What Makes a Book ‘Young Adult’ (YA)?

Young Adult is one of those wishy-washy categories that no one really agrees on. Traditionally, Young Adult are ‘coming of age’ stories, with teenage protagonists for teenage readers. This creates a little too much wriggle room for marketers, and literary critics. For example in America, ‘The Book Thief’ is classed as an adult book, and in Australia it is considered Young Adult. Perhaps this is because the American market think young adults have no interest in war themes, or perhaps they don’t think it is relatable enough for teenagers. It’s anyone guess.

In my own opinion – Young Adult should not be categorised based on its readership age – just the content. Now I’m not one to go ahead and post a scholarly article to educate anyone, just my opinion. Though, now that I think about it… Theories are opinions only. So without further ado, see below for A. Wallin’s theories on categorising ‘Young Adult’ literature based upon content.

  1. Teen Problems aren’t Patronised

Young Adult differs from Adult in that the problems any teen character experiences, from running on no sleep and constant bitchiness, to mental disorders and traumatic experiences, aren’t belittled. In a lot of adult books I have read, the teenager is the theatrically irritable character that selfishly strives to create dramatics for the protagonist. In Adult Fiction – the teenager is almost sub-human. In Young Adult – nothing is trivialised, at least not to the audience.

  1. Raw Content Minus the Dets (jeez Amy this is a scholarly article, write the full word…)

There isn’t a lot that Young Adult won’t explore: rape, mental disorders, murder, incest, dating vampires… but everything is still a little censored. Nothing is described in the kind of detail that could scar a fellow. The truly gory stuff is danced around, hinted at, or made into metaphor. Authors and publishers want readers informed but not traumatised.

  1. The Protagonist Embodies the Teenage Condition

In an extremely general way of speaking, adults have gone on their journey of self-discovery – they know who they are, they know who they want to be, they are probably well on their way to becoming that person if they are not already. Teenagers and young adults – not so much. They (we) have self-doubt, they have desires to improve themselves or their situation. Notice how this doesn’t box in any particular age group – it is just prevalent in teenagers – and young adults.

As the current fandoms are aging out of the old YA target of 12-18 year olds, publishers have begun to market YA to 25 year olds. Which means the old definitions have to change also. The term ‘Young Adult’ has proven itself to be fluid in its definition and constraints. What has stood for YA in the past, now no longer applies. I fully expect my own definition to change as the reading environments continue to develop.

So let’s just say for 2015 at least, A. Wallin’s three conditions of ‘Young Adult’ literature based upon content are written in stone. On my couch anyway.


3 thoughts on “What Makes a Book ‘Young Adult’ (YA)?

  1. Bec Graham

    Nice! YA is such a weird category I think everyone has different definitions for it, but yours definitely incorporate into mine! I think the fact that YA reader our age are growing up is the reason “New Adult” is a thing. It’s not a well known thing, really, but I have heard if it. I’ve even heard it shortened to “NA” but that just makes me think of those Narcotics Anonymous ads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amy Wallin Post author

      Yes I ave read alot more about NA recently. That make me wonder if I should stop like NA or YA when I have been an adult for a fair amount of time? I mean I pay bills. I fix lightbulbs (some). When does all my lightbulb training make me not like NA/YA. Will they give it a new name?


      1. Bec Graham

        Hmmm….maybe they’ll just stop trying to categorise it eventually given that we are unlikely to ever stop reading YA. I could see myself being 70 and still being in love with Will Herondale. Or maybe they’ll name it something like “nostalgia”. You know, so we can always look back and remember our youth.

        Even though, one day I would like to prefer the general fiction section to the YA section…but YA stories are so much more awesome than normal fiction!



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