I’ve watched many a debate on Twitter, and many a video on YouTube about this very specific topic, and I think that, while I don’t have all the answers, I have an answer for myself. For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, I will try to be as brief about this as I can.
In fiction novel categories there is the following classification system: Children’s Novels, Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA), and Adult. Young Adult is marketed to 12-18 but caters to 12-24. As the book readers aged range grew, they did not want to give up the traditional YA story types. These are stories that have magic, saving the world, and dystopians like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Divergent. While there is Adult fantasy, adult fantasy and adult sci-fi is just not the same as YA fantasy and sci-fi. Let’s not pretend like it is.
Do you see the issue with the age the classification applies to? 12-24. I know for certain that a 12 year old and a 24 year old do not, will not, and can not think the same. Sure we can have genius and mature 12 year olds, but their life experience is limited. That has nothing on them, and they can be the most mature kid in the world. But they are still a kid. So often reviewers and the likes, look at books and say “children should not read this.” (Which granted, they say about a lot of things) However, I agree. Most 12 and 24 year olds are not going to read the same or want to read the same things even if they want to read similar story structures.
But there is only one classification for them. It’s YA.
Not to mention that when you look at Genre lists. YA is a genre. So it’s an age range and a genre? A dystopian YA is different than a romance YA, but they are both classified as YA. Some have proposed a new classification that is called New Adult (NA). However there has been pushback for a multitude of reasons.
- When NA first came up it got a bad wrap because of all the erotica that saturated it. So there is an aversion to marketing books as NA, but publishers and writers, even if readers are fine with it.
- When people see “New Adult” they ask, “well whats the difference between a New Adult and a Young Adult, they are the same thing?” And in the context of society, they are. Some people can justify it in some ways, but it always comes down to the “adult” in the words, that shows that new or young, they are still an adult thus over 18 (in America). Why should teens (TEENS) be labeled as “Young Adult” when they are not adults yet? Why should Young Adults (by societal standards) be labeled as New Adult? Aren’t they all adults then? But only one group technically is. (I have not seen it explicitly said online, but I would assume by logic that the reasonable argument here is to make YA 18+ and make a Teen category for 13-18.)
- Some people just are too used to YA = Teen, and Adult = Adult, that they say, that anything written for anyone over 18 is for adults (and teens should be reading adult fiction anyway!)
So people fight on what is classified as Young Adult. What is classified as New Adult? What is Adult then? And the divisions get murky and people get confused. It also doesn’t address the secondary issue that is of concern especially in today’s age.
Content Warnings or Trigger Warnings
Now I don’t want, nor need content warning in my books. Or rather, I like to say I don’t, because I am typically okay for whatever I get into when I read. (Ninth House was an exception, and that was because of the style of writing that I wish I got a warning on, not the content) I do not care for content warnings on a page, but many people do. Some people have triggers, have content aversion policies, have things that they need to know. Just because I don’t need them (or want them) does not mean others do not. And I understand that. I accept that. And it must be addressed.
The NA vs YA vs Adult tries to address that. It tries to say what should be in each, but it really falls short for one simple reason.
IMO we are being too one dimensional about this subject for books. For games, for movies, for music. It can be one dimensional. Is there a cuss word in a song? Explicit. Is there 3 F***s dropped in a movie? R rating. Is there gore in a game? M for Mature.
But with books we can’t do that. We can’t just say that “sexual content makes a book adult” because that ignores the fact that teens have sex (they do. I’m sorry to burst the bubble of some parents. It’s a thing). We have children’s books that deal with death (see the Chronicles of Narnia, Searching for David’s Heart, Bridge to Terabithia). If death is a mature topic, then shouldn’t that book be more mature audiences only?
Reading is a safe way for topics to be broached and explored. Reading is one of the biggest ways that people learn empathy. Reading is visual, it is mental, it can be an auditory experience, and it is, certainly, one of the imagination. Reading is a multi-sense, massive learning situation, where the distinction, in my opinion, must be more than a one dimensional approach.
My solution comes from an experience in American High School. We have teenagers read “adult” books like The Things They Carried, They’re Eyes Were Watching God, 1984 because they are classics. In some cases, permission slips must be signed. My mother had to sign for me to be able to read The Handmaid’s Tale in Junior year because of the sexual content, and themes in the book. This is what got me thinking.
I propose the following system. A system, I will be following from this point on in all my reviews, which is going to be a five part system.
Genre | Reading Level – Content Rating | Content Warnings | Themes
Genre here is important because a romance genre is going to have the expectation for a lot more love/kissing/sexual content than say a mystery. We can not judge them the same way. As a note: Adult, YA, NA, MG, and Children’s are promptly (from this point on) no longer genres.
Reading levels are going to stay the same in general. I may expand on these with more thought but for right now I was thinking:
P (picture books) – New born through 8
C (Children’s novels)- Through age 12
MG (Middle Grade) – Age 8 through age 16
YA (Young Adult)- Age 12 through age 20
NA (New Adult)- Age 16 – 24
A (Adult) – 25+
Picture books are simple books, with pictures, or an easy story. The sort of books we read to children that are fast reads. Children’s books will be children’s chapter books. Children’s chapter books are typically read to them, while Middle Grade are typically read on their own.
You see how age ranges cross over? I think that’s important because children aren’t going to be only reading Middle Grade or only Children. Different children read at their own comprehension levels. And for that reason I have the overlap. You can dip into what ever category you like, but I’d have the range moreso for parents.
Content Ratings (Based on movies/games)
PG (Parental Guidance)
E is going to be for quiet literally, everyone. This rating is specifically at the base of all levels. You can have themes and a little danger for older audience books, but in general it is the base line for reading level. PG is parental guidance or warning for YA and Higher. This is when themes become a bit more handed. This is when there is death in a book, or prejudice, or war. M is Mature. The person reading this needs to be a bit more mature for reading this book (in their age range). D and X are left for YA, NA, or A only.
D would be books that have more adult themes, more adult like content. In YA this will be sex. In NA this will be like detailed gore scenes, or emotions, or anything that this age range needs to be more mature to read or is looking for. In NA and Adult books, this would be where erotica/heavy romance begins to be labeled. X would be explicit. It is a step about D. This is the highest rating, and thus as the most content warnings. I don’t want to only have erotica here, because some have more of a story to them than just sex, so I made that D. I’m not sure what would fit in X, specifically, but I wanted to have a level for the most content warnings of the content warnings. Now note. That explicit death scenes can be X or D, that is up to the digression of the labeler. But if a movie would have the scene labeled as NC-17 then it is X. (Where X is NC-17, D is R, an M is PG-13, as an example).
The Ratings here are dependent on the Age range I feel, and I will have to clearly define this as I move forward, for a easy catchall will not work for how I want this to be. Yes, it will be complicated but books are frickin complicated.
I will be more specific with these ratings and what makes each one as I do more research into other book rating systems. Additionally this is just a basis. I’ll post my formal post at some point, and be prepared for it. But this is just an overview for me right now.
NOW the fun part. Labeling books.
When a book is labeled it will be labeled like a movie or a game. With the rating, and with the reasons why.
Genre | Reading Level – Content Rating | Content warnings |Themes
Here are some examples.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Fantasy – Mystery| A-D | gore, sexual assault, mental abuse, physical abuse, tragic death, drug abuse, waste consumption, graphic imagery | coming of age, identity
(I could even label it as A-X if I wanted, but I didn’t think it was as graphic as it could have been. And since this isn’t a formal rating scale, I get to decide lol)
Unwind by Neil Shusterman
SciFi – Dystopian| YA-M | violence, graphic imagery, death camps | revolution, grey morality
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
Fantasy – Classical | C-M | death, destruction | God’s plan and Heaven
Notice that above I try to give you a taste of what you are getting into. So you know if your reader or you as a reader, can handle it. Because as good as books are, you can not accurately describe a book by a single letter YA/A/MG. You also can’t accurately describe it which just its themes and warnings.
Do I think this is perfect? No.
Do I think that this works better to describe a book than the single system we have now? Yes.
Some people may say just to have the Reading Level and Warnings, like games and movies, but I don’t think that reading levels describes themes, and content because Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has a lot of mature themes and ideas (there is murder. I don’t care how you feel about Prof. Quirrell), and it’s a children’s book.
I know this is a long rant and most of you will not very much so care to read all of it, but know that I am going to do it for all my books from this point on. I may even go back to my previous reviews and add them there. I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for you.
If you too want to use this system, we can call it the Marie Rating System for Books. Like how the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is for games and the Motion Picture Association of America rates films. Go ahead to here, to see this but in a more formal way. But wait until I have the formal rules up. I will do them soon. I just need to make some decisions.
And with that I might be changing my review structure in general. We will see.
Until Next Time,