Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Makes a Book "Young Adult?"

It's been a long time since I posted a question, but here's one that I've been pondering for quite some time.

What makes a book “Young Adult?” I know that the age of the characters is a big part of that nomenclature. But isn’t there more to it? 

Last year when I started reading Revolution, I remember thinking, “Oh, I thought this was YA.” I didn’t think it read like a YA book (even though I thought teens would love it.) Then I found out it IS considered a YA book. But there’s nothing to keep an adult from whole-heartedly loving that book. I was confused.

I’m currently reading Strings Attached. I know the main characters are teens, but I really think this book has very limited appeal to the teens I deal with on a daily basis. Not that it isn’t a good book, but I keep thinking of my mom, who was a teen during this period of time, as I read this book. I want to recommend it to her—I think she’d love it.

Is it just the age of the characters? Or is there more?

The main character/narrator in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is eleven years old. I don’t think a single eleven year old would enjoy that book, and not many teens would either (although I LOVED it.) In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander is in her teens or maybe early twenties. This book isn’t marketed for YA, but certainly could be enjoyed by teens.

I know when it comes to book that include romance, if there’s too much sex, that book is going to be marketed to adults. No brainer. Same for language. What about violence? Is there a limit to how much violence is in YA books? I think there is, but I can’t say I have read many overly violent adult books, so I don’t have any comparisons. (Sex I’ve read; violence, not so much.)

There are so many examples that don’t “fit.” Besides the age of the characters, what makes you think “teen” when you read a book?

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  1. I read Tender Morsels last year. It is considered YA, has won some crazy amazing awards, but I can't see a Teen enjoying it. You open some great questions, not all of them I have answers for, just opinions.

    In middle school I read mostly YA, in High School I read mostly adult. It depends on the kid, it depends on what kind of people are marketed. That's my thoughts anyway. I think we sometimes forget YA isn't a genre, it is an age group.

  2. The YA with lots of violence would be Hunger Games in my opinion.

    You ask an interestng question. I do not enjoy YA that much because of the lack of detail or really getting into a story but this is not for all. Kind of the G rated version of stories.

    There have been some YA that I love, eg. Wake Trilogy

    I will have to come back to see what others have to say.

  3. I don't think there's an easy answer to this question. I guess it mainly goes on the age of the characters but the more 'serious' stuff is also marketed for adults?

    I too will be checking back to see what others have to say about this :)

  4. For me, the tip off for YA is it usually involves an overwrought love story between two teens. That's how I know it's not for adults ;)

  5. Sometimes, it's hard to distinguish because the line is blurry. To me, a YA doesn't just have teen characters, it deals with teen issues (growing up, crushes, love, finding yourself, and so on), and it's written for teens.

    Of course, anyone can read YA, especially since everyone was a YA at one point! Plus, they're so well written and there are so many these days, they're hard to miss.

    Great question!
    Mary @ BookSwarm

  6. I think the YA category is constantly evolvig. I have no idea. Like you, I think there seems to be plenty of exceptions.

  7. There are certain features that I think are more common in YA books (though they are certainly not found in ALL YA books and they can be found in adult books)

    -A MC who changes or grows throughout the course of the book
    -Strong first person narration (sometimes more than one narrator)
    -A deeper development of the MC's internal thoughts and feelings
    -The dilemma of the story often focuses on personal growth or realization
    -Themes that touch on the adolescent experience
    -Less sex (though this is changing)
    -Usually a YA-aged protagonist

    There's just a "feel" to YA books that I can't really put into words but it is definitely there.

    My biggest pet peeve about YA books is that adults think they're inferior or more simple than adult books. That isn't true.

  8. The whole YA genre is overly broad. The books written for middle schoolers are generally thrown either in YA or with the children's books when they don't belong with either.

    I think for the most part books are placed in YA because of the age of the main character and a lot of books that would have been considered adult 10 or 15 years ago are now placed in YA (because there wasn't much YA for older teens back when we were young)


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