The Bookshelf Corner

A creative space for all things books and writing….

What Is Young Adult Literature?

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Recently, I was asked for my thoughts on young adult literature, specifically, its definition. Well, that gave me pause. Off the top of my head I’d say it’s generally books for teenagers but I know it’s so much more. YA is evolving, pushing boundaries so much that it isn’t so simple to define anymore.

I have been reading what is considered young adult literature for about a decade now but never really recognized it as such during those early days – I merely focused on finding good books to read that were at my reading level. Before then, I mostly saw books as either children’s books, chapter books, literary books or adult books. Then I slowly came to know young adult literature as books for 12-18 year-olds dealing with teenage problems. But when books-turned-movies the Twilight saga and Harry Potter brought in people of all ages (please, feel free to correct me if there are earlier popular books turned movies), what I knew of YA literature began to change drastically. And more recently, with the emergence of New Adult books, we now have to wonder what exactly is young adult literature these days?

A Google search on the definition of “young adult” yields: (noun) “a person in their teens or early twenties” or (adjective) “denoting or relating to fiction, films, television programs, etc., intended or suitable for adolescents, especially those in their mid to late teens.”

YA lit is still geared towards 12-18 year-olds but enjoyed widely by those older and (some) younger. Chief conflicts deal with teen-related problems – the trials and tribulations of adolescence – such as sex, coming-of-age, identity/self-discovery, friendship, etc. – things which a teenager can personally identify with.

But YA lit does not always have to centrally deal with teenage problems or the teenage experience so long as the main character(s) is a teenage and the story is told from a teen’s perspective. One reader’s experiences will not always be another reader’s experience even if that experience is derived from the same source. Additionally, the protagonist does not have to relate to the reader. The protagonist needs to come across as a real person with real problems going through real experiences that ultimately lead to a physical, mental, emotional, and/or intellectual change and growth. He or she is acting and reacting in a way that a teenager would – confused, conflicted, moodily, innocently, self-assured, naively, etc. And, if crafted well enough, the reader will experience a journey and growth not their own but as if it were their own.

Essentially: “A YA novel is centrally interested in the experience and growth of its teenage protagonist(s), whose dramatized choices, actions, and concerns drive the story, and it is narrated with immediacy to that teenage perspective.” (Note: source of quote from a handout I got in school)

In the YA books I read as a young adult, I was not looking for a character whose problems related to mine in some way or a story of the teenage experience (for lack of better words). I primarily wanted to be entertained, to be taken on an epic, fantastical journey (characterized by “dramatized choices, actions, and concerns”). At that age, I had very little in common with YA literature and its protagonists – my experiences could hardly be echoed in this area of literature.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that Young Adult Literature are stories told through a teenage perspective in which the subject(s) may push boundaries and, when resolved, lead to change and a hopeful ending.

Of course, this isn’t the definition of YA lit but my current thoughts on the topic. How do you define YA literature? I’d love to here your thoughts about it. Let me know in the comment section below.


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