According to my (new) publisher, I used to be a Young Adult writer. This statement has caused one of my bookseller fans so much outrage, she e-mailed me at home, saying, “I am all set to be enraged at 'Formerly a YA author’ on your bio. Like YA was just a phase you grew out of? And now, finally, you’re writing Respectable Literary Fiction?” It’s a problem. The truth is, most writers simply write, and by virtue of the subject matter they choose (divorce, sexual deviance, the Peloponnesian wars), are deemed to be adult writers. The presence of puppies and pigs in a story line usually indicates a children’s book, except when it doesn’t (Marley and Me, Animal Farm). And according to the marketing departments of most American publishers, there are children’s books and adult books, and never the twain shall meet.

When I wrote How I Live Now, I didn’t think much about my audience. My brand-new agent had recently started a YA list, and, having read the practice novel I submitted, sent me off to write another novel. She didn’t actually say “a better one,” but the implication was clear.

“What are the rules for writing for teens?” asked I, the anxious novice.

“Never mind the rules,” she replied. “Write the best book you can write and I’ll find an audience for it.” In other words, you write. We sell.

At the time, I hadn’t read a YA book in 30 years. But I’d been interested in coming-of-age stories all my life, and so that, unsurprisingly, is what I wrote. Blame Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. In fact, blame the lot of them—Lord of the Flies, Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird. The perfect successor to A Catcher in the Rye has to be Portnoy’s Complaint, give or take a pound of liver. And what about Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis? All the Pretty Horses? The Secret Life of Bees?

The list goes on and on, for the simple reason that a good coming-of-age novel is as classic a literary form as a good political thriller or a good murder mystery. I’ve snuck all sorts of midlife crises into my novels, and they fit remarkably well, because if anyone knows the feeling of being lost and alone, it’s a teenager. Or a middle-aged woman. Or a hundred-year-old man. The gaining of wisdom is one subject that plays and plays.

That first published novel dealt with underage sex, love, anorexia, death and World War III. But its subject was coming-of-age in the 21st century. The London broadsheets reviewed it as an adult novel. It won the Guardian children’s fiction prize and was shortlisted for the (adult) Orange First Novel prize. In England it sold to adults and teenagers equally.

My second novel, Just in Case, is about a boy obsessed with fate, and is a blackly comic take on depression. Though in hardcover it was released for YA, in paperback it will be sold to adults. The third book is a love story set in a boy’s boarding school in 1962, narrated by the main character as a very old man. In the U.K. it will have two editions. In the U.S., just one—adult.

Do I worry about what sort of a writer I am? Not really. Like most writers, I want to reach as broad an audience as possible. And the absence of a viable crossover fiction in the U.S. has made the decision to move from YA to adult publishing easy. “In America, novels cross down,” one publisher told me, “but they don’t cross up,” meaning teens will read adult books, but not vice versa. Perhaps that’s why The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was published in the U.S. for adults—despite its substantial teen readership in Australia and the U.K.

So now I’m an adult writer. Yet nothing about my writing has changed. To find out if this heralds a radical new crossover movement in the world of fiction, you’d better ask someone in marketing. As for me, well, I’m just doing what I’ve always done—writing the best books I can possibly write, to be read by anyone (and everyone) who happens to be interested.

Author Information
Viking (adult) will publish Meg Rosoff’s What I Was in the U.S. in January.