Recent run-ins with youngsters that like my book Bits of String too Small to Save have made me wonder if this is really a Young Adult book after all. I've been told it isn't, by agents and publishers and people who really ought to know, simply because there are too many twenty-five cent words and the sentences are too long and complex. Not that young adults couldn't read my book, but that it isn't "Young Adult," category-wise. The subject matter is suitably Young Adult, for sure--it's a novel of adventure and fantasy with a bit of a science fiction element and no sleazy stuff, no dirty stuff, nothing parents would disapprove of. There is an out-of-wedlock pregnant lady, but I don't think that raises too many eyebrows.
Personally, I'd like the book to find a home wherever readers appreciate it, but I'm not, objectively, thrilled with the Young Adult genre. What publishing agents, and I guess readers, find to be an age-appropriate writing style is often pretty weird to me. I picked up The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman--an award winning Young Adult novel beloved by many. Here's what I found on the first page: "The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already ... and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests." And a whole lot of other descriptive sentences using "was," "were," and other being verbs. This is something writers outside the Young Adult genre avoid like the plague.
Verbs are the very thing that make novels great. Avoiding "was" and "were" is an issue of great focus for all writers outside the Young Adult genre, who know that there's always some more actionable verb that would give the sentence more zing, but inside the world of Young Adult literature, such descriptions actually seem to be preferred. Nobody can avoid it all the time, but having a profusion of "was" and "were" right in the opening paragraph of a novel is something that would prevent an adult-level novel from getting published at all, but when it's seen in the Young Adult field, it's fine. I don't get it. To me, it's just lazy writing. And that's why I hesitate to call my book "Young Adult." The subject matter is, but the style decidedly isn't. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is "do the kids like it?" A few good reviews are in, but I'm still waiting for results.