We were asked as a class to assign a genre to the YA novel, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers.   The choices we were given were Fantasy and Historical.  When it came time for me to vote, I was very frustrated because I did not want to vote for either of those choices.  Why?

Because for me, Grave Mercy was clearly a romance novel.  Certainly it was set in a historical time period and had a number of paranormal elements, but at its core, I felt this was more a romance than anything else.  In fact, if this were marketed for an adult audience, I believe it would have been placed in the romance section, rather than in fantasy or even historical fiction.

Having said that, I would be more likely to label it historical romance than paranormal romance, which is what led me to choose the genre of historical novel, rather than fantasy/paranormal.  The history flavors every page, the plot line is woven with political intrigue, and we have a hero and a heroine who warily circle around each other, uncertain whether they can trust the other.  They worry about betrayal to be certain, but they also struggle against trusting the other with their heart.
At its core, the story is about love and trust.  Our heroine learns much about herself and essentially grows up through the course of this novel, which helps to place it in the YA genre, but truthfully, it would fit quite neatly amidst any number of historical romances on the shelves today.

I don’t think the cover art influenced me either way, nor did the jacket copy because I began reading this story expecting one thing and ended up with something else entirely.  It truly was the story itself that led me to my conclusion.  The jacket copy led me to believe this would be a historical novel embedded with political intrigue.  The cover made me think “kick-ass heroine-assassin” and I was several hundred pages in before I finally clued in to the fact that I was basically reading a historical romance.

I think the beautiful thing about the YA market right now is that it transcends genre.  People who affiliate themselves with one genre (mystery, romance, sci-fi, etc.) end up reading books outside of “their” genre because YA does not really attempt to classify its novels.  You end up with a mish-mash of genres, which in many ways, enriches the stories we read.  I think YA offers writers the opportunity to write those cross-genre novels that they’ve always wanted to write.  That paranormal-mystery-western-romance that’s been plaguing them for years.  Set it up as a YA novel and you have an instant market.

Does genre matter?  I think genre only matters in the mind of the reader.  The industry has created an expectation for what a mystery novel will contain.  It has created that expectation of the happily-ever-after in romance.  What expectation is there in YA?  We certainly expect a great story.  And if there’s a girl on the cover in a long flowing gown, we expect a bit of romance, even if she is carrying a crossbow.

Ultimately though, a well-written story that defies genre may go further in the YA market than in the adult one.  It’s what I love about YA.