Young adult (YA) is a category which is differentiated from adult largely by the age of the protagonists. So often the dilemmas and challenges faced by the protagonist in a YA novel could be similar to that faced by an adult, except that the age of the protagonist means that the challenges will be faced in a different way.
As children graduate from board books, picture books, chapter books to novels; they are children no more, nor can they be categorised as grown-ups either. So it is absolutely fair to have a separate category of books addressing and satisfying the desire of reading of young adults. Though we all desire to read an interesting story, this need somehow gets much more pronounced in those years when one transitions from childhood to adulthood. A character who one can look up to, who one can relate to, who exudes the same unsure confidence, who falters many times and rises again, who gets all teary-eyed at a friend's failure, who appears strong yet is very vulnerable and who eventually becomes one's alter ego — is all that a teen looks for in a story as he/she curls up with one. In short, a young adult when picks up a book looks for a voice which understands and reflects his/her own inner voice.
Often referred to as "coming-of-age" stories, the books that fit into this category usually have a young adult as protagonist who is trying to make sense of the world on his own. This is the age when an individual begins to confront the challenges, issues, fears and vulnerabilities directly and needs to address the same independently. Sayoni Basu, a co-founder of Duckbill publishing house says, "YA is a category which is differentiated from adult largely by the age of the protagonists. So often the dilemmas and challenges faced by the protagonist in a YA novel could be similar to that faced by an adult, except that the age of the protagonist means that the challenges will be faced in a different way."
In fiction, classics like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Wells' Time Machine, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Farhenheit 451, pleasant anthologies by O'Henry and Saki — are some titles and authors which continue to enjoy an ardent fan following. Generations after generations come and grow reading these classics but their sheen has not diminished even a single bit. Books by Jeffery Archer and John Grisham have enjoyed a cult status in their own right as well. Having said that, the world actually witnessed an unprecedented mania and an unparalleled fan-following when JK Rowling came up with her Harry Potter series. Harry Potter broke many earlier records and created many new. The books gained immense popularity, critical acclaim and commercial success worldwide.
Among the recent entrants to the list of books for target readers, Hunger Games, The Eragon Series by Christopher Paolini, The Giver Series, The Twilight Series, Vampire Diaries — are some which enjoy great readership. For science fiction enthusiasts, Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series is a Bible. The Book Thief, Diary of Ann Frank and books by Khalid Hosseini strike many emotional chords within by making young readers come face to face with the ugly realities of human existence.
Many times, motion pictures on bestsellers take the readership of the same many notches higher, be it, Godfather, Pride and Prejudice, Jungle Book, Romeo and Juliet or the recently released I, Frankenstein. The on-screen portrayal make some of the characters eternal because over the ages they live with the readers, teach them and inspire them. Same is the case with Sherlock Holmes and the huge fandom the latest TV series on it has generated. More and more people are hooked on to Sherlock Holmes books once again. Such books, stories and characters defy all barriers of age, gender or nationality.
'Coming-of-age' Indian YA
While there have always been plenty of options in English foreign literature for young adults, not much Indian literature was available till about a decade back. R.K.Narayan's Swami and Friends and Ruskin Bond's Rusty books were primarily what we had when it came to books on offer for teens. Sayoni says, "In India, it was only after 2000 that books were specifically published with the 'YA' tag." Chetan Bhagat happened to appear at just the right time with his first book Five Point Someone which swept a large percentage of the target readers off their feet. This understandably led to the opening of floodgates for masala adult fiction, quite in line with commercial popular cinema. Their low selling price worked to their favour in extending the reach. In trying to imitate Chetan's effect, many amateur authors fell flat. Indian literary field saw a unique spectacle when Amish's Immortals of Meluha marked the advent of a new era of mythological fiction. The Shiva trilogy went on to become the fastest selling book series in the history of Indian publishing.
In fact, this particular genre is now 'coming of age' in India slowly and many bold and sensitive topics are being brilliantly addressed by Indian authors. Paro Anand's book No Guns At My Son's Funeral talks about the confusion of a Kashmiri boy and what all pushed him to terrorism. Siddhartha Sharma's The Grasshopper's Run, is perhaps first Indian fiction on World War II. Devika Rangachari discusses the peer pressure through her book Growing Up. Teenager Debu embarks on a dangerous journey in quest of his father in Deepa Aggarwal's Caravan to Tibet. Irfan Master's protagonist Bilal in A Beautiful Lie wants to ensure that his father dies a peaceful death even if it means hiding from him the truth that India is to go through a bloody Partition. While there are books addressing serious topics, authors like Anuja Chauhan, Nishant Fatima and Parul Sharma are making their presence felt in the light-read section. For mysteries and adventures nothing beats Satyajit Ray's Feluda stories still.
However, there is still a long way to go before Indian YA could come at par with its foreign counterpart. Sayoni says, "YA books really need as much diversity in subject and writing as adult books and in India perhaps the biggest shortcoming is that we do not have such diversity. We at Duckbill are trying hard to partly fill that gap." Wordkeepers by Jash Sen, Zombiestan by Mainak Dar, Facebook Phantom by Suzzane Sangi and Jobless Clueless Reckless by Revathi Suresh are some of Duckbill's offerings in this genre which have been well received by target readers.
A young adult, a voracious reader and a budding writer Ananya Bhardwaj says, "Apart from Amish and Chetan Bhagat, teens don't like reading books by Indian authors much. It's a pity though that most don't like investing any time into Feluda series, for it is a specimen of Ray's sheer genius."
With so many interesting options, reading does not seem to be going down in spite of the deluge of technical gadgetry. A 20-year-old avid reader, a thinker and a writer, Vaishali Sethi says, "Reading is a kind of fashion statement these days and young readers are choosing to read different kinds and genres of books. It is one category that new authors must try to target. Well-written books can be the most handy tool to draw even more non-readers into the reading fold." Here’s addressing all authors and publishers, there is a big section of readers waiting to get awed by the beautiful world that only words can create.