Hello! Welcome to the first in a series of posts highlighting various genres and concepts inside the writing world. I’ll be opening the floor to questions and suggested articles at the end of this post, and I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
Today’s topic – what is Young Adult fiction?
An Unstoppable Force
As a genre, it feels like YA is now one of the most pervasive genres out there – in fact, its success has catapulted authors like John Green and Veronica Roth into the Forbes Celebrity 100 list.
Though the ‘adult’ fiction market still continues to go steady, it’s undeniable that YA is dominating the market in the best possible way.
So what is YA? If you’re asking me, I would define YA as:
“A genre featuring mid-to-late teenage characters and concepts, with a focus on character growth and self-identification.”
Traditionally, YA has always been ‘targeted’ to teenage readers, but the genre has been pushing the boundaries of its age category. YA no longer means that only teenagers should read it (and I’ll get to that point soon), but instead, simply that the characters are aged in their mid to late teens. There are some great benefits of having teenage characters too.
YA no longer means that only teenagers should read it…
Aside from the obvious fact that YA is a booming commercial market, there are some excellent reasons to choose YA as a genre:
Everyone was a teenager: This might sound silly, but it’s true. At some point, we’ve all been teenagers – whether you’re 15 now, or 19, or even in your twenties and thirties. Your teenage years really form the basis of who you are later in life, so from a writing perspective, it allows us the most amount of character growth.
Readers can suspend their disbelief: When reading, we often have to ignore certain real-world assumptions and practicalities. We place ‘adult’ characters in higher regard and expect them to act logically because of their life experience – with teenagers, we have something of a ‘blank slate’ to work with, and that helps make the plot more dynamic too.
First Times: Similar to the last point, teenage characters let us believably handle ‘first time’ events. These can range from the ordinary – a first kiss, a new school, first car – to the more dramatic – first time shooting a gun, first time fighting, etc.
Best Known For…
There are thousands of YA titles around. The genre is one of the largest in the industry, but just thirty years ago, it was hardly ever heard of.
According to Wikipedia, the real ‘golden age’ of Young Adult started in the 1980s, but I think many readers would agree that the modern generation of YA novels have really only taken off in the past decade.
Undeniably, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was a great boost to the YA genre. Her series started in 1997 as a Middle-Grade fiction about 11-year-old wizards and witches, and carried through into their teenage years – allowing the audience to ‘grow up’ with the characters. The Giver – released four years earlier – would also appear to be highly influential, especially in the dystopian side of YA’s roots.
Everything after that is history: The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, Maze Runner, Unwind, Throne of Glass, Mortal Instruments, and new releases like A Thousand Pieces of You, Spark, Way Down Dark and An Ember in the Ashes are just some of the many, many hundreds of popular YA novels – and that’s without even mentioning John Green, or the works of Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider) and Australian authors like Garth Nix (The Old Kingdom).
“It’s a fantastic win-win situation. People watch the movies and go read the books; and original fans of the books are interested to see their beloved characters appear on-screen.”
Outside of the Western market, YA can be found in Japanese manga – the Shonen Jump publication gave way to popular teenage-targeted series like Dragon Ball, Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist, One Piece and many more (some of which, like Attack on Titan, will be receiving proper box-office adaptations). They typically star teen-aged protagonists struggling to cope with their world being turned upside down.
Movie adaptations of YA novels have been storming through the box-office in recent years, with many of the series I listed already having entire movie franchises dedicated to them. It’s a fantastic win-win situation. People watch the movies and go read the books; and original fans of the books are interested to see their beloved characters appear on-screen. The Mortal Instruments had a rocky start to the big-screen, but has nicely recovered by landing its own television series, Shadowhunters!
YES, Adults Can Read YA
YA still has one hurdle to surmount – a stigma that YA is only for teenagers. The genre unfortunately chose to use the word ‘young’ and as such, many adults shy away from the genre. Articles like this are just one example of the demeaning way that some – not all, but some – adults look down on the YA genre. Frankly, the vitriol that ‘grownup’ writers and reviewers direct at YA can be almost sickening at times, and especially insulting given the tremendous success of young authors.
It’s disappointing and needs to be addressed. There’s nothing inherently ‘childish’ about YA, and in fact, if you read any of the books I mentioned, the amount of graphic content involved would rival many adult novels anyway. Some of the most amazing storylines and worlds can be found in the pages of YA novels, and the faith that large movie studios put in YA novels is proof enough that they are truly accessible to all age categories.
Young Adult is definitely one of my favorite genres at the moment, especially because of its sheer variety and depth of characters. There are so many rich worlds out there to dive into, and the amazing YA community will always be there to help pick out the next incredible book for you to read!
So that’s my look into Young Adult fiction – what do you think? Do you agree/disagree with my analysis of YA? Do you think ‘adult’ writers/readers should give YA more credit? What’s been some of your favorite YA novels?
Leave a comment down below! If you have a suggestion for my next What is… post, please let me know!
Thanks for reading!