I found Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos (Bloomsbury, 2017) in the YA section of my local bookshop. I’d seen it around Goodreads and liked the vibrant cover and the premise, so I bought it. It took me almost a year to start reading and while laughing uncontrollably, I’m confused by the whole YA thing.
Len Vlahos doesn’t like being dumped in YA, but he’s not silly enough to alienate his target audience. He says of his books being YA, “I’ve never really liked labels.” Sadly, marketing departments love ’em. Bloomsbury was as confused by Life in a Fishbowl as everyone else. Due to the presence of a couple of teenagers among the countless POVs, length of manuscript and previous output, Vlahos is stuck in his least fav label. His publishers like to release his books in January. After the big pre-xmas buying frenzy, when not much is going on, the uncertains are dumped in hopes of sucking in unwary buyers – like me.
What makes me certain it isn’t YA? A lot of teenagers would love Fishbowl, just like they love many titles marketed to adults. The category YA is mainly for publishers’ marketing depts and the gatekeepers for teenage reading – parents, teachers, librarians. Some teenagers seek out and avidly read books, the majority don’t and only read what their school forces them to in class or parents/family give as gifts. Said gifts may languish on a bookshelf, but the thought was there. Name as many individual teenagers who love reading as you like, research (including mine) shows the average person of any age prefers other pastimes. Which is fine, everyone loving the same thing would be really boring.
It’s publishers, authors and librarians who write all the think-pieces on what is and isn’t YA. I will never shake my librarian roots, which I’m glad of. So here’s my take – I’ve done this before and I’ll do it again.
Personally, I use YA as the first port of call in deciding whether I’ll read a book.* I’m more likely to give up on a book marketed as adult (partly due to length, partly to subject/themes/writing style). If I still want to read it, I’m better off listening to the audio book on my commute. Audio also helps me stick at long YA – 200 pages is my sweet spot and esp with series, they’re few and far between.
Having teenage characters isn’t the only factor in what makes YA. I’ve said before it’s more subtle and I have trouble defining YA. When I blogged about Girl on Fire being YA or not, I just confused myself. I find it easier to give examples. eg. I know exactly how Life in a Fishbowl could be changed to make it fit neatly in YA. With only the three teenage POVs and all the adult crap cut out (including that repugnant nun). Really, Fishbowl is a story about Jared and what happens to him, so it would become a completely different book. And in YA, the teenagers are written as teenagers, not as how adult Vlahos sees them.
I get the impression Vlahos doesn’t want to fit neatly in YA. Good thing I didn’t write Life in a Fishbowl, it’s a hilarious read as it stands. I’m just a librarian-in-hiding blogging into the void.
*Have a look at my Goodreads to see my eclectic tastes, aka Clare is All Over the Place.