Pub Writes

About the publishing Industry, editorials, and reviews

The Book Thief: Adult or Young Adult?

Posted by Caitie F on November 12, 2009

As I mentioned in my review of The Book Thief, there is much debate on whether this book is truly a young adult book, or if it should be considered an adult book in the United States, just like it was when it was first originally published.

That brings up the questions of what is considered a Young Adult book. In general, it is a book for 13-25 year olds, but books in the YA category do not fit all of these ages (and many YA books are for 11 or 12 year olds also). Adults books are for people 18+, what we consider an adult.

But why are some books in one category and not the other? Aren’t there several books that cross over, books that both age groups love? The best example is the Harry Potter series which was great for both groups, which many say gets to be too dark at the end for  young people to read.

I can see how people are unsure of where The Book Thief should go. The protagonist is a young person, and that is one of the main ways books are put into areas. If the main character is young, it must be a book for young people. That isn’t always the case though. the main character in The Client is young, but you don’t see people arguing that it is a book for young people.With The Book Thief, you see a lot of information through Liesel’s eyes, which are sometimes innocent and sometimes blunt, and that would also appeal to a younger audience.

Another reason the book could be considered a YA book is that the narrator lets readers know what is going to happen before it does, so the reader has time to prepare for it. Maybe to the publishers, that made the sad things that happened in the book more accessible to a younger audience.

There are many reasons people think this book should be considered an adult book – many adults are reading it. First, it deals with a very difficult subject (spoiler alert!) – almost every character in the entire book dies. Death is not something that many adults want an age group that they still consider children to have to deal with or really think about. I mentioned in my review that it is hauntingly beautiful because many of the images that Death presents are very haunting and may not be appropriate for young adults. The problem with that line of thinking is that it deals with a historical event and there were young people who had to go through it. Life is dark, life is scary. That said, I think it is a good point.

Many people complain about the book being targeted towards young people because there is swearing. This is a claim that I think is utterly ridiculous. People swear, especially when they are dealing with an impossible situation…but not only then, they also swear on the school bus, at the lunch table, and when hanging out with friends. To say that a middle or high school student shouldn’t be reading a book because of “foul language” is crazy. Even JK Rowling used the word “bitch” in her last book. To deny someone a great work of literature just because of a few words is just idiotic. If it was because of graphic violence, I may understand because it is disturbing.

So how can we figure out if a book should be adult or young adult? I am not really sure. I can understand why Knopf went to YA for a few reasons. First, adults are more likely to go get a YA book then the other way around. Adults read Harry Potter, Twilight, His Dark Materials, and many more books that are classified YA. It seems to happen less often the other way around. Second, it is a GREAT book to teach in schools. My husband is teaching it to his enrichment 7th and 8th graders in January and I can’t wait to hear how it goes. It could go along with what students are learning in history and give lessons in narrator, voice, and writing styles. Schools would be less likely to pick a book to teach in classes if it was an adult book. Finally, I think that Knopf saw the book and thought it was something young people would like and appreciate. Sometimes I think us “adults” forget what teenagers can understand and figure out for themselves.

Personally, I think this book should be marketed to both adults and young adults. It should be in both sections of the bookstores (something that isn’t really done). Parents should read it with their teenagers and talk about some of the issues it brings up. That is why books like this are so great – they can span generations and start real conversations. It is a great way for parents and their children to get to know each other more.

What do you think? Should the book be marketed to both, just adults, or just young adults? Leave your comments!

One Response to “The Book Thief: Adult or Young Adult?”

  1. […] I read this book for my Editing Children’s Books in the publishing program.  You can read my review of the book. To say I thought it was a good read is an understatement. More importantly though, it gave me an example of an extraordinary YA book and started some interesting discussions on what qualifies as YA now (which I discussed in a previous blog). […]

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