When someone says “YA” the assumption is he or she is referring to YA fiction. It might be time to retire that assumption. There’s a new(ish) YA in town: young adult nonfiction adaptations. This is a genre of young adult books adapted from books written for an adult audience. We’re certainly not the first to notice this phenomenon, The New York Times, The Awl, and Stacked Books have all covered it. But the question remains, why is this happening? And further, is it necessary?
Repackaging existing book material for the younger set isn’t a new idea. Young readers’ editions of various books have existed for some time. Very often, biographies and memoirs of inspirational athletes, celebrities, or historical figureheads are adapted for the younger set, including but not limited to I am Malala by new Nobel Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai which was republished as a YA edition this August. One imagines that retooling material for children is a somewhat easy line to walk, insofar as it’s simpler to know what’s inappropriate for a 9 year old as opposed to a 39 year old. The line between adult and young adult is presumably more difficult.
Therein lies the potential issue with these adaptations. All of them deal with fascinating material, but sometimes the quest to make these histories “appropriate” for a younger age removes their poignancy. Several of the books that have received the YA nonfiction treatment have some deeply unpleasant material in the adult version, from torture in Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand to the fast food atrocities in Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.
Unbroken is keeping the same title for the YA version, which will publish November 11th, but it won’t have all of the same grisly details as its adult counterpart. The New York Times interviewed Hillebrand about the YA publication of her book and Hillebrand said she wanted to leave out scenes that she thought would “upset” non-adult readers.
Fast Food Nation was repackaged for a younger audience and retitled as Chew on This when it published in 2007. Matt Buchanan from The Awl read Chew on This and describes it as “stripped of all its horror.” There seems to be an underlying struggle to get the spirit of the original right in the YA version. Read More