On Genre / Special

Young Adult Fiction isn’t just for young adults anymore. But to be honest, was it ever? An estimated fifty-five percent of all YA books are sold to readers over the age of eighteen. With the popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, and Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy (to name a few), more and more adults are reading books written for teenagers.

So why is that? Well, there are plenty of websites out there trying to justify why grownups are reading books aimed at adolescents.  But really, no one needs to justify their love of reading anything. There are amazing books in every genre, Young Adult included. It makes no sense to cut out one genre simply because it’s directed at a different age group. That would be like avoiding Fantasy or Paranormal because you’re not into the supernatural. Imagine the fun you’d miss.

It’s not just the readers who love YA, though. The authors who write it do so because they love it, too.

Veronica Roth has said she will be writing YA a long time “because I just love the readers and the teachers and librarians I interact with. YA is a wonderful genre. There’s so much room for invention and creativity. It’s remarkable.”

What is Young Adult Fiction?

Is Young Adult its own genre? There are arguments that YA Fiction is not a true genre, but simply an age group for which any genre is written. A similar comparison can be made about Romantic Fiction as well, so for the purposes of this article, I’m going to consider Young Adult its own genre.

YA books have been around for centuries, although the official classification originated in the 1950s and 1960s. Prior to this classification, books written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, such as Oliver Twist, The Swiss Family Robinson, and Great Expectations in the late 1800s and Treasure Island, Black Beauty, and The Hobbit in the first half of the 1900s, may have been simply noted as meant for “children” or “young persons.”

These books were not necessarily written for the adolescent audience.  Specifically, The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies are widely used in young adult education, however they were intended for the adult reader.  S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders changed the way Young Adult Fiction was regarded, as it was one of the first YA books actually written by a teenager for a teenage audience.

There are a lot of different parameters quoted, but YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) defines YA as fiction aimed at readers twelve to eighteen years of age. It can exist in just about any text form: novels, graphic novels, poetry, and short stories. It also contains the same elements as other genres: character, plot, theme, setting, and style.

YA covers just about any genre there is, from dystopian robot romance to time-traveling mermaid adventures, which is one of the reasons for the argument that Young Adult Fiction isn’t really a genre. But the same could be said for Romance, so… we can agree to disagree.

What makes a book Young Adult Fiction?

In Young Adult Fiction, the main character is most often a teenager, and her antagonist is usually a teenager as well. That’s not to say she can’t be dealing with a drunken uncle stealing the family jewels or a shape-shifting teacher who’s plotting to take over the world, but in general, the main characters are teens. Adult characters take a backseat role, whether that be as a trusted confidante or an overbearing parent.

The protagonist’s issues are realistic teen issues, and her reactions are teenage-girl reactions. Some may argue that in YA Fantasy, it’s hard to compare an everyday teenager’s life with that of a time-traveling mermaid, but if her reactions to her situations are honest ones, the reader will relate.  And since teenagers will act like teenagers, she will make poor choices as well as good ones. A good YA book gives a true depiction of the teenage mind, which can be clear as a bell one moment, and one gigantic mass of hormonal stupidity the next.

YA books are most often written in first person, present tense and are relatively short. Teenagers live in the moment, and first person, present tense conveys a sense of now that third person often can’t.

Don’t forget that teenagers speak like teenagers. So there will be swearing, interruptions, yelling, and crying. But the words will be simpler, and sometimes they won’t make sense. The dialogue and the narrative are written with a teenage reader in mind, and the language is such that a younger teen can understand it. It’s less formal—there’s more slang and vernacular—and the rules of grammar ease up just a little bit. Maybe there are more fragments or run-on sentences. YA novels do not wax poetic on the beauty of a summer’s day nor do they discuss the merits of Greek philosophy.

That being said, a good YA novel does not shy away from serious subjects. Teens deal with a vast array of issues: sexuality, drugs, drinking, illness, suicide, death, bullying, peer pressure, etc. Young Adult novels don’t avoid these topics. Instead they embrace them and treat them honestly.

And remember, YA books are not preachy. A teenager can smell preachy from a mile away. A good YA author deals with the subject matter in a mature fashion without inserting an opinion or political stance.

What are the boundaries for Young Adult Fiction?

Young Adult Fiction is known to push the limits of its age restrictions; however there are some boundaries it cannot cross and still remain appropriate for the young adult crowd. Explicit sexual situations and/or explicit, gratuitous violence are usually considered unsuitable for the tweens and teens. These situations are probably better suited for a New Adult Fiction, a more recent genre of fiction that is aimed at the older, post high school crowd, and one that was our featured genre a few weeks ago.

Young Adult Fiction is appropriate for just about any reader over the age of twelve, so whether you’re interested in dystopian robot romances or time-traveling mermaid adventures—or maybe something completely different—Young Adult Fiction will probably have what you’re looking for.

Veronica Roth USA Today interview.

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