The Crossover Conundrum in Teen/YA Science Fiction & Fantasy

More than ever before those of us who read science fiction and fantasy (and every other genre besides) are seeing the rise of teen books which strongly appeal to both teens and adults. Can anyone say Divergent? Are these ‘crossover’ titles the wave of the future, and should we expect or hope to see more of them? I think this issue especially applies to science fiction and fantasy teen books, but for the purpose of easy discussion I’ll refer to teen fiction more generally.

Some authors insist that there should be a real difference between teen fiction and adult fiction. Author Marsha Qualey, who has written numerous books for teens, states that, “the line is real…Teenagers are not adults. Physically, emotionally, cognitively – they aren’t there.” On one level that’s undoubtedly true. I’m a selector involved with ordering teen/YA fiction, science fiction, and fantasy for my library and this is something I have to take into account.

But does this sometimes become a cop out for authors (and selectors) of teen fiction? When we stress the “cognitive” differences between teens and adults are we giving authors and selectors an excuse to not write or collect books which explore the bigger, more serious issues? How many of us, if we could time travel, wouldn’t mind going back and giving our younger selves books that spoke to our deepest coming-of-age struggles?

As a recent article from NPR points out, “A good novel doesn’t just transcend the boundaries of its target market — it knows nothing about target markets.” And as one adult reader recently expressed, “Many MANY of my friends read YA. And I’m talking about women in their thirties and forties who are eloquent and ambitious and talented and brilliant and educated. YA taps into that thing we all remember, that time of our lives when we were tangled and raw and learning and questing.”

Whether authors of teen fiction realize it or not, they aren’t just writing for a teen audience. They’re writing for a sizeable section of adults who see teen books as a way to revisit the life themes and struggles of youth, and use it to empower their lives in the present.

Maybe I’m putting adult readers’ motives in more noble terms than they deserve. Maybe for some adults it just comes down to, ‘I don’t have time to read thick tomes…give me a teen book that I can get through in a day.’ Even so, the point is that both readers (and selectors) should be aware of what good teen fiction really means. The best teen fiction will be, in many cases, crossover fiction too.

This truth has real implications if (like me) you’re in the enviable position of helping develop a teen collection. Although the teen librarian at my library does the bulk of the selecting, I see my role as discovering some of these crossover gems. Unlike our teen librarian, who does reader’s advisory purely for teens and not adults, I am constantly exposed to reader’s advisory opportunities with both teens and adults, recommending books and getting feedback on a daily basis. This puts me in a good position to spot upcoming crossover titles that I know will have major crossover appeal.

Below is a sampling of good YA/teen crossover titles that would be a great place to start for anyone wanting to read some awesome teen fiction or develop a teen collection (Source: Public Libraries Online):

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (Treasure Island mixed with Around the World in 80 Days).

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford (An inside peek into the male teen mindset).

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Follows the daring schemes of a girl who infiltrates her boyfriend’s secret society).

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (An interesting take on issues of race and culture in comic form).

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (After a meteor hits the moon world cataclysm results, and you see how one girl helps her family survive).

Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison (A teen’s diary chronicling adventures of school, friendships, and crushes – light-hearted and fun).

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course, but all are excellent examples of teen fiction with crossover credentials.



Qualey, Marsha. Real or Imagined: The Line between Young Adult, Crossover, and Adult Fiction.

Public Libraries Online.

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