Q: Would you say there's a fine line distinguishing whether something is actually genuinely YA or whether, MC age aside, it's just fiction with a young protag? I'm writing a steampunk fantasy that may straddle it, is why I ask.I personally don't believe that YA fiction is "just fiction with a young protag." Books like PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld are not YA because, though they have a teen protag doing very teen things, the POV is an adult looking back at high school through experienced eyes.
YA is generally about young people experiencing big things for the first time, not about an adult looking back at being young. Whether the book is 1st, 2nd or 3rd person (and yes, even if the book is historical) it is happening "in the moment", not thirty years and two failed marriages ago.
The books can be literary, sure, but they also tend to be faster-paced than most adult fiction. There tends to be lots of stuff happening on the surface -- like, you know, characters doing things, not just staring at a wall and philosophizing. They tend to end with a note of hope, and at the end, generally resolve most loose threads, questions and relationships.
YA books can be murder mysteries or science fiction, romantic comedy or epic fantasy, dystopian or historical or literary or post-modern or steampunk or any combo of any of those things you can imagine. What they CAN'T be, is "about grownup sh*t".
Lengthy, slow-paced works with ambiguous endings about Wall Street brokers having like - psycho-sexual crises, or going through bankruptcy, or having loads of affairs to numb the pain of a dead-end job, or whatever? Not YA. Even if the brokers are super-precocious 18 year olds.
Fast-paced commercial fantasy about a girl who has a gift for killing and becomes the kings assassin against her will, and must band together with an equally gifted hot guy to resist both the monarchy and their own sexual attraction, an attraction unlike anything either of them has ever known? Very possibly YA or at least has YA-crossover potential, even if the protagonists are 19 and 22.
So does this make sense, or did I just confusee the issue more?