YA or not YA . . . That is the question.

We welcome Sarah Pinborough, author of THE DEATH HOUSE, to the blog to explain why “YA” isn’t just for teenagers.


It’s a funny thing with some books. They sit in a middle ground under the storm cloud of a question hanging menacingly over them . . . is this a Young Adult book or isn’t it? Right from the start we’ve had a lot of debate about that where The Death House is concerned. I understand the need for the discussion – it’s a marketing thing. It’s a business thing. What it isn’t is a book thing. And what it isn’t is a person thing.

            Because a good book is just a good book. It doesn’t matter how old the characters in it are. When I was twelve I raced through all of Wilbur Smith’s and Sidney Sheldon’s books and all sorts of others, and when I was twenty-eight I was gripped by Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

            And as for people? Well, under the skin, whether it’s firm, starting to sag or totally loose, we’re all young adults. We’re all filled with our hopes and dreams, and none of us ever feels properly adult. There’s no such thing. There’s just a veneer. A life we live on the outside of mortgages and bills and jobs and worries. On the inside, what really changes? Maybe we forget. Maybe that veneer becomes a hardened shell that we can’t see through, but chip away at it and peer through the gaps and all that youth is still visible.

            This Christmas I was talking to my 73(4?) year old mother about how weird getting old was. I’m forty-three in a couple of months and in my head that sounds REALLY GROWN UP. In capitals. It doesn’t sound like someone who still wiggles round her bedroom singing along to Madonna/LadyGaga/anydanceypopreally. I told her that in my head I got stuck at about thirty. She looked at me, eyes wide and said, ‘Thirty? God, in mine I’m twenty-five. It’s quite a shock when I see myself naked in the mirror.’

            When the early copies of The Death House went out, it was quite interesting to see the divide. Some people very clearly thought it was a YA novel. Others were very sure it was for adults. For me, it’s just a story about those young people in that situation. It’s a book. If a million people read it (ha ha ha I should be so lucky;-)) then it will mean a million different things. For young adults there is an adventure, a love story and friendships that hopefully they will engage in. There is a dark, creepy world where adults are the enemy. There’s all the energy and passion that they take for granted.

            But for us adults, for us pretenders at grownupdom, I hope there is something else. A reminder perhaps, that under the mortgages and the rules and the worries about bills and children and marriages and jobs, we are still those fearless young people we once were. That we just need to grab life, and live it. We need to be the ages we are in our heads. We need to appreciate it all before it runs out. That this life business is an adventure and we should respect it for that. We should embrace it.

            We should not be afraid.