Exploring Genre: Young Adult

I need more brightly colored books…

Okay, the title is a little misleading because Young Adult (YA) literature is not really a genre, it’s more of a target audience.

I’m starting with this because, even when I go outside of fantasy, I tend to write YA. So, before delving into other/actual genres, I wanted to give a brief overview of what YA is and how it differs from adult fiction and juvenile fiction. THEN, at the end of the series, I’ll tie YA back in with the genres I write to show how they come together differently than those genres and adult fiction.

There are two main identifiers of YA:

The protagonist is a teenager/young adult dealing with issues or themes typical of that age range (sex, coming-of-age, defining oneself, relationships, etc.)

The book is marketed to teens/young adults (but may be read by anyone).

BUT WAIT! What about teen fiction, new adult fiction, juvenile fiction? Are those the same thing? Slightly different?

The Guardian has a good article on defining YA for an academic look at the question (with reader feedback, too!).

But, I used to work in a library (as a Page, no less) and, to me, you have four major kinds of kid lit:

Easy (preschool, kindergarten, early grades)

Middle grade (typically aimed at middle schoolers)

Juvenile (overlapped heavily with MIddle grade but tended to be more adult in themes with more permission to be dark and scary)

Young Adult (this tends to have it’s own space in the library for high school kids to come and hang out after school)

In the public library, “teen” and “new adult” books are often shelved in the Young Adult section (sometimes even called a Teen section) so that their primary audience has easy access.

Personally, I think that these three categories overlap so much that any meaningful distinctions are so obscure or specific that they are not useful for my purposes as a writer (yet, that can change). Lots of kids read well above their level and lots of adults are reading kid lit.

But I digress…

Young Adult literature is about teens with teens as the primary audience.

That’s it. It’s that easy.

But, you might ask, how is this really different from adult literature, then? Adult literature doesn’t always have an adult as the protagonist. Heck, sometimes adult literature even has a teenager as the protagonist.

But it’s still not YA. Aside from taking a cop out and saying that if it’s not shelved in YA at the library or bookstore, it’s not YA, how do YA and Adult fiction with a teen protagonist differ?

The Example

my-sisters-keeper-lg
Enter this book

The book I have in mind for the adult fiction example is Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. While the story is told in multiple first-person narratives, it is almost exclusively told from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl whose older sister has leukemia. This is one of my favorite books with a movie I love just as much. It deals with extremely adult themes through the eyes of the family.

Honestly, what makes this book adult in my interpretation is that it includes the POV and problems of the adults in the main narrative. The family is undergoing a crisis and the reader is asked to care about the difficulties each person, adult or teen, is having with almost equal respect. A YA book would probably focus more on the protagonist and her sister, their relationship, and how the events of the book relate to them specifically.

How do I relate this to my writing? 

Over and over and over, I have wanted to work more of Chak’s story into SAAFire and each time, I turn him down. He has his own thing going on in the background during the story, his own detailed backstory, and his own future. I could easily include him as a POV character and  open up scenes and secrets to the reader that our protagonists don’t know.

But I don’t, because he’s not as important. SAAFire is about the two sisters I have created. It is their story and to insert Chak’s side quests would be to change the story. It wouldn’t be bad, just different and off the path I want to take.

To wrap up, while I tend to see higher stakes, crazier drama, or just MORE of everything, the main difference between YA is who the story is about and who the book is marketed to.

Next week, we’ll get into fantasy and talk less about age-ranges and marketing. You’re never too old or young for a little fantasy.

Cheers!

Author: JA Goodsell

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is ANATHEMA, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @JAGoodsell or Instagram at books_and_dogs

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