Just because it has a teen protagonist, it must be a book for teenagers, right?
I was quite surprised when one or two people said that about my 2006 novel, Genetopia. Yes, the protagonist was in his late teens, but the the novel pulls no punches (not that teen fiction necessarily should pull punches, of course), and to me was definitely for an older audience.
SF and fantasy have a long tradition of using younger protatagonists, so I don’t think that should define the categorisation. My protagonist in Genetopia may have been young, but he was a young man, not a kid; his environment forced kids to grow up more quickly, and his own story meant he had to be mature for his age. Genetopia is a story about adults doing adult things.
This set me thinking about my current novel, alt.human: some of my lead characters are teenagers in this one, too, but again they’re in a world where kids grow up tough and they mature way beyond their years in our terms. Also, it’s about things like the Fermi paradox and our understanding of what is, and is not, human – not really the kind of thing I’d tackle in a teen novel (the former, at least – probably all of my novels are to some extent about the latter).
The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie is another example of where my work crosses over these boundaries. The novel grew from a short story about kids but which was very adult in tone. I did start the novel with a younger audience in mind, but as soon as I got writing I knew that this was another novel where I was using younger protagonists to explore adult concerns.
I’m struggling here to justify the difference. Frankie is about loss and grieving, about bullying, about the power of the imagination and the nature of fantasy, about everything having a price… all ripe for exploring in a teen novel. And yet I found something ineffable about that combination, and about the way I was writing about these ideas, that made Frankie more of an adult story.
The novel’s reception shows how difficult it is to categorise. It has been reviewed as adult fiction, and as teen fiction; I’ve had fantastic responses from adults, but also from younger readers.
Maybe I shouldn’t care, as long as it’s finding an appreciative audience.
As a professional writer, though, I do need to care. Publishing works in categories, and my kids’ fiction is handled in very different ways to my adult work. I need to understand what it is that I’m writing if I’m to market it appropriately.
So… my current novel, alt.fiction: it features some younger characters, so it’s for kids, right? Of course it’s not. It’s my take on trad SF, exploring mature ideas in an adult way. And what’s more, it’ll be on the shelves in the grown-up part of the bookstore. So there.
The original story that led to Faraway, Beside The Sea, is also available in a dirt-cheap ebook version.
Both of these are published by Newcon Press. For grown-ups.