t planning to look for trends, but I noticed one anyway: crossover titles.

Crossovers straddle the line between YA and what’s traditionally thought of as adult fiction. Books in this category are sometimes referred to as “new adult.” I’m not a fan of that term because I think it’s exclusive; to me it implies young adult books are for people aged 12-18, “new adult” books are for people aged 18-30, and, I guess, adult literature is only for people aged 30+. “Crossover” feels more inclusive, like saying “here’s a book that will appeal to teenage readers and people in their 20s and 30s and beyond.” Crossovers often have protagonists who are a little older than the typical YA novel or who are dealing with more adult issues. Other times, the writing style, plotting, or other literary elements help create all-ages appeal. I spotted lots of crossovers at BEA; here are the five most buzzed about:

If You Could Be Mine Sara FarizanIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Fariszan

Sahar and Nasrin: two young women in love in Iran, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. When Nasrin is engaged to be married, Sahar becomes desperate to keep Nasrin, and discovers a strange loophole in Iranian law: although homosexuality is a crime, sex re-assignment surgery for transgendered people not only legal — it’s paid for by the state. Sahar has never felt uncomfortable in her body, but the surgery would allow her to be with Nasrin, legally and openly. This novel grapples with complex cultural issues, which often appeal across ages, and features characters dealing with adult decisions. If You Could Be Mine was featured at the YA Buzz Panel.

Waking Dark Robin WassermanThe Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

I didn’t manage to snag a copy of The Waking Dark, but it’s definitely going on my to-read list. This dark, epic horror novel (compared more than once over the weekend to Stephen King) features teenage protagonists but was mentioned at the Librarian Shout and Share as a story that will appeal to horror fans of all ages. In a small Kansas town, twelve people are murdered in a single day, and then the murderers turn the weapons on themselves. Among the survivors are five teenagers, struggling to understand the madness that’s taking over their town, hoping to figure out how to stop it before Oleander, KS is destroyed forever.

Rose Under Fire WeinRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

A companion to last year’s Printz Honor winner Code Name VerityRose Under Fire features a protagonist in her late teens, and while the novel has coming-of-age elements, it’s not only a coming-of-age story. For example, marriage is a small but important motif in the novel, one of several elements which make it feel older than many YA novels. Code Name Verity has been popular with adults and teens at the library where I work, and I think Rose Under Fire will do equally well.

Fangirl Rainbow RowellFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Another novel featuring a just-beyond-YA protagonist, Fangirl is the story of Cath, a shy college freshman whose twin sister Wren has delivered the crushing news that she doesn’t want to be Cath’s roommate. Cath is barely noticed on campus, but online, she’s famous as the number one fan of Simon Snow — her fan fiction gets thousands and thousands of hits. A college-age protagonist and a contemporary plot about the ups and downs of fandom should appeal across a broad age range. Fangirl was featured at the YA Buzz Event and mentioned more than once at a Librarian Shout and Share panel, which wasn’t YA-focused.

Help For The Haunted SearlesHelp for the Haunted by John Searles

Like Fangirl, Help for the Haunted is being published under an adult imprint. It was mentioned, I think, by all four of the librarians on the Shout and Share panel. Part ghost story, part mystery, Help for the Haunted is the story of Sylvie Mason. When Sylvie’s parents pack her into the car after answering a late night phone call, she’s not surprised: the phone calls and mysterious trips are common. But this night is different; they go into a dark church, leaving Sylvie in the car — and they never come back. A year later, Sylvie is dealing with their deaths and the consequences of their life’s work helping haunted souls. A creepy coming-of-age story that should appeal to more mature YA readers too.

– Emily Calkins, currently reading Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

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7 Responses
  1. Diane Colson permalink
    June 5, 2013

    Thank you for alerting us to these intriguing crossovers. I love it that “adult novels with teen appeal” has become a realized category of literature, although, like you, “new adult” isn’t the term I would pick. It brings to mind a factory product – newly minted adults in need of special reading material.

    Readers are slippery and unpredictable in their reading choices. It’s helpful for librarians, parents, educators and others to corral books into age level categories. But we also acknowledge that readers often ignore these divisions when selecting books. Best sellers, genres, and opportunity are among the many other factors. So I agree with you, Emily, that a simple term like “Crossover” sidesteps the need for another specific age category.

    Just today, Angela Carstensen reviewed “The Sea of Tranquility” by Katja Miller in School Library Journal’s blog, “Adult4Teens.” (http://blogs.slj.com/adult4teen/) Angela also included a bit of her interview with the author. Miller has this to say about Crossover books:

    “I’ve been so thrilled with how the book seems to have taken hold with both teen and adult audiences. I think the crossover appeal can somewhat be credited to the universal themes at work in the book. While the characters may be teenagers, they’re dealing with situations and life events that often come later. There’s also the exploration of the concept of identity and figuring out who we are. I think that’s something that many of us, even as adults, still struggle with.”

    • Emily Calkins permalink
      June 10, 2013

      I think “factory product” exactly describes my distaste for the term, Diane! In my experience as a reader and as a librarian, age can be a pretty small factor in reading preferences. Some of the teens I work with read plenty of adult books – some of them exclusively – and I know the YA books are often being checked out by adult readers.

      I love Adult4 Teen! Angela Carstensen was on the Librarian Shout and Share panel that I went to and she shared her excitement for some of the books included in this post.

  2. Allison Tran permalink*
    June 6, 2013

    These all sound so good, and I love your thoughts on “crossover” versus “new adult” or other terms. Great point!

    • Emily Calkins permalink
      June 10, 2013

      Thanks, Allison! Glad you liked the post :) I know there are teen readers at my library who like the complexity of crossover titles, so I always find it helpful to have a couple of titles in the back of my mind.

  3. Lynette Constantinides permalink
    June 11, 2013

    Just finished Code Name Verity a few days ago and I was blown away. One thing I didn’t get: why was this book published under a YA imprint? There’s nothing about this book that MAKES it YA in my view. It’s definitely an adult book with huge crossover appeal to YAs, especially those that like suspense, historical fiction or mystery, but what mades somebody decide to market it as YA? A lot of adults out there will miss out on it if it stays only in the YA section, although hopefully the Edgar will help remedy that.

    • June 12, 2013

      I think you can also make the argument that if it were published under an adult imprint that there are a lot of teens who would miss out on it!

    • Emily Calkins permalink
      June 13, 2013

      I agree with Gretchen! There are always going to be potential readers outside of a book or imprint’s target audience. That’s where a good librarian with a passion for sharing great books comes in :)

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