The Identity Crisis of a Book

  • May 27, 2010
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Adult? YA? Memoir? Chick Lit? Judaic? Spirituality?

Bookstores and publishers love categories — Holocaust, Judaism, Chick Lit, travel, memoir, biography, literary, etc. That’s understandable since booksellers have to organize their shelves somehow. The trouble is not all books fit neatly into one category.

My books are especially challenging. Both Motherland and Is It Night or Day? have been mis-categorized. Both are often labeled “Holocaust” books, though I would argue that neither one is a “Holocaust” book.

Motherland addresses mother-daughter relationships against the backdrop of the Holocaust and submerged past. It raises difficult questions: Exactly what knowledge does a parent owe a child? How does the past (or lack of a past) inform a child’s identity? Set against the backdrop of religious hatred and war, Is It Night or Day? tells the story of child immigration and raises a different set of questions: How does a refugee immigrant gain an American identity? To what extent does the trauma of leaving influence a child’s personality? What obligations does an open society have towards its newest members?

Adult? Young Adult?

The markets for my books pose another challenge since both are appropriate for “Adults” and “Young Adult” (YA). Popular with adult book clubs, Motherland was released as an “Adult” book. Is It Night or Day? has found an audience in libraries and schools since it was released as a “Young Adult” title. Age labels dictate where book reviews will appear, where the book will be placed in stores, and even who will discuss the book in blogs (YA or adult blogs), further limiting the exposure of the title. Consequently, my books largely attract readers in their designated markets.

Another example of this problem is Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which was released in Australia as an “Adult” book and in the United States as a “Young Adult” book. Undoubtedly, those labels frustrate Zusak. “I didn’t set out to write a good young adult book or a good adult book, ” he said.

“I really tried to write someone’s favorite book.”

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