Young adult fiction

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Young-adult fiction)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Young adult fiction (YA) is a category of fiction published for readers in their youth. YA books are catered towards readers from 12 to 18 years of age.[1] While the genre is targeted to teenagers, approximately half of YA readers are adults.[2]

The subject matter and genres of YA correlate with the age and experience of the protagonist. The genres available in YA are expansive and include most of those found in adult fiction. Common themes related to YA include: friendship, first love, relationships, and identity.[3] Stories that focus on the specific challenges of youth are sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming-of-age novels.[4]

YA was developed to soften the transition between children's novels and adult literature.[5] In recent years[when?], diversity has become a defining feature of young adult novels.[citation needed]



The history of young adult literature is tied to the history of how childhood and young adulthood has been perceived. One early writer to recognize young adults as a distinct group was Sarah Trimmer, who, in 1802, described "young adulthood" as lasting from ages 14 to 21.[6] In her children's literature periodical, The Guardian of Education, Trimmer introduced the terms "Books for Children" (for those under fourteen) and "Books for Young Persons" (for those between fourteen and twenty-one), establishing terms of reference for young adult literature that still remains in use.[6] Nineteenth century literature presents several early works, that appealed to young readers,[7] though not necessarily written for them, including The Swiss Family Robinson (1812), Walter Scott's Waverley (1814), Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist (1838), Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), Dickens' Great Expectations (1860), Alice in Wonderland (1865), Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped (1886), Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1894), and Moonfleet (1898) by J. Meade Falkner.[citation needed]

20th century[edit]

In the 1950s, two influential adult novels, The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and Lord of the Flies (1954), which were not initially marketed to adolescents, still attracted the attention of the adolescent demographic.[6]

The modern classification of young-adult fiction originated during the 1950s and 1960s, especially after the publication of S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1967). The novel features a truer, darker side of adolescent life that was not often represented in works of fiction of the time, and was the first novel published specifically marketed for young adults as Hinton was one when she wrote it.[8] Written during high-school and published when Hinton was only 17, The Outsiders also lacked the nostalgic tone common in books about adolescents written by adults.[9] The Outsiders remains one of the best-selling young adult novels of all time.[9]

The 1960s became the era "when the 'under 30' generation became a subject of popular concern, and research on adolescence began to emerge. It was also the decade when literature for adolescents could be said to have come into its own".[10] This increased the discussions about adolescent experiences and the new idea of adolescent authors. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, what has come to be known as the "fab five"[11] were published: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), an autobiography of the early years of American poet Maya Angelou; The Friends (1973) by Rosa Guy; the semi-autobiographical The Bell Jar (US 1963, under a pseudonym; UK 1967) by poet Sylvia Plath; Bless the Beasts and Children (1970) by Glendon Swarthout; and Deathwatch (1972) by Robb White, which was awarded 1973 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery by the Mystery Writers of America. The works of Angelou, Guy, and Plath were not written for young readers.

As publishers began to focus on the emerging adolescent market, booksellers and libraries began creating young adult sections distinct from children's literature and novels written for adults. The 1970s to the mid-1980s have been described as the golden age of young-adult fiction, when challenging novels began speaking directly to the interests of the identified adolescent market.[6]

In the 1980s, young adult literature began pushing the envelope in terms of the subject matter that was considered appropriate for their audience: Books dealing with topics such as rape, suicide, parental death, and murder which had previously been deemed taboo, saw significant critical and commercial success. A flip-side of this trend was a strong revived interest in the romance novel.[citation needed] With an increase in number of teenagers the genre "matured, blossomed, and came into its own, with the better written, more serious, and more varied young adult books (than those) published during the last two decades".[12]

The first novel in J.K. Rowling's seven-book Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was published in 1997. The series was praised for its complexity and maturity, and attracted a wide adult audience. While not technically YA, its success led many to see Harry Potter and its author, J.K. Rowling, as responsible for a resurgence of young adult literature, and re-established the pre-eminent role of speculative fiction in the field,[13] a trend further solidified by The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The end of the decade saw a number of awards appear such as the Michael L. Printz Award and Alex Awards, designed to recognize excellence in writing for young adult audiences.

The category of young adult fiction continues to expand into other media and genres: graphic novels/manga, light novels, fantasy, mystery fiction, romance novels, and even subcategories such as cyberpunk, techno-thrillers, and contemporary Christian fiction.


Many young adult novels feature coming-of-age stories. These feature adolescents beginning to transform into adults, working through personal problems, and learning to take responsibility for their actions.[14] YA serves many literary purposes. It provides a pleasurable reading experience for young people, emphasizing real life experiences and problems in easier-to-grasp ways, and depicts societal functions.[14]

An analysis of YA novels between 1980 to 2000 found seventeen expansive literary themes. The most common of these were friendship, getting into trouble, romantic and sexual interest, and family life.[15] Other common thematic elements revolve around the coming-of-age nature of the texts. This includes narratives about self-identity, life and death, and individuality.[16]


There are no distinguishable differences in genre styles between YA fiction and adult fiction. Some of the most common YA genres include contemporary fiction, fantasy, romance, and dystopian.[17] Genre-blending, which is the combination of multiple genres into one work, is also common in YA.[18]

New adult fiction[edit]

New adult fiction (also known as NA) is a genre, generally written about and aimed towards young adults between 18 and 30 years old.[19] Many publishers specifically target the genre towards the 18 to 24 age range.[20] The term "new adult" was popularized in 2009 when St. Martin's Press ran a contest requesting stories about "a sort of older YA or new adult."[21]

There are some disparities in defining new adult, but it generally focuses on characters exploring the challenges of adult life.[21] Common themes include: relationships, college life, self-identity, new responsibilities, and issues like abuse.[19][20][21] Often, new adult is seen as a subcategory of romance as many books feature themes like sexual exploration.[20] Critics of the new adult genre claim that the terminology is condescending because it implies that readers need "training wheels" before reading adult fiction.[22] It is believed that New Adult bridges the gap between Young Adult and Adult Fiction by detailing how to adjust to life after adolescence.[21]

Popular new adult authors include Jennifer L. Armentrout, Jamie McGuire, Colleen Hoover and Tammara Webber.[23]

Problem novels[edit]

Front cover of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

"Social-problem" novels or problem novels are a sub-genre of literature focusing and commenting on overarching social problems.[24] They are a type of realistic fiction that characteristically depict contemporary issues such as poverty, drugs, and pregnancy.[25] Published in 1967, S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders is often credited as the first problem novel.[26][27] Following this release, problem novels were popularized and dominated during the 1970s.

Sheila Egoff described three reasons why problem novels resonate with adolescents:[28]

  • They depict real situations that the readers are experiencing so they have "therapeutic value"
  • They are interesting, new and foreign to those not experiencing these issues,
  • They feature mature story lines which appeals to a child's desire to grow up.

A classic example of a problem novel and one that defined the sub-genre is Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (pseudonym for Beatrice Sparks) published in 1971. Go Ask Alice is written in first-person as the diary of a young girl who experiences a lot of problems while growing up. In order to cope with her problems, the protagonist begins experimenting with drugs. Modern examples of problem novels include Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Crank by Ellen Hopkins, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.[29]

Boundaries between children's, young adult, and adult fiction[edit]

The distinctions among children's literature, young adult literature, and adult literature have historically been flexible and loosely defined. This line is often policed by adults who feel strongly about the border.[30] At the lower end of the age spectrum, fiction targeted to readers age 9 to 12 is referred to as middle-grade fiction. Some novels originally marketed to adults are of interest and value to adolescents, and vice versa, as in the case of books such as the Harry Potter series of novels.[31]

Some examples of middle grade novels and novel series include the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Some examples of young adult novels and novel series include the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.

Middle grade novels are typically for the ages of 8–12. They tend to have an ATOS level of 5.0 or below, have a smaller word count, and are significantly less mature and complex in theme and content than YA, NA, or adult fiction. Young adult novels are for the ages of 12–18. They tend to have an ATOS level of 5.0 or above, have a larger word count, and tackle more mature and adult themes and content. Middle grade novels usually feature protagonists under the age of 13, whereas young adult novels usually feature protagonists within the age range of 12–18.[citation needed]

Sometimes, a variety of subcategories are recognized. These include early readers and picture books (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Magic Tree House series), chapter books (The Boxcar Children), lower middle grade (Charlotte's Web, Roald Dahl's works), upper middle grade (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the first two Harry Potter installments), new young adult (The Golden Compass, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), young adult (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Harry Potter numbers four, five, and six), and edgy young adult (Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Mockingjay, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Go Ask Alice).[citation needed]

Uses in the classroom[edit]

Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books

YA has been integrated into classrooms to increase student interest in reading. There is a common misconception that YA lit is solely for "struggling" or "reluctant" readers and should only be used in remedial classes. Studies have shown that YA can be beneficial in classroom settings.[32] YA fiction is written for young adults so often it is more relevant to students' social and emotional needs than classic literature.[33] Use of YA in classrooms is linked to:[34]

  • higher levels of engagement and motivation among students
  • increased levels of self-confidence, personal development and self-identification
  • increased desire to read similar books

Students who read YA are more likely to appreciate literature and have stronger reading skills than those that don't.[33] YA also allows teachers to talk about "taboo" or difficult topics with their students. For example, a 2014 study shows that using Laurie Halse Anderson's novel Speak aided in discussions on consent and complicity. Those who read about tough situations, like date rape, are more emotionally prepared to handle the situation if it arises.[34] It is important to use diverse literature in the classroom, especially when discussing taboo topics, to avoid excluding minority students.[34]

Literature written for young adults can also be used as a stepping stone to canonical works that are traditionally read in classrooms, and required by many school curriculums. In Building a Culture of Readers: YA Literature and the Canon by Kara Lycke, Lycke suggests pairing young adult literature and canon works to prepare young adults to understand the classic literature they will encounter.[35] YA can provide familiar and less alienating examples of similar concepts than those in classic literature.[33] Suggested pairings include Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series with the Iliad or the Odyssey, or Stephenie Meyer's Twilight with Wuthering Heights. When discussing identity, Lycke suggests pairing Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter with Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.[35]


Young adult fiction and children's literature in general have historically shown a lack of diversity, that is, a lack of books with a main character who is a person of color, LGBT, or disabled. The numbers of children's book authors have shown a similar lack of diversity.[36] Diversity is considered beneficial since it encourages children of diverse backgrounds to read and it teaches children of all backgrounds an accurate view of the world around them.[37] In the mid-2010's, more attention was drawn to this problem from various quarters.[38] In the several years following, diversity numbers seem to have improved: One survey showed that in 2017, a quarter of children's books were about minority protagonists, almost a 10% increase from 2016.[36]


Various young adult fiction awards are presented annually, and mark outstanding adolescent literature writing.

Award Title Organization Founded Description References
Alex Awards YALSA 1998 Given annually to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults. The winning titles are selected from the previous year's publishing. [39]
American Indians in Children's Literature Awards American Indians in Children's Literature 2010 Awards best books in the categories of Comics and Graphic Novels, Board Books, Picture Books, For Middle Grades, and For High School. There are separate award categories for books written and/or illustrated by Natives and those written and/or illustrated by people who are not Native. [40]
Américas Award CLASP 1993 Recognizes U.S. works of children’s and young adult fiction, poetry, folklore, and selected non-fiction that authentically portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. [41]
Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature APALA 1980 Honors individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage, based on literary and artistic merit. Awards are given in the categories of Children's Literature, Young Adult Literature, and Picture Books. [42]
Coretta Scott King Award Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table/ALA 1970 Awarded annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults. [43]
Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Ezra Jack Keats Foundation 1985 Awarded annually to emerging talent in the field of children's books whose books celebrate originality, diversity, and family. [44]
Jane Addams Children's Book Award Jane Addams Peace Association 1953 Given annually to children's books that promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and equality of the sexes and all races. [45]
Margaret A. Edwards Award YALSA/SLJ 1988 Honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. It recognizes an author's work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world. [46]
Michael L. Printz Award ALA 2000 Given to a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a Topeka, Kansas school librarian who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. [47]
New Visions Award Tu Books 2009 Awarded for a debut novel by a new writer of color. [48]
New Voices Award Lee & Low 2000 Awarded to an unpublished children's picture book written by a person of color. [49]
Odyssey Award ALSC/YALSA 2008 Honors the producer of the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States. [50]
Stonewall Book Award Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table/ALA 1971 Awards books that have exceptional merit relating to the LGBTQ experience. [51]
William C. Morris YA Award ALA 2009 Honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The first was given to Elizabeth C. Bunce for A Curse Dark as Gold. [52]
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction YALSA 2010 Honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults annually. [53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Young Adult Book Market Facts and Figures". The Balance. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  2. ^ Kitchener, Caroline. "Why So Many Adults Read Young-Adult Literature". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  4. ^ Lamb, Nancy, Crafting Stories for Children. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, p. 24
  5. ^ Dunning, Stephen (1962). "Criticism and the "Young Adult Novel"". The High School Journal. 45 (5): 208–213. JSTOR 40366769.
  6. ^ a b c d Owen, Mary, "Developing a Love of Reading"
  7. ^ (Garland 1998, p. 6)
  8. ^ Michaud, Jon (2014-10-14). "S. E. Hinton and the Y.A. Debate". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  9. ^ a b Dale Peck, 'The Outsiders': 40 Years Later, New York Times, 23 September 2007
  10. ^ Cart, p. 43,
  11. ^ Cart, p. 77.
  12. ^ Tomlinson and Lynch-Brown, p. 5.
  13. ^ Grady, Constance (26 June 2017). "The Outsiders reinvented young adult fiction. Harry Potter made it inescapable". Vox. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  14. ^ a b "Qualities of Young Adult Literature |". Retrieved 2018-04-01.
  15. ^ Wells, April (2003). "Themes Found in Young Adult Literature: A comparative study between 1980 and 2000" (PDF).
  16. ^ Risku, Johanna. ""We Are All Adolescents Now" The Problematics of Categorizing Young Adult Fiction as a Genre" (PDF).
  17. ^ "Explore the Themes and Genres of Young Adult Books". Retrieved 2018-04-01.
  18. ^ "YA Genre-Blending | Focus On | School Library Journal". Retrieved 2018-04-01.
  19. ^ a b Wetta, Molly. "What is New Adult Fiction, Anyway? | NoveList | EBSCOhost". Retrieved 2018-03-25.
  20. ^ a b c What Is New Adult Fiction?, by Gillian Engberg | Booklist Online.
  21. ^ a b c d Naughton, Julie (2014). "New Adult: A Book Category For Twentysomethings by Twentysomethings". Retrieved 2018-03-25.
  22. ^ Sarner, Lauren (2013-08-14). "The Problem With New Adult Books". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2018-03-25.
  23. ^ Donahue, Deidre (2013). ""New Adult" is growing up and finding its way". Retrieved 2018-03-25.
  24. ^ "Social problem novel | literature". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  25. ^ Gallo, Donald (1989). "Problem Novels". Children's Literature Review. 142 – via Gale.
  26. ^ Cart, Michael (2016). "Young Adult Literature: The State of a Restless Art". Youth Services. 5.
  27. ^ Nichols, Kristen (2005). "Teen pregnancy in young adult literature". Iowa State University Digital Repository.
  28. ^ Sturm, Brian; Michel, Karin (Winter 2008). "The Structure of Power in Young Adult Problem Novels". Young Adult Library Services. 7.
  29. ^ "Popular Problem Novels Books". Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  30. ^ Richard Flynn, Boundary Issues, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 2008
  31. ^ Backes, Laura Backes. "The Difference Between Middle School and Young Adult". Children's Book Insider. Archived from the original on 6 January 2002.
  32. ^ Hays, Alice (2016-07-08). "Using Young Adult (YA) Literature in a Classroom: How Does YA Literature Impact Writing Literacies". Study and Scrutiny: Research on Young Adult Literature. 2 (1): 53–86. doi:10.15763/issn.2376-5275.2016.2.1.53-86. ISSN 2376-5275.
  33. ^ a b c Ostenson, Jonathan; Wadham, Rachel (Fall 2012). "Young Adult Literature and the Common Core: A Surprisingly Good Fit". American Secondary Education. Bowling Green. 41: 4–13.
  34. ^ a b c Scherff, Lisa; Groenke, Susan (April 2009). "Young Adult Literature in Today's Classroom". English Leadership Quarterly. 31: 1–3.
  35. ^ a b Lycke, Kara (Summer 2014). "Building a Culture of Readers: YA Literature and the Canon". SIGNAL Journal: 24–29.
  36. ^ a b "Children's Books by and About People of Color". Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  37. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". We Need Diverse Books (WNDB). Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  38. ^ Charles, Ron (3 January 2018). "'We need diverse books,' they said. And now a group's dream is coming to fruition". Washington Post. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  39. ^ "Alex Awards". American Library Association. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  40. ^ "Best Books". American Indians in Children's Literature. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  41. ^ "Américas Award". (CLASP) Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  42. ^ "Literature Award Guidelines and Nominations". (APALA) Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  43. ^ "The Coretta Scott King Book Awards". American Library Association. January 18, 2009.
  44. ^ "A History of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation". Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  45. ^ "What is the Jane Addams Children's Book Award?". Jane Addams Peace Association. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  46. ^ "Margaret A. Edwards Award". American Library Association. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  47. ^ "Michael L. Printz Award". American Library Association. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  48. ^ "New Visions Award for Authors of Color". Lee & Low Books. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  49. ^ "New Voices Award". Lee & Low Books. Retrieved April 1, 2009.
  50. ^ "Odyssey Award". American Library Association. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  51. ^ "Stonewall Book Awards". American Library Association. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  52. ^ "William C. Morris YA Debut Award". American Library Association. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  53. ^ "YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults". American Library Association. Archived from the original on January 19, 2009. Retrieved October 2, 2010.

External links[edit]