I gave the short answer: “When the protagonist is a young person.”
That didn’t quite satisfy. After all, scads of books have a teen as a main character, and those aren’t always categorized as Young Adult. A conversation ensued about various popular books labeled as YA.
It’s not as straightforward as one would think.
I thought I’d ask some YA authors.
“Young Adult readers range from age 13 up. Many of my readers are adults who prefer the “clean” nature typically associated with YA. Stories may feature mature themes, but do so without resorting to graphic sex or violence.”
Felicia Bridges, author of the award winning International Mission Force series
While Young adult novels are written for people between 12 and 18 years of age, about half of YA readers are 18 and up. Within the genre the categories include most of those that are found in adult fiction, such as Mystery, Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Sci-Fi, and more.
The protagonist is young, usually 14 to 20 years of age. The themes are relevant to teens and their experience. I think what defines the genre is the age of the main character, although coming of age novels for the adult market may also have a young protagonist, so that isn’t the only criteria.
“YA novels give insight into the issues teens are facing and the steps they can take to battle them. Sometimes those issues aren’t one the reader has faced personally, but viewing the struggle through a character’s life tears down judgments. And the world really needs less judgment and more understanding.”
Sarah Tipton, author of Betrayal of the Band, 2018 Carol Award Winner
Teens have a different set of problems they are concerned with, and this comes across in young adult fiction. Friendship, self-discovery, identity, and first love are all things adults can relate to, but these are in the forefront of teens’ thoughts as they navigate the turbulent years preceding adulthood.
Young adults are often idealistic and full of hope, and that is reflected in much YA fiction. It is entertaining and has all the feels. Some brings attention to issues we should take a hard look at and can foster understanding.
Recently I followed a conversation in one of my Facebook readers groups and was surprised at how many people suffer from literary snobbery and will not so much as crack open a young adult book. I think they are missing out.
Do you have a favorite YA novel? Share it. I’m always adding to my TBR list.