What makes a YA book?  The National Book Award nominations were announced yesterday and already there is controversy brewing in the young people’s category.  Apparently there is much buzz about the fact that one of the nominees, David Small’s graphic memoir Stiches, was published as an adult title.  The controversy is multi-fold: can an “adult book” be nominated in a young adult category?  Is such a nomination taking away an opportunity from a “certifiable” young adult book? And, what makes a young adult book anyway – protagonists’ age? Teen themes? High School setting?

When we were selling Browne & Miller title Rooftops of Tehran  by Mahbod Seraji a few years ago we were in a bit of a quandary,  the story was told from the point of view of a 17-year-old narrator, but the story itself was a timeless coming of age romance.  We pitched to YA editors and were told it was too adult, but when we pitched to adult editors we were told it was too YA.  Ultimately, we sold it to an editor at a mainstream adult imprint, who fell in love with the story and who we felt was going to be the book’s champion in the marketplace.  Rooftopshas been read by adults and young adults alike, it’s been picked by adult book clubs, but also picked by education.com as a top summer reading choice for high schoolers. Does that make it an adult book that appeals to young adults or a young adult books that appeals to adults?  I say it’s a great story that should be read by all – read it and decide for yourself.

Meantime, check out these posts by the editors at Booklist and YA author John Green regarding the NBA nomination question.

Here are the NBA nominees:


Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
(Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped(HarperTeen/HarperCollins)