Alice Bliss, a YA novel in an adult disguise
Several weeks ago I was approached by Liza at WhoRUBlog about a book tour for a particular book she could not praise enough. She said, “If a novel could have a heartbeat, Alice Bliss would have one. If an author could capture a slice of America’s soul, Laura Harrington succeeded in doing so!” She further went on to say, “Alice Bliss is destined to be a classic of the twenty-first century.”
With praise like that, how could I refuse?
Alice Bliss is a novel that follows a young girl after her father’s deployment to Iraq and is “a profoundly moving coming-of-age novel about love and its many variations–the support of a small town looking after its own; love between an absent father and his daughter; the complicated love between an adolescent girl and her mother; and an exploration of new love with the boy-next-door.”
I read Alice Bliss. It is all those things Liza said, and more. However, I was curious. This book has a young, teenage protagonist, yet it was published by an adult imprint of Penguin. Why? Why was it not pushed through the YA market? What appeal did this book have to adults, that made the publisher hit the adult market.
So I asked. And Penguin answered. Here’s what they had to say….
ALICE BLISS is told through the lens of a young teen learning to cope with a father in Iraq. What, as an adult publishing house, drew you to Alice and her story?
When I first read the novel, I cried so much my eyes were puffy the next day. I thought it was a beautiful novel, written by Laura Harrington with such sensitivity and depth that any reader, no matter what age or gender, would be moved by it. Alice is a teen but she isn’t childish, and even though this can be considered a “coming of age,” it is so much more. Alice is the type of character who can sneak her way into anyone’s heart with her strength and her vulnerability. She’s old enough to understand fully the implications of her father’s decision to go, and knows she must take on new roles in her family to keep everything together. Yet she still has so much growing up to do, and so many milestones to reach. This was a novel that couldn’t be restricted to one audience or demographic.
With a teen as the main character, most readers would think this is a YA novel. But it’s my understanding that the book was marketed toward adults and reading groups. Why, with a YA main character, has the emphasis been on promoting the novel to adults?
The main reason we’ve promoted heavily to adults is that we are an adult division, and in publishing, the adult and young readers divisions are very separate. There are plenty of examples of novels with YA main characters published by adult divisions and loved by grown-ups, and I published two of them—The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. Both were bestsellers that were shared among mothers and daughters, sisters and friends, and of course, reading groups, and I saw the same spark in Alice Bliss.
When ALICE BLISS was first published, did you anticipate it having crossover appeal to teens? If so, how did it influence your marketing strategy? Besides the YA Blog Tour, what plans do you have to promote ALICE BLISS to young adults?
Yes, from the get-go we planned to do crossover marketing as much as possible. We did mailings to lists shared by the young readers division, our academic marketing group did heavy outreach to YA librarians and teachers, we promoted the novel in the young readers catalog, we included outlets that are generally geared toward the YA market in our publicity efforts (for example, ALICE BLISS was one of School Library Journals Best Books of the Year So Far in the “Adult Books 4 Teens” category). Laura has been part of multiple YA Crossover panels at conferences such as BEA and ALA. It didn’t necessarily change our marketing strategy, it broadened it. And this YA Blog Tour is another example of Laura’s dynamism and the wonderful reception ALICE BLISS has received from young adult readers.
Many thanks to Kiki and the Penguin team for answering my questions. Y’ALL ROCK.