ALTAFF’s “Books Without Boundaries: Crossover Fiction for YAs and Adults‚Äù: ALA Annual 2012

As we all know, the boundary between YA and adult titles is getting ever more porous, with readers eagerly crossing over in both directions. Why not read the Vampire Academy series one day and Paradise Lost the next? Books Without Boundaries: Crossover Fiction for YAs and Adults, ALTAFF’s final author panel at ALA in Anaheim, proved the point.

The authors ranged widely, including a Michael L. Printz Honor book winner, an author of adult fiction publishing her first YA title, a steampunk YA series author going adult, the author of an adult book with a teenage heroine, a terrific graphic novel for all ages, and a big-time, first-time YA debut. As if to proclaim crossover’s popularity, the panel was ALTAFF’s most mobbed, with dozens of spillover audience members sitting on the floor.

Maggie Stiefvater, author of the New York Times best-selling The Scorpio Races, a Printz Honor book whose film rights were just purchased by Warner Bros., went the farthest in pushing the boundary. With many adults acting like stereotypical teens, teens becoming [who] they will be for the rest of their lives, and audiences at her signings always mixed, she wondered whether the entire crossover concept might be spurious. Maybe what we mean by crossover is just commercial.

Certainly, much YA material has the appeal of the best adult commercial fiction‚ identifiable characters and a storyline that can be appreciated immediately. In particular, many of the popular fiction genres call to people of all ages, which is why Kady Cross, author of the YA series Steampunk Chronicles, can write her first adult steampunk novel (God Save the Queen, as Kate Locke) and Shana Abé of the popular adult Drákon series can glide smoothly into a Drákon title for YAs (The Sweetest Dark).

And, of course, many adult novels feature teenage protagonists who can be appreciated by their peers. Laura Harrington’s Alice Bliss, based on the award-winning playwright’s one-woman musical, Alice Unwrapped, features one teenager’s efforts to cope when her beloved father marches off to the Afghanistan/Iraq war‚ something only a sliver of the population experiences. Harrington wanted teens as well as adults to understand the situation better. I wrote a coming-of-age novel, Harrington explained, because I wanted to get this book in the hands of students and teachers.

Commercial? Coming of age? First-novelist Katie McGarry offered her own admirable clues for defining YA crossover titles and their appeal. As she pointed out, she grew up in a poor area of Kentucky, where teenagers had to worry about things like empty larders and shut-off electricity‚ and then went to school and made eyes at the cute boy at the next desk.

McGarry’s protagonists in Pushing the Limit are Echo, who can’t remember why she has sustained injuries, except that her mentally ill mother was involved, and ostensible bad-boy Noah, desperate to reunite with the younger brothers from whom he was separated after their parents’ death. Of course, they find the time to fall in love. Like these two, the characters in the best crossover titles are teenagers grappling with tough, real-life concerns, gracefully reminding adult readers what it’s like to stare down this imperfect world’s hardships‚ and its beauties‚ for the first time.

Perhaps Matt Dembicki had the last word. Founder of DC Conspiracy, a comic creators’ collaborative, Dembicki asked Native Americans to write original trickster tales for his anthology, Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection. At first suspicious, the authors (and their tribal elders) eventually embraced the idea; they regretted that the children had lost interest in their traditions and saw the anthology as a useful tool. In the end, then, Dembicki’s anthology does what every good YA crossover book does: it brings YAs and adults together.

The Books

Abé, Shana. The Sweetest Dark. Bantam. Apr. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780345531704. $16.
Eleanore is Shana Abé’s debut young adult novel. But we know her already as the New York Times best-selling author and multiple Romantic Times awards winner of books like The Smoke Thief and The Time Weaver, which no less a publication than Library Journal called stunningly lyrical, sensual, and mesmerizing. Both of those books are in the Drákon series, featuring humans who can turn themselves into dragons and living smoke, and it’s a series that seems made for YA crossover. The Sweetest Dark stars a teenage girl who at age ten, was found wandering about 1909 London, unable to speak or remember her past.

Eleanore is placed in an orphanage, sometime later ends up as a charity student at a boarding school on the coast, makes the acquaintance of two charming and different young men, and all the time is haunted by singing only she can hear and an officious voice in her head. What does she have to do with drákons? Read the novel, but a final note: publicity compares this with Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. Let me throw in Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series, and we are set.

Dembicki, Matt. Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection. Fulcrum. 2010. 232p. ISBN 9781555917241. pap. $22.95.
Trickster: a sneaky creature that disrupts everything, causing trouble as it uses its wiles for the fun of it or to get what it wants. Trickster: Also the first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, compiled and editor by Matt Dembicki, founder of DC Conspiracy, a comic creators’ collaborative in Washington, DC, and creator of the award-winning Mr. Big. The stories are all written by Native American storytellers, lending real authenticity. And the art, well, it’s luscious. But don’t take my word for it; pick up Trickster and read Coyote and the Pebbles, Raven the Trickster, Azban and the Crayfish, and more.

Harrington, Laura. Alice Bliss. Pamela Dorman Bks: Viking. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780670022786. $25.95; pap. Penguin. 2012. ISBN 9780143121114. $15.
Laura Harrington’s Alice Bliss was published last year in hardcover and is just out this May in trade paperback from Penguin. Its heroine is teenaged Alice Bliss, who’s facing something a number of teens are facing today nationwide: her father, to whom she’s very close, regularly gardening with him, for instance, is about to go to war. Causing no little anguish in the household, he had joined the army reserve, his unit has been called up, and he’s eager to do his bit. The novel traces Alice’s painful adjustment as she wears one of her father’s old shirt until it smells and manages her mother and her younger sister. Laura Harrington is an award-winning playwright, lyricist, and librettist whose first novel grew out of her one-woman musical, Alice Unwrapped. Alice Bliss is an affecting novel for everyone.

Locke, Kate. God Save the Queen. Orbit: Hachette. Jul. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780316196123. $16.99.
Diamond Jubilee or not, Queen Elizabeth II has nothing on Her Ensanguined Majesty Queen Victoria, who’s been reigning for 175 years. It seems that George III was the first in his line to show the effects of the Prometheus protein, caused by a mutation that can be traced to the bubonic plague, which by the time Victoria ascended the throne has aristocrats coming out of the closet as vampires and werewolves. Flash forward to contemporary London, where bloodthirsty goblins haunt the night, Britain retains much of its empire, air travel is accomplished by fantastical ships, and cell phones look weird, and we know we’re in urban fantasy/alternative history/steampunk territory.

That’s a territory Kate Locke has already staked out as Kady Cross in her immensely popular “Steampunk Chronicles” series when she’s not writing as the USA Today best-selling Kathryn Smith and maybe other names I have yet to track down. Steampunk Chronicles is a YA series, and God Save the Queen is publishing as the first in the Immortal Empire series, an adult series (or new adult series, aiming at the 18- to 25-year-old crowd) that YAs will love, too. She says on her Kate Locke website that she wanted to write a book just for herself. It promises to be fun for everyone.

McGarry. Katie. Pushing the Limits. Harlequin Teen. Aug. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780373210497. $17.99.
Take one popular girl who disappears from school for a while, then returns with scars on her arms and no clear idea of what happened to her, except that it involved her mentally ill mother. Take one loner boy, once a fast-track student and athlete and now a troubled teen shifting from foster home to foster home, mostly kept from his two younger brothers after their parents died in a fire. And what do you get? The real aches and real love in Katie McGarry’s sensitive, complex, always surprising, really excellent first novel. Even before it came to me for this panel, I knew about it because it was getting Harlequin’s biggest push at BEA. And once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

Stiefvater, Maggie.The Raven Boys. Scholastic. Setp. 2012, 416p. ISBN 9780545424929. $18.99.
Stiefvater is author of the New York Times best sellers Shiver, Linger, and Forever, as well as last year’s The Scorpio Races, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, An Best Young Adult Book of the Year, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book, a Horn Book Fanfare Book, a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book, and a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Oh, and Warner Bros. has acquired the film rights. All of which might explain why The Raven Boys, out from Scholastic this fall, arrives with a letter from Scholastic Publisher David Levithan saying I’m jealous of you for getting to read it for the first time. The real explanation, though, lies is shivery excitement and promise of the first line, Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love. Why do we want to read about flesh-eating horses and cursed teens? Because sometimes we just have to go out to the edge.

[YA crossover fans, you will be interested in School Library Journal‘s “Summerteen: A Celebration of Young Adult Books,” an online event held August 8. Check it out!‚ Ed.]

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.