Stop Applying Genre Labels to My YA

by Emma Cueto

I haven't been to every Barnes and Noble in the world (though that sounds like a concurrently excellent and awful basis for a road trip), but I've traipsed through my fair share in the past year, and there's one thing that always stands out to me: their Young Adult section. Why? It has genres. Namely, "Young Adult Fantasy and Adventure" and "Young Adult Paranormal Romance." Oh, and just "Young Adult" for the books that don't fit those other categories.

Now, I should say that I'm happy the section is no longer split into just paranormal romance and everything else — thank you, Hunger Games and Divergent . But having this become a trend still makes me cry a little bit inside. Because here's the thing: Part of what makes YA so amazing is that it is still allowed to defy genre. The rest of the bookstore gets divided up into these categories that have no clean lines. (Is Neil Gaiman fantasy or literary fiction? Couldn't you put Brave New World under sci-fi? And couldn't you make a case that half the store should go on the romance shelves?)

But YA? YA is any book a young adult might like. Until the last few years, I never saw a YA section with genres. In YA, Harry Potter and the latest Maureen Johnson novel can rest on the same shelves. In YA you can find trashy romances, touching coming of age stories, futuristic thrillers, historical fiction, and books that defy genre altogether. But it's okay, because they're YA. Publishing houses can still market them.

Yet now, that all seems to be ending. Sure, your local indie bookstore might still just have a blanket YA label, but if Barnes and Noble is recognizing YA genres, then publishing houses will start marketing YA genres, and then all the genre-bending that YA books are allowed to do will end. Plus, we'll already be teaching young people how to apply unnecessary labels to what they read.

I realize that this shift is likely because the surge of hugely popular young adult novels has made the publishing industry realize that this is a big business. And to think 10 years ago people were speculating that teens were going to stop reading altogether. And I like this shift.

But big business means marketing needs to be more direct. And that means genres. Which is ridiculous, because teens have already shown themselves willing to read across a broad array of genres. Just look at the big YA hit series of the past ten years: Harry Potter (fantasy), Twilight (paranormal romance), His Mortal Instruments (urban fantasy), Divergent, and The Hunger Games (dystopian adventures). And that's not even counting stand-alone mega-hits like The Fault in Our Stars (realistic fiction).

Instead of teaching teens to read within genres, we should be encouraging them to keep reading broadly once they outgrow the YA shelf (or if you're like me, never outgrow the YA shelf). I mean, Barnes and Noble is already the store where James Patterson and Alice Monroe are both classed simply as "Fiction." Why do they need their YA shelves to have more labels?

Image: grilled cheese/flickr