I have written a novel where the main POV character is around 18 years old. There’s also a secondary POV character who’s 45 years old. This secondary character takes up almost as much page space as the younger character. It’s maybe a 60-40 split. There’s a mystery involved, and while the younger character gets involved in the mystery, his story is really a coming of age. The secondary protagonist’s job is to solve the mystery.
My beta readers all say I have written a young adult novel.
Based on the younger protagonist’s POV then yes, I can see what they’re saying. Also, my writing style fits YA quite well. However, almost half the book is from an older woman’s point-of-view.
I might add that the book was not written as YA. It’s just that the protagonist was young.
If I take the basic rules of query writing – stick with the character you start the story with and follow their arc – then when I query it’s going to be about the kid. Sample pages will be from the kid’s point-of-view, because the first couple of chapters are his.
Does it matter if I say it’s a young adult novel and then have a major secondary character who is a lot older?
If I say it’s an adult novel – or rather, don’t say it’s YA – how will an agent feel when they read the query and the sample pages? This author has no idea of her own market?
Do I need to explain about the two different protagonists in the query?
Does the very thought of a combination like this make you, as an agent, throw up your hands in horror?
This is one of those situations where I would have to read the book to know which genre it fits into. Honestly, based on your plot description, it doesn't necessarily sound like a young adult though. It sounds like for one character you have a coming of age, but the book overall is a mystery.
Ever since YA became "the thing" there's this assumption that just because you've written a great young adult character in a book the book has to be characterized as young adult. Not true. There are many fabulous works of fiction that have included well-written young adults, but would not be classified as young adult. One that pops into my head at the moment, or an author that pops into my head, is Jodi Picoult. Jodi regularly includes a character arc for a young adult character and often that character arc plays as strong of a role as the adult's arc, but never (to the best of my knowledge) have her books been classified as young adult. Part of that is that she doesn't have a young adult voice.
I think what matters is knowing who your audience truly is. Is this a book that would fit in today's young adult market, that would sell on those shelves to those readers? if so, it's definitely young adult. Or would you say this is a book that would appeal more to mystery readers because the mystery is truly the element that's the strongest? What about fiction, is this maybe a piece that's better classified as women's fiction or literary fiction? Who do your readers otherwise commonly read? Where is that author placed on the shelves? Maybe that will help you have a better understanding of where you should classify it.
I don't think you need to explain the two different protagonists per se, but I do think it's important that you explain the story as a whole. If the older woman plays as strong of a role in the book as the younger character, are you misrepresenting the book by only talking about the story arc of the one character? In other words, is it the story of "two very different people..." instead of focusing on individual characters?
A lot to think about, I know, but without reading your query and knowing your book I'm afraid I don't have any specific answers.