It is not until we explore the word crossover in certain compound word formations or specific contexts that the word crossover has any potential connection to young adult literature. Crossover vote, one of the first compound phrases that used the word crossover, was first recorded in 1948 and has continually been used ever since. This compound phrase is defined by OED as “a vote cast contrary to the voter’s usual allegiance,” such as a declared Democratic citizen deciding to vote for a Republican candidate. The term crossover is also often applied to music, either to specific songs or specific artists who are typically associated with one genre of music and then the song or artist undergoes a process in which they become popular with a different genre or audience.
This last definition is most closely related to what we define as crossover literature. The term crossover as applied to literature is not an archaic one; young adult literature was not widely recognized as a genre until the late 20th century. However, the number of books that fit into this genre continues to grow.
History defines “crossover” in many different ways. When one hears the word today, the number of connotations attached to it also varies greatly. Rajon Rhondo has a wicked crossover on the basketball court. Teens “cross over” into adulthood after surviving that shady age, adolescence. Straight kids cross over into the gay and lesbian community. Folks die and cross that threshold into the unknown; they cross the same threshold to enter into this world. Luke Skywalker and Buzz Lightyear cross over to the Dark Side. Harry Potter teeters on the edge of it; grappling with good and evil.
Potter doesn’t only fit into the “crossover” category because of his close resemblance to Star Wars or Toy Story characters; he is the protagonist in a series that made crossover literature the unofficial sub-genre it is in young adult literature today. Just as Harry teeters on the edge of good and evil in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling’s work stands on a line between what used to be an altogether uncommon or unheard of epidemic in the literary world, one that brings a new definition to the word crossover: adults reading books originally written for kids.
There are some who want to enter a debate claiming that young adult literature is only for “juveniles” and therefore should not be worthy of adult attention. However, this is not as much a debate as it is an opinion. And at the end of the day, thousands of adults are still reading, loving, and buying Harry Potter, Divergent, Twilight, Maze Runner, and other crossover books. Authors will continue to write crossover books because they make money. So it’s not really a debate.
The question we need to answer then is how does crossover literature even exist? Why will adults read young adult books, and vice-versa? Harry Potter for example was written for young people, yet there were thousands of adults standing in the long lines to buy the books at midnight when they would come out. There are several possible reasons for why adults would read a book written for young people. One reason, which is definitely the case in Harry Potter, is that the book has a lot of adult characters. Many young adult novels have very few, if any adult characters, which probably makes it harder for adult readers to find it engaging and relatable. Another reason that a book would appeal both to a beginning and advanced readers is the complexity of the plot. Most young adults can’t follow, let along finish a book where the plot is very complex. At the same time, an adult would become bored by a book with an overly simple plot. Crossover books are successful when they offer a plot that isn’t too difficult to follow for its young readers, but at the same time includes elements that complicate the plot so as to keep the more advanced readers engaged. Another more obvious reason is that the book includes themes that are relatable to both young and old. Harry Potter has themes such as friendship, bullying, stress of school, etc. that are relatable to young readers; yet at the same time has themes such as parenting, love, sacrifice, etc. that adults can relate to. We know that one of the main reasons readers choose to read what they do is because they feel like they can relate to it, so a crossover book must be able to do that for youth and adults.
Rowling wasn’t the first author to write a book for adolescents that adults read. However, she is the first to make reading an international epidemic, the “cool” thing to do. Claire Fallon notes, “Rowling didn’t invent young adult fiction or fantasy, nor was Harry Potter the first very successful book series for younger readers. But after the worldwide phenomenon that was Harry Potter, publishers couldn’t ignore the potential of that market” (Fallon 2). Rowling introduced her fantastic fictional series in the late 90s, and books suddenly contended with midnight movie premiers as kids (or their parents) lined up in the wee hours of the morning at Wal Mart to receive the next novel. Thus, reading a book series became the thing to do in Kid World. Naturally, parents would pick up the subject of all the hype, whether to join in the fantastical world, to censor what they put into their child’s hands, or to get the real story before the movie came out. For whatever reason, hordes of adults began reading young adult books. Crossover literature exploded from there, carrying a new definition of the word with it.
“cross-over, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2014. Web. 10 February 2015.
Fallon, Claire. “7 Ways J.K. Rowling Changed Childhood for a Whole Generation.” Huffington Post. Web. 31 July 2014.