While Charles de Lint writes a lot of YA fiction, The Mystery of Grace isn’t one of them. That’s not to say that teens shouldn’t read it, but it deals with themes that aren’t very YA. It starts out with a one night stand and love at first site, spends most of the book exploring death and separation, and meditates on what it means to live a full life.
Despite all that, as a teen, I certainly would have read it and loved it. I believed in the possibility of a love strong enough to surpass death. I was certainly morbid enough to revel in the big life-after-death questions and I had VERY strong ideas what it meant to live life fully (unlike now where I think I might have a vague idea).
De Lint does his usual amazing job at creating believable, normal characters who find themselves in very not-normal situations. And as always he mixes first and third person points of view to draw us in and keep us slightly distant from the various characters. For that reason alone I’d recommend the book for anyone – of any age. His storytelling skills are topnotch.
By the way, what does make a book young adult? One rule of thumb is that the characters should be at the most a few years older than the target readers, but again, I remember reading a lot of “adult” fiction as a teen and not feeling like I couldn’t relate. The main character, Grace, could be anywhere from late teens to early forties. I’m sure the book says how old she is somewhere but her exact age doesn’t matter. Her situation is one that a whole range of people can identify with.
Another rule is a coming of age theme. With introspective novels like The Mystery of Grace you could say that they are all coming of age novels if you take coming of age to mean learning to be true to yourself and to act with integrity. That’s a lesson for anyone, not just teens figuring out what it means to be an adult. As I said above, my opinions were much stronger as a teen than they are now and so coming of age stories have a much greater impact on me now than they did when I was younger and less open to new ideas.
I know that books need categories. Without them we wouldn’t be able to find anything in the bookstore or library, but at the same time, categories can sometimes box in a book and lock it away from others who might appreciate it.