What is YA?

I was looking at my bookshelves the other day, and I’ve got quite a few YA books which got me thinking – what is YA?  There are many poorly defined categories but nothing hold a candle to how poorly clarified as “young adult” or teen fiction.  What the heck is teen fiction?  How is that defined? What makes a YA book different than any other book?  And, really, defining a young adult novel is very subjective – what one person calls teen another might not.  There are no clear rules, no cut and dry answers in defining what a book is, but there are some general elements most people will agree are needed to classify a YA novel.

First, it’s a category NOT a genre.  YA is a classification and there are many genres that exist within the broad boundaries: YA science fiction, YA romance, YA dystopia (really a sub-genre but whose getting that specific?), YA realism.  The list goes on.

Second, when looking to identify a YA novel consider the audience.  I’ve referred to this category as YA/young adult/teen fiction for a reason – the main audience is teen, 12-18, that does not mean you can’t read a YA book if you’re 28.  According to this study approximately 55% of YA readers are not in that target audience, not reading a book just because of where it’s shelved is one of the stupider reasons I’ve heard in a while.  Basically, the YA audience is 12-18 but anyone who wants to read a YA book should.  Really that’s about it – the one generally accepted qualifier for this category.

There’s a much longer list of what YA is not.  YA is not giggly romance.  YA is not (just) John Green (much as I love him there is a much wider variety).  YA is not just for girls.  YA is not crummy writing (although the category has its fair share).  YA is not just Twilight and the Hunger Games.

I know that’s an incredibly broad definition for a category but I did say in the beginning that YA is very subjective.  Some people will argue that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a YA book because it tells a classic coming of age story for a young adult, while others will argue that while Francie (the protagonist) falls in the “teen” age group the book is geared towards adults and therefore not a YA book.  I wish I could draw a line in the dirt clearly defining what is and what isn’t YA but I don’t think that can be done for this category.


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