Last year there was a fair amount of debate about whether M. T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing is YA or not. Personally, I think it is, but I can see where those you don’t are coming from. You can make a case either way. Octavian fulfills my requirements for YA.
I just finished a book which doesn’t fulfill those requirements even though it’s being sold as YA. Like Octavian Nothing, Margo Rabb’s Cures for Heartbreak is a gorgeously written, deeply moving book. I loved it.
I just don’t think it’s a young adult book.
The protag is not a teenager. She’s someone in her thirties looking back on her teenage years and how she coped. This gives the book a distant, elegiac quality, which fits the subject matter perfectly, but means that the book is not ya.
YA is not a detached genre. It’s the very opposite of detached. It’s about heightened emotions, out of control situations, learning to be yourself and how you fit into the world. Mia Pearlman is looking back on those heightened emotions, on her loss—she’s examining and dissecting those feelings, but in a controlled, almost clinical way. When I read YA I want to be in the protag’s head feeling what’s going on there without a strong sense of those experiences being mediated.
Obviously, that’s an illusion—there’s always the writer in the way—but to me that “transparency” of experience is one of the hallmarks of YA—it’s what makes Octavian Nothing YA—and if it’s not there I feel like I’m reading something else. One of those adult novels.
Who else has read it? What did you think?
To reiterate: I strongly recommend Cures for Heartbreak. It’s an extraordinary examination of grief and suffering. And a really beautifully evoked portrait of New York City. I loved it. But it’s not YA.