Young Adult Fiction
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Young Adult Fiction

Young adult fiction (YA) is a category of fiction written for readers from 12 to 18 years of age.[1][2] While the genre is targeted to adolescents, approximately half of YA readers are adults.[3]

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.[4] Stories that focus on the specific challenges of youth are sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming-of-age novels.[5]

Young adult fiction was developed to soften the transition between children's novels and adult literature.[6]



Title page from Sarah Trimmer's The Guardian of Education, vol. I, 1802

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.[7] 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 remain in use.[7] Nineteenth and early twentieth century authors present several early works that appealed to young readers,[8] though not necessarily written for them such as Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Francis Hodgson Burnett, Edith Nesbit, JM Barrie, L. Frank Baum, Astrid Lindgren, Enid Blyton, CS Lewis.[9]

20th century

In the 1950s, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), attracted the attention of the adolescent demographic although it was written for adults. The themes of adolescent angst and alienation in the novel have become synonymous with young adult literature.[7]

The modern classification of young-adult fiction originated during the 1960s, 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.[10][11] Written during high school and published when Hinton was only 16,[12] The Outsiders also lacked the nostalgic tone common in books about adolescents written by adults.[13] The Outsiders remains one of the best-selling young adult novels of all time.[13]

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".[14] 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"[15] 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.[7]

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.[16] A flip-side of this trend was a strong revived interest in the romance novel, including young adult romance.[17] 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".[18]

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,[19] 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.

21st century

Since about 2017, issues related to diversity and sensitivity in English-language young adult fiction have become increasingly contentious. Fans frequently criticize authors - including those who themselves belong to minorities - for "appropriating" or wrongly portraying the experiences of minority or disadvantaged groups. Publishers have withdrawn several planned young adult novels from publication after they met with pushback on these grounds from readers on websites such as Goodreads. Authors have reported harassment, demands to cease writing, and death threats over social media.[20][21][22] To prevent offending readers, publishers increasingly, though with mixed success, employ "sensitivity readers" to screen texts for material that could cause offense.[23][24][25]


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.[26] 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.[26]

An analysis of YA novels between 1980 and 2000 found seventeen expansive literary themes. The most common of these were friendship, getting into trouble, romantic and sexual interest, and family life.[27] 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.[28]


There are no distinguishable differences in genre styles between YA fiction and adult fiction.[29][page needed] Some of the most common YA genres include contemporary fiction, fantasy, romance, and dystopian.[30] Hybrid genres are also common in YA.[31]

New adult fiction

New adult (NA) fiction, also rendered as new-adult fiction, is a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-30 age bracket.[32] St. Martin's Press first coined the term in 2009, when they held a special call for "fiction similar to Young adult fiction (YA) that can be published and marketed as adult--a sort of an 'older YA' or 'new adult'".[33] New adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices.[34] The genre has gained popularity rapidly over the last few years, particularly through books by self-published bestselling authors like Jennifer L. Armentrout, Cora Carmack, Colleen Hoover, Anna Todd, and Jamie McGuire.[35][36]

The genre originally faced criticism, as some viewed it as a marketing scheme,[37] while others claimed the readership was not there to publish the material.[38] In contrast, others claimed the term was necessary; a publicist for HarperCollins described it as "a convenient label because it allows parents and bookstores and interested readers to know what is inside".[39]

Examples of books in the new adult genre include Sarah J. Maas's A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass, Jennifer L. Armentrout's Wait For You, Jamie McGuire's Beautiful Disaster,[40] Colleen Hoover's Slammed,[41] Cora Carmack's Losing It,[42] Kendall Ryan's The Impact of You[43] and Casey McQuiston's Red, White & Royal Blue.[44]

Problem novels

"Social-problem" novels or problem novels are a sub-genre of literature focusing and commenting on overarching social problems.[45] They are typically a type of realistic fiction that characteristically depict contemporary issues such as poverty, drugs, and pregnancy.[46] Published in 1967, S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders is often credited as the first problem novel.[47][48] Following this release, problem novels were popularized and dominated during the 1970s.[]

Sheila Egoff described three reasons why problem novels resonate with adolescents:[49]

  • 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 appeal 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.[50]

Boundaries between children's, young adult, and adult fiction

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.[51] At the lower end of the age spectrum, fiction targeted to readers age 8-12 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.[52]

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, the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz 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.[53]

Uses in the classroom

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 be reserved for remedial classes. Studies have shown that YA can be beneficial in classroom settings.[54] YA fiction is written for young adults and so it is often more relevant to students' social and emotional needs than is classic literature.[55] Use of YA in classrooms is linked to:[56]

  • 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 others.[55] 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.[56] It is important to use diverse literature in the classroom, especially in discussing taboo topics, to avoid excluding minority students.[56]

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.[57] YA can provide familiar and less alienating examples of similar concepts than those in classic literature.[55] 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.[57]


English language young adult fiction and children's literature in general have historically shown a lack of books with a main character who is a person of color, LGBT, or disabled.[58] In the UK 90% of the best-selling YA titles from 2006 to 2016 featured white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, and heterosexual main characters.[59] The numbers of children's book authors have shown a similar lack of diversity.[60] Between 2006-2016, eight percent of all young adult authors published in the UK were people of color.[59]

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.[61][failed verification] In the mid-2010s, more attention was drawn to this problem from various quarters.[62] 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.[60]


Criticism has been put forth against YA fiction for being heavily commercialized, and marketed and reinforced by capitalist institutions such as Hollywood, the media and a publishing industry lacking diversity.[] Book reviewer Laura Miller cites one publisher of YA novels as being akin to a factory.[63] Others have critiqued commercial YA novels and franchises for implicitly promoting capitalism and reactionary ideologies even when the books may seem progressive. Ewan Morrison says: "The dystopian narratives which are currently consuming the minds of millions of teens worldwide are now communicating right-wing ideas."[64] Andrew O'Hehir, describing commercial YA novels, wrote: "They are propaganda for the ethos of individualism, the central ideology of consumer capitalism, which also undergirds both major political parties and almost all American public discourse.[65]


See also


  1. ^ "Young Adult Book Market Facts and Figures". The Balance. Retrieved 2018.
  2. ^ Randall (2014, pp. 498-500)
  3. ^ Kitchener, Caroline. "Why So Many Adults Read Young-Adult Literature". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018.
  5. ^ Lamb, Nancy, Crafting Stories for Children. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, p. 24
  6. ^ Dunning, Stephen (1962). "Criticism and the "Young Adult Novel"". The High School Journal. 45 (5): 208-213. JSTOR 40366769.
  7. ^ a b c d Owen, Mary (March 2003). "Developing a love of reading: why young adult literature is important". Orana. 39 (1): 11-17. ISSN 0045-6705. Retrieved 2020.
  8. ^ (Garland 1998, p. 6)
  9. ^ Susan Broomhall, Joanne McEwan, Stephanie Tarbin. "Once upon a time: a brief history of children's literature", The Conversation (website), May 28, 2017
  10. ^ Jon Michaud, "S. E. Hinton and the Y.A. Debate", The New Yorker, October 14, 2014
  11. ^ Constance Grady,"The Outsiders reinvented young adult fiction. Harry Potter made it inescapable.," Vox (website), January 26, 2017
  12. ^ "The Outsiders". Penguin Random House. Retrieved 2019.
  13. ^ a b Dale Peck, 'The Outsiders': 40 Years Later, New York Times, 23 September 2007
  14. ^ Cart, p. 43,
  15. ^ Cart, p. 77.
  16. ^ Gillis, Bryan (2015). Sexual content in young adult novels: Reading Between the Sheets. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 101-124. ISBN 9781442246874. OCLC 965782772.
  17. ^ Parrish, Berta (April 1983). "Put a Little Romantic Fiction into Your Reading Program". Journal of Reading. 26 (7): 610-615. JSTOR 40029267. The 1980s witnessed a new publication trend--series of contemporary teen romance novels, especially planned, written, and marketed just for adolescent girls.
  18. ^ Tomlinson and Lynch-Brown, p. 5.
  19. ^ Grady, Constance (26 June 2017). "The Outsiders reinvented young adult fiction. Harry Potter made it inescapable". Vox. Retrieved 2018.
  20. ^ Benedictus, Leo (15 June 2019). "Torn apart: the vicious war over young adult books". The Guardian. Retrieved 2019.
  21. ^ Prose, Francine (1 November 2017). "The Problem With 'Problematic'". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2019.
  22. ^ Alter, Alexandra (31 January 2019). "Y.A. Author Pulls Her Debut After Pre-Publication Accusations of Racism". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019.
  23. ^ Flood, Alison (27 April 2018). "Vetting for stereotypes: meet publishing's 'sensitivity readers'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2019.
  24. ^ Alter, Alexandra (24 December 2017). "In an Era of Online Outrage, Do Sensitivity Readers Result in Better Books, or Censorship?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019.
  25. ^ Waldman, Katy (8 February 2017). "How "Sensitivity Readers" From Minority Groups Are Changing the Book Publishing Ecosystem". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2019.
  26. ^ a b "Qualities of Young Adult Literature |". Retrieved 2018.
  27. ^ Wells, April (2003). "Themes Found in Young Adult Literature: A comparative study between 1980 and 2000" (PDF).
  28. ^ Risku, Johanna. ""We Are All Adolescents Now" The Problematics of Categorizing Young Adult Fiction as a Genre" (PDF).
  29. ^ Gruner, Elisabeth Rose (2019). Constructing the Adolescent Reader in Contemporary Young Adult Fiction. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-53924-3.
  30. ^ "Explore the Themes and Genres of Young Adult Books". Retrieved 2018.
  31. ^ "YA Genre-Blending | Focus On | School Library Journal". Retrieved 2018.
  32. ^ Beckett, Sandra L. (2008). Crossover Fiction: Global and Historical Perspectives. pp. 111, 119-126.
  33. ^ "St. Martin's New Adult Contest". Archived from the original on 9 December 2016. Retrieved 2013.
  34. ^ Chappell, Briony (10 September 2012). "Would you read novels aimed at 'new adults'?". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013.
  35. ^ Donahue, Deirdre (15 April 2013). "New Adult fiction is the hot new category in books". USA Today. Retrieved 2013.
  36. ^ "Karl Alexander Interview Part 3". FearNet. Retrieved 2013.
  37. ^ "'New Adult' Fiction Is Now an Official Literary Genre Because Marketers Want Us to Buy Things". Jezebel. Retrieved 2013.
  38. ^ "New Adult: Needless Marketing-Speak Or Valued Subgenre?". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 2013.
  39. ^ Kaufman, Leslie (21 December 2012). "Beyond Wizards and Vampires, to Sex". New York Times. Retrieved 2013.
  40. ^ "'New Adult' books growing up". Lansing State Journal. Retrieved 2013.
  41. ^ "Emerging 'New Adult' Book Genre Puts Smut Fiction on Bestseller Lists". ABC News. Retrieved 2013.
  42. ^ "Are your teens ready for New Adult fiction?". Sun Times. Retrieved 2013.
  43. ^ "Sexy-romance author Kendall Ryan gives New Adult a try". Happy Ever After. 9 June 2013. Retrieved 2017.
  44. ^ fangirlfury (13 May 2019). "NEW ADULT FAVORITE: Red, White and Royal Blue Review". Fangirl Fury. Retrieved 2019.
  45. ^ "Social problem novel | literature". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018.
  46. ^ Gallo, Donald (1989). "Problem Novels". Children's Literature Review. 142 – via Gale.
  47. ^ Cart, Michael (2016). "Young Adult Literature: The State of a Restless Art". Youth Services. 5.
  48. ^ Nichols, Kristen (2005). "Teen pregnancy in young adult literature". Iowa State University Digital Repository.
  49. ^ Sturm, Brian; Michel, Karin (Winter 2008). "The Structure of Power in Young Adult Problem Novels". Young Adult Library Services. 7. ProQuest 217702509.
  50. ^ "Popular Problem Novels Books". Retrieved 2018.
  51. ^ Richard Flynn, Boundary Issues, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 2008
  52. ^ Backes, Laura Backes. "The Difference Between Middle School and Young Adult". Children's Book Insider. Archived from the original on 6 January 2002.
  53. ^ Column, Guest (7 August 2014). "The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs Young Adult". Writer's Digest. Retrieved 2019.
  54. ^ Hays, Alice (8 July 2016). "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.
  55. ^ 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.
  56. ^ a b c Scherff, Lisa; Groenke, Susan (April 2009). "Young Adult Literature in Today's Classroom". English Leadership Quarterly. 31: 1-3.
  57. ^ a b Lycke, Kara (Summer 2014). "Building a Culture of Readers: YA Literature and the Canon". SIGNAL Journal: 24-29.
  58. ^ Flood, Alison (27 July 2018). "'Dire statistics' show YA fiction is becoming less diverse, warns report". the Guardian. Retrieved 2021.
  59. ^ a b Ramdarshan Bold, Melanie (2018). "The Eight Percent Problem: Authors of Colour in the British Young Adult Market (2006-2016)". Publishing Research Quarterly. 34 (3): 385-406. doi:10.1007/s12109-018-9600-5.
  60. ^ a b "Children's Books by and About People of Color". Retrieved 2018.
  61. ^ Martinez, Miriam; Koss, Melanie D.; Johnson, Nancy J. (2016). "Meeting Characters in Caldecotts: What Does This Mean for Today's Readers?". The Reading Teacher. 70 (1): 19-28. ISSN 0034-0561.
  62. ^ Charles, Ron (3 January 2018). "'We need diverse books,' they said. And now a group's dream is coming to fruition". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018.
  63. ^ Miller, Laura (17 December 2019). "The Decade in Young Adult Fiction". Slate. Retrieved 2021.
  64. ^ Morrison, Ewan (1 August 2014). "YA dystopias teach children to submit to the free market, not fight authority". the Guardian. Retrieved 2021.
  65. ^ O'Hehir, Andrew (22 March 2014). ""Divergent" and "Hunger Games" as capitalist agitprop". Salon. Retrieved 2021.


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