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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196 responses to “25 Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction”

  1. This is great. I’ve been writing and publishing short fiction for years, but I just published my first teen novel last summer. I’m well into the next one, and I’ve finally figured out that teens like to read about death and angst and all the other nasty things that seem to appear with adolescence. I appreciate this advice. I just wish I’d learned it sooner. And my book (more of tweens novel) is KESH, published by Wild Child Publishing.

  2. ” I always thought that 19-25 year olds were just regular old adults by then”

    NOOO. Not at all. I truly think there needs to be a full-blown New Adult age range for books. I’m in the 18-24 bracket and would love to read books exploring my age group. This is a tough transitional time (at least for me it is) and a lot of adult fiction tends to focus on middle-aged adults with careers, houses, kids, etc. I feel like I can’t relate to teenagers, but I can’t relate to adults either even though I guess I am legally an adult.

    • Thanks Beth for this post. I am revising my first novel about a couple in this age group. It is a VERY difficult time in a young person’s life and makes for interesting writing and reading. I know that when I get ready to query my novel I will have a difficult time saying what it is…I’ve decided to call it a “Coming of Age” novel… I’ll leave it to the professionals to decide. I just don’t know how to choose and agent if they are all going to “genre” like agencies.

  3. I was reminded of this post today when I was standing in the Young Adult Section of the Barnes and Noble near my house. I overheard a conservation between two women, both of whom were in their late twenties. The one woman had begun to make fun of the other for wanting to purchase books from the Young Adult Section.

    She told her friend, “Those are books for teenagers. Do you want to be seen reading the same book as the kids in middle school and high school?”

    Dismissing a book strictly because of it’s intended demographic is one of the most absurd notions. But sadly, many people steer clear of books categorized as young adult, believing themselves to be too old.

    I was so baffled and slightly enraged by this woman’s words. I wrote a blog post about how young adult books are not strictly meant for teenagers because of what this woman said.

    For anyone that’s interested, I’ve included the link: http://ryanndannelly.blogspot.com/2014/02/young-adult-books-are-not-just-meant.html

  4. […] in YA, you'll see all kinds of dark subject matter. Chuck Wendig talks about this on his blog (25 Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction « terribleminds: chuck wendig) – warning for language (it is Wendig after all). Two of his points are particularly pertinent: […]

  5. @Scott: First off I hope you read these. With that said, I write adult suspense thriller. I have a badass protagonist who is a freedom fighter. A week ago I received a request to join a YA group on LinkedIn. I thought it was a joke, and e-mailed the requester. You bet, she said. So I figured I’d start with a short story. I took my protagonists granddaughter. Made her a child prodigy and a gymnastic champion. The novel starts with the world championship meet. She is 17 and has a double masters in quantum physics and IT. Shes retiring after the meet and joining a special advanced PhD program run by grandpa’s girlfriend and funded by the Alphabet Soup community.The expectation is that these child prodigies will join the CIA, NSA, etc. after graduation. Not so for Jules, she wants to join The Corporation. Grandpa’s company, that reports only to God and Old Glory. They don’t have rules, they decide who the good and bad guy’s are. They work under a Presidential Finding and protect the Constitution against terrorists–foreign and domestic. Jules wants to do good for humanity, but the bad girl in her wan’ts to be a spy–just like grandpa.

    My short is up to 7000 words… Shit, I’m having a ball. So yeah, it’s gonna be a novel.

    One: is my protagonist too old. Is it YA and a half.
    Two: Can she say SHIT.
    Three: I’ll approach sex, talk about it, but no scenes…I’ll save that for my adult novels.

    I can back peddle at this point if I have to. She has a great supporting cast. Hot scientists–I mean HOT– who work for The Corporation and are bad-asses, too. One of the students doesn’t show up the first day of school. A second is missing the next day. It’s spring break on South padre Island and Phish is wrapping it up. Anna her mentor thinks the kids went home to mommy–Jules thinks different. And will find out on her own. BTW, people want grandpa dead. Jules may be a target, too. Fuck it (ok I’m sure I can’t say that), says Jules, she’s going full bore, and It’s gonna get nasty.

    I’d sure like your thoughts.

    My e-mail is:


    Best regards,

    Grandpa Gene aka Buck Axele Davidssen, B.A.D.

  6. I really wish people would stop confusing young adult and teen fiction. Its precisely because people seem to think the two mean the same thing that we get silly labels like “New Adult” which would be redundant if people weren’t abusing what “young adult” means. I just don’t understand how people can confuse “young adult” for teen fiction. By the very fact that the word “adult” is in the label, it should be clear that you have to at least be an adult, which means 18. If you are under that age, you are a minor, a teen and young adult is not an adequate description. Its no wonder there are few books for the 18-25 age group because the genre that should represent them is being used for teens…

    • Wow, that was really stupid. Teenagers are young adults. Just because they’re not *legally* adults doesn’t make them not adults. Maturity-wise, there’s not that much difference between a sixteen year old, a seventeen year old, and eighteen year old, and a nineteen year old. If you meant a group of kids on the street who were between those ages, you wouldn’t be able to tell the “adults” from the “children.” You’re just arguing semantics, really. It makes no difference what it’s called. If there’s no actual, real-life distinction between what people call young adult fiction and fiction that is for teens, then there really is no difference.

  7. This was fantastic! Thank you for sharing. There are so many with a story to tell and not enough guts or know-how to share with others. Personally, I began in critique groups and am just finishing the fourth in a YA (grouped in romance and fantasy) series. I wish I had seen this during book one 🙂 Cheers!

  8. […] When I started my venture into the creative writing field, I had no idea what “YA” meant. Like the Google Queen I am, I learned that there is a whole subset of young adult books for high school teenagers. So what is it anyway? Here is an excellent and somewhat comical article by author Chuck Wendig. […]

  9. I just read your blog for the first time, and I’m glad I ran across it. First, I laughed really hard, and also obtained some important facts that have been eluding me. Onward, onward!! And thank you.

  10. Thanks, Chuck. I wrote a YA book. A weird ass book with sex and profanity and terminal heart disease and cyborgs. All the people in my crit group keep going. Too much snark, too much profanity, sex, drugs. Gasp! Think of the children! This solidifies that I was right all along and that my book is what it is. I shall wave this article under their noses while refraining from chanting, “So there. Nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa.”

  11. I haven’t even finished this article and I am in tears from laughter. Kudos to you…it is phenomenal and I’m going to share the shit out of it. Now back to reading!

  12. “Holy s***, have you read Code Name Verity?”

    I happy danced. Go CNV!!!

    I thought the rest of this post was also intelligent, funny and true. Especially the “teens are capable of intelligence” bit.

  13. I opted for third-person, and I don’t think I could have taken it seriously as a first-person narrative. I have been repulsed trying to get into first-person / present-tense fiction. It just doesn’t click. So tedious.

    Perhaps that’s a mistake, but I’m very happy with the result. It’s not just a YA novel, and people across generations have responded positively (and a few negatively). My intent was a wider appeal than just young teens, although the main character is such a person. It’s an epic, a war story and with a science fiction twist. My first priority was the story, not the marketing rules.

  14. The shelving looking like a toddler did it! ROFLMAO!!!!
    the MG and YA age range is awesome to write in because so many young people out there WANT to read. They want to dive into books and enjoy them like they enjoyed the thin chapter books of their elementary age. Now that their attention spans are longer and they can read more books they should be able to read anything they can get their hands on.

    For me as a teen it was hard to find quality MG and YA books, the ones that could stand toe to toe with Redwall, and Harry Potter. Its awesome to see more writers contributing to filling that gap!

    Me, I write science fiction for the MG/YA audience because I want to inspire tomorrow’s scientists and astronauts!

  15. I’m 22 dammit and I’ll read YA because I like YA *holds up torch and pitchfork.* (Sometimes I think I am still funny.) The books that really got me into reading again, when I was in 5th or 6th grade, was Crispin (and the cross of lead, I think) and The Lost Years of Merlin series. Then as a teen it was Twilight *shivers.* But ever since those books, I’ve always found myself skipping “adult literature” (or more appropriately “lots-of-sex literature”) and going towards teen books again. I enjoyed my teenage years, and I think I was quite mature for a teen. Many YA books don’t exactly give me that nostalgic feeling of meeting my first boyfriend (he was a jerk) or having my first kiss (he was a jerk.) I think it’s because it feels fresh, for having teens almost be adults and are transitioning like I did from junior high to high school and eventually college. No one really gives me a second look in college when I’m sitting in the library reading Insurgent or City of Glass. Never once was I asked “Why are you reading that sappy teen book?” because, frankly, no one cares or even should care that I’m an adult and I am reading YA. Most likely that said person probably never even read the book and enjoyed it in its beauty. Even if I was ten years older, I will still probably enjoy reading YA.

  16. I like YA because I like the naked honest emotion that comes through. The yearning. I get tired of burned-out world-weary protagonists in thrillers. Some days you don’t want to hear about AA meetings and delinquent child support.

    Although the present tense fad and trend has caused me to drop many a book. I do not like it. It feels gimmicky and clunky. It takes a really skilled writer to do present tense in such a way that I can ignore it. I don’t like writers who yell LOOK AT ME, LOOK HOW CLEVER I AM, LOVE ME PLEASE FOR MY CLEVERNESS PLEASE as I read a book. When your technical structure intrudes on my story, I move on to the next book.

    But back to the appeal. Certainly not nostalgic, but refreshing. When those emotions were so fresh and right on top of your skin. There is magic in that. Harry Potter was one of those who did it first and best.

    Books with teens have always been around. I read Nancy Drew obsessively. Then it went into Judy Blume land and everything became an Afterschool Special (Eve, The Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic.)

    Like everyone else, I have a YA book in mind. It will be first person, but not present tense. A small town crime drama with a natural disaster thrown in. Bottom line, the tornado didn’t shoot those people in the head. Interspersed with an MC having to face that she’s not as hip and social-justice sophisticated as she thought.

    I do like the idea of novels centered around what 20-somethings are facing in this world that doesn’t really know what to do with them. I’m working on a short right now about two 20-year-old guys. Pure dystopian sci-fi. I made them 20, because in this harsh society, at that age, you are totally on your own. Capable of doing the work of a man, ready to throw back a brew, but still a kid at heart. We’ll see how it works out.


  17. Love this post, there’s so much to learn. I’m halfway through my first YA book with several more plotted. I think I worked out the main plot points and scenes, now just have to fill things in. Trying to add a lot of conflict; it may come of as melodramatic but the same dramatic things seem to show up in most of the YA I read. Can’t wait to see how it does on the market.

  18. As others have already said, you make many points that are useful and relevant to the general YA lit discussion, but I simply disagree with a lot of what you argue here (In the interest of full disclosure, I am an assistant professor who teachers courses in children’s and YA lit at a university in Tennessee). For example, you claim that YA lit is not a genre, but a target readership. However, a specific readership’s expectations is part of what defines a genre. You are right, of course, to point out that YA lit encompasses and yet flouts the boundaries of many genres, but that is true of every genres out there. Ultimately, I have found a lot of great ideas in your post, and I plan on using some of what you have argued here in my courses. I believe they will help facilitate good discussions/disagreements among my students (which is part of asking students to think for themselves . . . in other words, I hope they agree and disagree with you AND me on many things). Thank you for the post.

  19. #7 just summarized my entire career in the Navy. LOL… Thank you for clearing up a lot of misconceptions I had about what I’m writing. I didn’t know if I should say YA, women’s fiction, fantasy, horror, or what. Now that I can confidently say YA I am so relieved. My first book featured a teen, but I watched my writing get darker and darker and I didn’t know if it was appropriate for YA. This article helps tremendously, now that I’m on my second book and it’s even darker than the first, and certainly more graphic. I’m sure teens and adults will love it. I certainly do.

  20. Just because YA is willing to take on subjects that adult fiction hasn’t as yet, doesn’t mean they’re able to frame and analyze it in the same complexity that adult fiction can. Don’t mistake bravura for insight.

    Also, what people consider intelligence and wit a negative quality. This sounds like a trumped up charge to me.

    I’ve read and enjoyed novels before that could be classed as YA, but I don’t pretend they’re something they’re not – a replacement for work that truly embraces what it means to be an adult. That is, someone who sees the whole world, and strives to understand and live in it.

  21. 19 years old is certainly not a “regular old adult”. Though I suppose that 12-13 year-old “YA adults” aren’t exactly adults either, so maybe in terms of reading level 19 year-olds are proper adults. But they’re certainly very young in their own right. Honestly, I always thought of YA lit as being intended (despite the title) more for the middle-school/pre-teen crowd, since as 16-18 year-olds always struck me as regular and suitable readers of most adult lit (though probably more advanced stuff in the vein of Tolstoy/Faulkner/Proust or ancient philosophy is better suited to the college-educated, higher-IQ’d, or very experienced readers).

  22. Additionally it is very often that I encounter what seem to be (obviously) child-level books mixed in together with YA books at the library or bookstore. I would feel pretty weird if I were 17, and was shifting through Roald Dahl and Beverly Cleary books in a section intended “for me”. But oh well.

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