25 Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction

As always, this is not meant to be my bold-faced proclamations about This Particular Thing, but rather, twenty-five hopefully constructive and compelling talking points and thought bullets about the topic at hand. It is not meant to be gospel etched into stone, but notions — sometimes controversial — worth discussing. Let us begin.

[EDIT: It’s 28, now. Because, reasons.]

1. If You Say The Word “Genre,” I’m Going To Tear Gas Your Mother

Young Adult is not a genre. I hear that often — “the YA genre.” You’re wrong. Don’t call it that. Stop it. Young Adult is a proposed age range for those who wish to read a particular book. It is a demographic rather than an agglomeration of people who like to read stories about, say, Swashbuckling Dinosaur Princesses or Space Manatee Antiheroes or whatever the cool kid genres are these days. Repeat after me: Young Adult is not a genre designation. See? Not so hard.

2. And That Age Range Is…

“Teenager.” Young adult books are generally written for teenagers. I’ve seen 12-18, but really, just call it “teenager” and be done with it. (The age range before it is “middle grade,” which runs roughly from 8-12.) This is where someone in the back of the room grouses about how when he was a young reader they didn’t have young adult books and he read whatever he could get his hands on, by gum and by golly — he read the Bible and Tolkien and Stephen King and Henry Miller and Penthouse and he did it backwards, in the snow, besieged by ice tigers. “In my day we didn’t need teenage books! We took what books we had and liked it! I once read a soup can for days!” I’ll cover that in more detail, but for now, I’ll leave you with this lovely Nick Hornby quote: “I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.”

3. Young Adult In Fact Runs Giggling Over Many, Many Genres

Young Adult can be whatever you want. It can be epic fantasy. It can be space opera. It can be (and often is) dystopia. It can be elf romance. It can be funny cancer. It can be ghosts and fast cars and serial killers and Nazi Germany and one might even say that it operates best when it karate-slaps all your genre conventions in the face, when genres run and swirl together like paint and make new colors and form new ideas and change the way you think about stories.

4. It Should Feature A Teen Protagonist

It’s not a completely bizarre thing to suggest that teen books should feature teenage characters. I mean, I guess it’s not essential, but I’m not sure that your book about an old man fighting raccoons in the park — young and sprightly as he may seem! — will really qualify. And here is where Cranky Old Crotchpants in the back says, “Them dang teenagers should read about more than just themselves! Selfish little boogers always stealing my flip-flops!” And here I say, the best thing about YA fiction is that it’s talking to what was once an under-served population: teenagers. It’s not saying, You will buy this book because you’re solipsistic little shitbirds but rather, it’s saying, I will write this book because finally someone’s going to start telling stories about all the things that are happening to you and your friends.

5. This Teen Protagonist Should Ideally Suffer From Teen Protagonist Problems

We write about teens to talk to teens. And you talk to teens by embracing their problems. Teen problems are — well, crap, do you remember being a teenager? Holy fuck was that ever a weird time. High school! Sex! Drugs! Drinking! Parents! First love! First breakup! Bullying! College planning! SATs! Pregnancy scares! The realization that your parents don’t know all the things you thought they knew! Even in a genre-based setting teen-specific problems can be reflected (quick plug for a friend’s book, out today: The Testing gets pitched as The Hunger Games meets the SATs). Young Adult fiction isn’t about selling books to teenagers. It’s about writing books that speak to them. And speaking to them means talking about their problems.

6. Sex, Drinking, Drugs

I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating here: sex, drinking and drugs are part of a teenager’s reality. This isn’t me suggesting every teenager has sex, or drinks, or does drugs — only that it’s there. It exists for them. And some adults may bluster — “Bluh, bleh, muh, not my teenager!” — to which I say, even Amish teenagers deal with this. The Amish. The Amish. So, I’m always dubious of any young adult book that doesn’t at least address one of these three in some way. Not saying they need to be drug-fueled drunken orgy-fests, mind you.

7. The Hormone Tornado And The Unfinished Brain

Read this: “The Teenage Brain Is A Work-In-Progress.” Their brains ain’t done cooking yet. They’re these unfinished masterpieces that are pliable in some ways, rigid in others, and whose emotional and intellectual development is driven by a drunken chimpanzee whacked-out on a cocktail of high-octane hormones. The teenage brain is like, NOW IT’S TIME TO KNOW SHIT AND DO SHIT AND HAVE SEX WITH STUFF AND KICK THINGS AND POUR YOUR HEART OUT AND DRIVE FAST AND AAAAAAAAAAAH. I’m not saying a teen protagonist has to act like a coked-up ferret, but it is important to recognize that the teen psyche is a really strange thing.

8. What Were You Like As A Teen?

Write What You Know is one of those roasted chestnuts of writing advice that fails to tell the whole story — it sounds like a proclamation, that it’s the Only Thing You Should Do, but it’s not. It’s just one of the things you can do. And given that most of the people writing young adult fiction are not themselves young adults it behooves us to not just study teenagers like we’re Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey (“I am hiding in the teenage human’s locker. This locker smells suspiciously of gym socks, weed, Cheetos, and desperation”) but rather to look back our own time doing battle in the Teenage Arena. Rip off the old gnarly Band-Aid and let the memories flow. What were your teenage years like? What did you deal with? Remember! And write.

9. The Prevalence Of First-Person Point-Of-View

YA fiction is often told in a first-person point-of-view. One could intuit reasons for this: first-person tends to be a faster and more forthright read, teenagers often embrace their own first-person narratives (from handwritten journals to, say, Tumblr), teens might be more inwardly-focused than adults. The first-person POV is not a necessity, to be clear — nobody will beat you with a copy of Divergent if you write in, say, close third.

10. The Preponderance Of Present Tense

YA fiction is also frequently given over to the present tense. One might suggest reasons for this: present tense is a snappier, sharper read (more “cinematic” as the saying goes); it also provides a more urgent read; the teen mind lives more in the present than in the past, and so narrative tense should reflect it. Again, present tense is not a requirement, just a frequent feature.

11. Shorter, Punchier Books

You won’t find many Young Adult books that are big enough to derail an Amtrak train or to bludgeon a silverback gorilla. The average Young Adult novel probably hovers around the 70,000 word mark — shorter if it leans away from genre and toward literary, I think. That’s not to say you won’t or can’t see BIG GIANT GALLUMPHING TEEN EPICS, but it isn’t really the norm. Particularly for the first in a series.

12. Pacier, Chattier Books

They also tend to be more quickly paced and with a great deal of dialogue. I’ve read some young adult books that read with almost the spare elegance of a really sharp, elegant screenplay.

13. The Role Of The Adult Character

Adults are rarely the main characters of a young adult book. Why would they be? They don’t have teen problems. They’re witnesses, at best. That said, adults can be the supporting characters (though usually still peripheral to the teen world — teachers, parents, older siblings) and they can certainly be the villains (which is true to the teen mold because sometimes, when you’re a teenager, the adults in your life can be giant, cankerous assholes). What I mean to say is, TEENS RULE, ADULTS DROOL *flushes Dad’s toupee down the toilet and sets fire to the house*

14. The Teens Sound Like Adults

Sometimes the teens you read in young adult books sound like adults. They speak with intelligence and wit. I’ve seen this as a criticism against YA fiction, but hey, fuck that. I write with the assumption that — drum roll please — teenagers are capable of intelligence and wit.

15. But They Should Always Act Like Teens

Just the same, teenagers in your young adult stories are best when they actually act like teenagers. Teens do stupid shit. I look back over my teenage years and it’s like… oooh, oh, wow, yeah, I made some poor life choices. Driving way too fast. Unprotected sex. Disputing authority even when authority might’ve actually been right. Doing things because they seemed “cool” rather than because it was actually a good goddamn idea. I once punched a locker based on misappropriated jealousy (still have the scar). I once accidentally shot a hole in our kitchen ceiling with a .22 rifle. I was once in a car with a friend who tried to circumvent like, five minutes of traffic by driving on the side of the road, thus breaking the car on a giant drainage block. I could probably do a lecture on all the really teenagey things I did as a teenager, and I didn’t even drink in high school (it took me till college to learn the love of the sauce).

16. Riskier Stories

Personal opinion time: some of the bravest, strangest, coolest stories right now are being told in the young adult space. It’s stuff that doesn’t fly by tropes or adhere to rules — appropriate, perhaps, since young adults tend to flick cigarettes in the eyes of the rules and don’t play by social norms as much as adults do. (Though teens certainly have their own social codes, too.) I wish adult fiction so frequently took risks on the material at hand, but it doesn’t. And as a person (relatively) new to the young adult spectrum, I used to assume it was all Twilight: generic pap. But then you read John Green, or Libba Bray, or Maureen Johnson — or holy shit, have you read Code Name: Verity?! — and your eyes start to go all boggly. Amazing storytelling in this realm. Amazing! I’ll wait here while you go read it all. *stares*

17. More “Adult” Stories

Young adult stories are encouraged to deal with some heavy shit when needed. Suicide, racism, misogyny, teen pregnancy, depression, cancer, rape, school shootings, and so forth. Don’t feel like it needs to be all cushy and cozy and given over to some Hollywood notion of what it’s like being a teenager. Sometimes YA books get called “children’s fiction,” which makes it sound like it stars characters looking for their next cotton candy fix while trying to stop the playground bullies from stealing their truck toys. Young adults still deal with some particularly adult things.

18. Very Hard To Compare To Film Ratings

A lot of young adult books hover somewhere between PG-13 and R in terms of how you might translate it to a film rating — but that’s ultimately a broken comparison because of, well, how broken film ratings happen to be. For example: if you were to film The Hunger Games as close to the book as you could make it, it would almost certainly be an R-Rated film for the depiction of violence. Some of the sex in young adult books would similarly earn an R-rating or — given our deeply Puritanical roots — something closer to NC-17 (GASP TEENS HAVE SEX OH GOD BURN THE BRIDGES SINK THE BOATS). The takeaway is, you can get away with some profanity and some sex in young adult fiction — though, I have seen talk of some libraries, teachers and booksellers refusing to promote certain books to teenagers because of edgy content found within. This is, as always, a YMMV issue.

19. Adults Like It

Adults read a lot of young adult fiction, particularly “cross-over” fiction that leans toward the higher end of that teen age range. One might speculate adults like it because it recaptures some part of their youth. Or that adults are frequently not as grown up as they’d prefer these days. Or that they get some vicarious thrill. Mostly, if I’m being honest, I think it’s because of what I said in #13 and #14 — some of the bravest, most “adult” storytelling is happening in the young adult space. They’re gravitating to the quality. Or so I like to hope. At the very least, those who claim young adult books are there to play off of adult nostalgia for the age have never read a young adult book. (“Teen suicide. Remember those good times? Like a Norman Rockwell painting!”)

20. Something-Something New Adult

Now there’s this other thing called “new adult,” which I think is maybe like “diet adult,” or “adult, now with zero calories?” I dunno. My understanding is that it’s maybe just a sexed-up version of young adult? Or that it’s the next age range after young adult for, say, 19-25 year olds? (Soon we’ll be writing books based on your birth month. “THIS BOOK RECOMMENDED FOR THOSE BORN IN JUNE OF 1984.”) I always thought that 19-25 year olds were just regular old adults by then, but maybe I’m that crotchety old crotchbasket on the lawn yelling at you kids to stop trampling his begonias.

21. As Always, Hell With Trends

THE TREND RIGHT NOW IS TEEN MUMMY UTOPIAS FEATURING SPUNKY CHARACTERS LOCKED IN TURBULENT LOVE RHOMBUSES. Whatever. Fuck trends. You can’t really beat trends. You can’t really write to them either. Trends are boring. Write what you want to write and make it as awesome as you can make it. Set the trend instead of following it.

22. You Are Reading Young Adult, Right?

If you’re gonna write it, you better be reading it.

23. Of Waning Snobbery

I was once a young adult snob. I was that old dude on his front porch yelling at the wind — “I don’t need your stinky young adult fictions! I read Ender’s Game when it was just a book and the author wasn’t a homophobic Tea Party sociopath! It’s just a marketing category! I’ll fill your hide with rock salt from my shotgun MARTHA GET ME MY SHOTGUN.” But I think that’s changing. In part because folks like myself acquiesced and actually starting reading what was prematurely condemned. I’m happy to be seeing fewer and fewer essays elsewhere about how YA is too dark or too puerile or how adult fiction is just fine, thanks, shut up — as if the presence of young adult fiction somehow eats away adult fiction instead of contributing to the overall health of a great book market. Go read that Nick Hornby quote again.

24. Teen Self-Publishing Squad

I don’t really know how self-publishing impacts young adult fiction or vice versa. I did self-publish an “edgy YA” (Bait Dog) which did well over Kickstarter and has since sold fine enough since (well enough that Amazon picked it and a sequel up to publish with Skyscape starting next year). Trends have been that teen readers preferred physical books as they did not often own their own e-readers — though, I’ve heard they’re inheriting e-readers now, thus opening them to the digital space more easily. Good for indie publishing types, I think.

25. You’re Not My Mom!

We as adults have a tendency to talk down to children and adolescents. “Eat this. Don’t eat that. Get good grades. If you pee in the pool, the pool filter will release piranha. Don’t do drugs. Definitely don’t steal Daddy’s drugs. If you masturbate too often, your fingers will turn white and fall off.” Don’t do this in your books. These books aren’t lesson plans. You’re not preaching from the Adult-Sized Podium. (This is true of all books, by the way — you should be telling stories while within your audience, not from outside it. I just think the tendency to get all teachy-and-preachy is stronger when writing for teens.)

26. Big-Ass Market Share

The young adult market is strapping and robust, like a young Russian lad thick on borscht and vodka. Last year sales in young adult were up 13%, and up 117% in e-books which is more than twice the digital growth in adult markets — plus, by most reports, young adult fiction yields bigger advances, too. And it’s these bigger advances right now that maybe suggests young adult authors are better leaning toward more traditional publishing than self-publishing (whereas in other areas, like in romance, the reverse may be true).

27. Genres Being Codified

I always poke around the Barnes & Noble YA shelves and I’ve noticed that the big bookstore has begun to lump YA into weird, clumsy genres. What I used to love about that shelf is that it was once just YOUNG ADULT. No “general fiction,” no “mystery,” no “SFF,” just — boom, here’s all the awesome books, please dispense of your genre tropes and judgments. That’s changing. Now it’s like, “Teen Adventure!” and “Teen Romance!” and “Teen Boondoggles With Drugs And Dystopias!” and blah blah blah. I don’t like it. I also don’t like that the shelving seems almost arbitrary, like someone let my toddler do it.

28. Good Story Is Good Story No Matter The Age Range

Young Adult is not just some easy space to jump in and make a quick buck. It’s a place for great storytelling and no matter what the rules are now or what they become for this age range, good story is always good story. I’m not so blindly optimistic to suggest that you can’t lose with a good story (nor would I say you can’t win with a bad one because, well, c’mon), but just the same: put your best foot forward with the best story you can tell. If it’s a story about teens or toddlers or geriatric dudes or koalas or space koalas or teenage space koalas, fuck it: slam your best effort down on the table. Write a killer story. The end.


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188 comments

  • It’s interesting how 1 and 24 are almost contradictory to each other. You fight YA as a catch-all genre, but you also fight breaking up YA into codified genres. Is it because they’re breaking up YA into clumsy genre clumps, or just the general disordered nature of it all?

    I get where you’re coming from, because the ideas in 1 and 24 are not inherently inclusive of each other, but there’s definitely a parallel to be drawn that makes for an interesting discussion.

    Is there benefit do you think in perhaps doing away with age range shelving and putting it all together based on genre, or would you rather see genre-specific shelving begin to go away and age range shelving become more universal? Is our current system the best clusterfuck option we have at the moment?

    • The benefit I see to age range and genre shelving is ease of use. Filing books with like books helps people who are browsing find similar titles. My local library shelves the children and adult non-fiction together and it drives me fucking insane – I can’t see it being helpful for kids, who have to sort through the adult books to find the kid version, and it clogs up the shelves for adults who want higher than a grade 3 reading level. The only people I could see it being good for are the ‘crossover’ age kids who are between kid books and adult books. Don’t think we need YA non-fiction necessarily though 😉

      • You could almost do a deeper combination of the two shelving systems, where you have the genre shelf and as you go from (we’ll say left to right), the age demographic increases. Of course that becomes a logistical nightmare for any kind of actual sorted filing where you want to go by author instead of age range, or you want to go by genre for multi-genre authors like Brandon Sanderson and Stephen King.

        For my part I’d almost like to see shelving become less ordered as far as genre goes, but that’s because my interests are so wide-ranging that I actually find it onerous to trot around the store to hit seven different genre shelves just to check for books. I mean, I can genre search all day long at home with a computer; it would be interesting if book stores took a “discover something new” approach with their shelving, where you aren’t shoehorning your genre into what you’re looking for. Expand your reading horizons a bit, and all that.

        In short, I don’t have a good solution, but I do find it a fascinating topic.

  • “The teenage brain is like, NOW IT’S TIME TO KNOW SHIT AND DO SHIT AND HAVE SEX WITH STUFF AND KICK THINGS AND POUR YOUR HEART OUT AND DRIVE FAST AND AAAAAAAAAAAH.” – I’m friends with my 16-year-old niece on facebook, and everything in her life is INTENSE. I thought my life was stressful, but every single thing that happens to her is the BEST or the WORST and OMG FEELINGS. Betrayals, lost loves, bone-deep loneliness. So much drama. It makes me really happy I’m not a teenager anymore.

    “Young Adult is not a genre.” – This is how I feel about comic books. Graphic novels are a medium, not a genre. Librarians, please don’t put them under 741.59; make them their own section, or shelve them with the appropriate genre in with the other books. Sorry. Pet peeve. (Also, not all graphic novels are teen, so while I’d rather have the comics under YA than 741.59, you probably don’t want your 13-year-old stumbling onto Lost Girls.)

    • Thanks for your comment about shelving graphic novels —- our library has a GN section for graphic novels, and a 741 section for comic strips, etc. It’s one of the sections I handle, so I’ve always had it this way ….. but it drives me nuts when I see libraries that shelve stuff the way you’re talking about.

      I like how you put it, simply, “Graphic novels are a medium, not a genre.” I feel like I should put that on a sticker and then stick them on to some of our staff (and hand them out at other libraries).

  • I’m not sure YA should predominately feature teenagers, but it seems to have become a popular meme for anybody that writes books for this age group. When I was young, most of the books I read were aimed at my age group but all featured adult heroes, such as Tarzan, Biggles (can you tell my age), or even later franchises such as Indiana Jones, Star Trek or Star Wars. I would even consider most comic books as “YA” but very few feature teenage protagonists. I know when I was young, I would rather have read something with an adult heroic figure that I could aspire.to and look up to, rather than a book revolving around a teenager with similar problems to me. After all, isn’t reading about escapism as much as it is anything else.

  • I have been reading YA since I was a YA (and yes, Chuck, it did exist back in the day, but it was just filed under other things, such as fantasy. Have you ever come across The Wizard of Earthsea, or A Wrinkle in Time, or The Dark is Rising sequence? I read all of those when I was the age for them. More recently, I have read the Bartimeus Chronicles and His Dark Materials and if you haven’t read them you must rush out and do so IMMEDIATELY. I also enjoy the Alex Rider (he’s the character, not the writer) books, which are James Bond for the teen market and read almost EXACTLY like a screenplay, since the writer is an ex-screenwriter. And tell me that you have come across Artemis Fowl, the teenage criminal mastermind, written by Eoin Colfer? And that is just the beginning. I have never seen the point of ignoring great books just because they have young persons in. In any case, the ONLY reason that books like His Dark Materials (one of the weirdest trilogy titles in history, but ignore that) and the Bartimeus Chronicles are classified YA is because the protags are young. Oh, and a plug for an Australian author, John Flanagan, and his Ranger’s Apprentice series which are wildly and deservedly popular with the young ‘uns. I could go on all night, but will stop. Just promise you have read or will read these!

  • I wanted to write a novel loosely based on my experiences as an eighteen year old right out of high school (with a little ghost story thrown in) and I soon realized, as I put myself back to that time in my mind, that I was a kid. I didn’t think I was a kid. I was real smart. I pretty much had it all figured out. But I didn’t know JACK SQUAT. That’s what I tried to convey in the story, and have the protag realized, kinda sorta.

    The first person thing is interesting. Maybe that’s why all young new writers want to write in first person.

  • Mmmm. Yes. Good. :-p *passes out more of the YA mind control juice*

    In regards to 11, I saw a great quote on the Twitters a few weeks back. I can’t remember who from, but the gist of it went “In YA, you don’t write to how teenagers actually sound to the world, but how they sound to themselves.” Which, if I recall my teen years right, is pretty dang accurate. In my head I was a know-it-all PhD who was the best genius to ever brain. Outside of my head,I was a know-it-all who was usually as awkward as that last sentence.

    • June 4, 2013 at 10:59 AM // Reply

      Heh, I don’t know if it was me that you saw, but I’ve been tweeting that periodically! Basically whenever I get fed up with the criticism that YA sounds too witty (because obviously teenagers want to read about themselves sounding like complete idiots).

    • Heh, I don’t know if it was me that you saw, but I’ve been tweeting that periodically! Basically whenever I get fed up with the criticism that YA sounds too witty (because obviously teenagers want to read about themselves sounding like complete idiots).

      • June 4, 2013 at 1:52 PM // Reply

        It very well may have been you or someone retweeting you. Either way, really good way to think of it, especially when it comes to capturing character voice.

    • June 4, 2013 at 1:51 PM // Reply

      Chuckles, did you change the order on us? Because when I say 11, I mean 14, which was 11 this morning. :-p

  • I started reading middle grade/young adult (again) about 5 years ago, when my oldest child was 7. I wanted to get a good idea of what was out there, so I could make recommendations for her when she hit her pre-teen/teen years. So much of it is great stuff, and the things that irritated me most were your points in 11, 14, and 12. I find that published adult authors who decide to take a swim in YA are the most guilty of “dumbing” things down for teens, and it makes me crazy. The books I’m now recommending with my daughter are the ones with more complicated plots, the ones where BAD THINGS REALLY HAPPEN, the ones where the teens are smart at the same time they make stupid choices, the ones where NO ONE IS TELLING HER HOW TO BEHAVE.

    Now that she’s hitting that 12/13 mark, we’re reading YA books together, so we can *gasp* talk to each other about the stuff that happens in them. In a way, we NEED them to cover the more “scandalous” topics like sex, drinking, and drugs — because it gives us a safer platform for discussing those things and comparing them to our own values. Do we talk about that stuff directly? Yes. But applying those direct conversation in imaginary practice to fictional characters adds more opportunities for her to comfortably talk about those things with both her dad and I. This leads me to specifically *look for* YA books with sex, drinking, and drugs in them.

    In addition to the authors recommended in the post, my daughter and I recommend Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising trilogies. My daughter recommends reading them in that order, as Darkest Powers is predominantly 13 year olds and Darkness Rising is 16 year olds. DP is definitely more middle-grade.

  • One of the books that made me want to write was Stephen King’s Different Seasons — particularly the story, “The Body.” Aside from King going back to the 50s, it was something I totally identified with when I was in 7th/8th grade and read it. I’ve heard some argue that it’s YA — and others say “Nope!” due to how much swearing is in the story and one of the stories told around a campfire. (Not the Revenge of Lardass Hogan — the other story that didn’t make it into Stand by Me.) Regardless of whether people classify it as YA or not, it was one of the few stories that changed me when I read it as a kid. I didn’t care if it was YA or not — it had young teen protagonists my age doing things I did.

    My first novel was YA, and I never viewed it as genre. It’s just a story that happens to feature a teenage protagonist on a road trip with family in a possessed station wagon. I never considered an audience for the story — I just wrote it. The odd/not-so-odd thing is the people I’ve heard from who read the story are generally older than me and liked the nostalgia of it all. Teens who contacted me thought it was funny (and were more likely than adults to listen to the story when I released it as a podcast). Writing for a teen audience and not thinking, “This is YA as a genre!” is a powerful thing. I usually pick books up because they just seem cool, and it’s often when I go online and read about a coming-of-age story I’ve just read that I see people talk about it as YA. When done well, YA books are some of the best damn books written — and at least for me — are just considered books like any other book I’d pick up and read.

  • On “New Adult” – from what I’ve read of new adult romance, it’s basically YA (college age protagonists) with sex – descriptive, detailed, down and dirty sex, which is not allowed in YA mainstream publishing. The characters are not quite full-fledged, career-oriented, finally living out of their parents basement “adults” but are too old to be considered adolescent, hence the term, “new adult”. It’s like a hybrid. I find it funny that this is a “new to market” genre as I was writing this type of fiction 25 years ago, when I was in high school.

  • :Stands up and cheers:

    Seriously–the next time someone asks me why I don’t write books for grown up (which I do, or rather I write stories for anybody), insinuating that what I write aren’t *real* stories, I will just point them to this post.

    Will definitely buy you a drink at Readercon. 🙂 (Though I would have, already!)

  • AFOdom–YES!!!!
    This is exactly what I do with my sons. Though I’ll admit it’s harder to find books dealing with the male POV re: pregnancy, sex etc. plenty on drinking/drugs however. And for the comments on ‘they should read about good adults and using them for reference” my 16y/o would echo Chuck’s “Fuck that noise” sentiment above.
    Teens get plenty of “moralistic” reading from school, in both fiction and non-fiction. When it’s time for a fresh reading CHOICE, as in leisure, then an escapist title about kids doing stupid stuff is always preferred. Why? iFunny, tumblr, Facebook, Instagram exist. And they are very entertaining. OnDemand exists. There is a buffet of crap out there. So consciously choosing to read a book isn’t super high for boys (even those who like books). That story better kick ass, and I’m afraid a lot of mainstream adult characters just…don’t. They do stuff–like Jack Reacher and Alex Cross–that my kid can’t even conceive of, can’t relate to, because he’s still trying to just pass his f-ing driver’s test for Christ’s sake.

    Plotting to take down the homecoming posters as a prank? Totally within his realm….and he’d read it.

  • Very smart and funny and true post. But I think you need to explain the word “genre” again, cuz some people aren’t getting it. In any case, it might be one of those words that is being misused so extensively that it will never regain its specific and original meaning–like “fulsome” or “literally.”

  • My little brother was the perfect example of an intelligent teen with wit. The kind you hate because you know he’s smarter than you. He even circumvented some fights with it. Confused teachers by passing tests without taking notes. Got his electronics taken away for bad grades, and read fat scifi books instead. (We didn’t even know he liked reading.) My brother, the smart, dorky best friend of the main female protagonist, who lives in the friend zone. Yup. They exist.

    In the vein of the post, I read a little YA now and then. I loved Bait Dog and rally want to read Code Name:Verity. But now I have a habit of finding bad, popular YA on purpose just so I can spruce up on my analytical skills. And I have a tiny following for it.

  • Thorough and funny and right on. Totally enjoyed the ride. Genre. Yeah, I teach the difference and can still barely keep it straight. Sci-Fi, romance, historical fiction are genres. Give them a teen protagonist and suddenly it’s YA. I think New Adult is just a protagonist at the upper end of the YA spectrum. 18 or 20–old enough to have been through recovery once and maybe pay some bills.

  • June 4, 2013 at 12:52 PM // Reply

    Well said, Chuck. Well said.

    I am one of those that doesn’t agree with your opinion on NA though. I totally get the argument that we’re breaking the age ranges down too much. You see Middle Grade and then Upper Middle Grade. And people ask, what’s next? Middle Age? Senior Citizen? I get that. But I also get the want/need for NA.

    I didn’t have a job in High School, but I had two in college. And the responsibility of college? And having to pay actual bills now? But out of college I had a “real” job and got engaged. All of these experiences are so different from each other. The short span between HS graduation and becoming a “Real” adult is full of so much that is nothing like any other time in your life.

    I think if we can move from “young reader” to “Middle Grade” to “Young Adult” then we can have “New Adult” before “Adult.”

    But that’s just me. I get the arguments on both sides.

    • Entirely reasonable, and I’m not actually against it — BUT I CANNOT RESIST THE OPPORTUNITY FOR SNARK. I mean, if there’s a niche and readers to support it, let’s embrace it.

  • I love the power and respect you give to YA books, and thoroughly enjoyed most of this article.
    I don’t understand what you mean when you say so forcefully that YA is not a genre, it’s a proposed age range. YA has such a distinct style and voice and theme, as you drew out in the rest of the article. When I pick up a YA book I generally know what I’m getting–which is the purpose of genres. I’m twenty-seven, and I’m an avid YA reader…so how does the “proposed age range” possibly fit? In the same way, many teens don’t read YA because they don’t like the …. proposed age range? No. They don’t like the genre.
    Maybe I’m just surprised. This is the first time I’ve heard that YA isn’t a genre, and it’s easy for me to think of it that way.
    Anyhow, I love your YA books better than your adult books, even if you didn’t write them for me.

    • Is “adult fiction” a genre? Nope! It is an age category. YA books might be given over to certain stylistic components, but YA can be literary, sci-fi, crime, horror, whatever — and those books generally still carry the tropes of the genre.

      I don’t consider YA a genre, though YMMV, of course.

      — c.

      • I think I understand what you mean now. Generally, what I like about the book isn’t the genre, it’s the YA, thus I’ve always thought of it as a genre all its own.
        Perhaps I need to change my verbose about my favorite …. proposed age category to read.
        You’re always challenging my thinking. I must go give this a thorough thinking-through as I do the dishes.

  • Oh, my. I love ALL of this. For my part, I’d add that a lot of ya, the best of ya, is a mix of literary and commercial. And this Is perfect: “genres run and swirl together like paint and make new colors and form new ideas and change the way you think about stories.”

  • June 6, 2013 at 11:54 AM // Reply

    Word. Young adult fantasy and sci-fi are consistently my favorite books to read. I love the immediacy and intensity of first person narrative. And I also really love the issues of disillusionment with the “real world” (whatever world that may be) and fighting against it that is so often found in this genre + age group.

  • 9, 10, and 11 are actually some of my pet peeves about the current state of YA! Fewer things make me stop reading a book faster than first-person present tense, and I really wish there were more writers and agents willing to write books longer than 300 pages. I grew up reading mostly third-person omniscient, which is what I write about 98% of the time. Other than that, it’s something closer to third-person limited, if the story is focused on only one character. It’s reached a point where I truly wonder if writers these days think they HAVE to do FPPT because that’s all they have examples of anymore, and really don’t know how to write third-person or past tense, or don’t realize present tense can work wonderfully with third-person with certain kinds of storylines.

    I’ve been pretty conflicted about whether to query/classify my historicals with younger characters as YA these days. In my reading experience in the last few years, YA has come to mean something rather different than the books about young people I read as a young person. The typical teen of 50+ years ago had experiences that are rather removed from the typical modern teen, like a 16-year-old getting engaged or a 13-year-old having to leave school to help with supporting the family. I also no longer see very many Bildungsroman books, showing a character coming of age over a longer period, like aging from 12-20 instead of only covering a few months.

  • Totally made of win. 🙂

    Re #19–my theory is that part of why adults like to read YA books is that a lot of them are about characters who have hope for the future…and isn’t it preferable to read about people who have hope than about people who don’t (i.e. books about middle aged people watching their lives fall apart)?

  • There are some great books in the YA section. However, I wish YA would never have become a thing. We didn’t read YA when we were teens. If you were someone who liked to read, you read books. Most of the books had adults in them although some had teens, and neither one nor the other set of characters determined whether the book was suitable for a certain age. Also not a fan of “issue” books.

  • i like this.

    im not going to leave a terribly long comment that will try to show off my knowledge like a pretentious ass because i think the statement above is sufficient. i, myself, am a teenager ( i read young adult and hope to publish someday actually) but i like that this is respectful towards the jewel, that is young adult books. often, they are disrespected due to their aimed demographic but authors like john green, michelle hodkin and others have made it into a deeper and more intelligent category, therefore deserve respect. they are great books simply and therefore i like this post. well done.

  • LOVE This. And I’m seriously considering making it a handout I can give to some of my library’s patrons (and a few of the staff).

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made some of these same points, especially #1.

    Thank you, sir.

  • By far the best summary of YA. You are one funny dude, not to mention spot on. I wonder how many agents considered sending a nasty gram in response?

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