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Is YA a Genre or a Reading Level?

Is YA a Genre or a Reading Level?

by Mike Duran · 54 comments

Have fun trying to get a straight answer on that one.

After reading “The Monstrumologist” (thanks Kat for the recommendation!), I found myself pondering that question again. I have friends who write YA and read extensively therein. But even they seem to puzzle over its delineations. But about The Monstrumologist: Thoroughly enjoyed it! Loved it. However, I found myself throughout the reading sitting back and asking, “THIS is YA? THIS is YA?”

Why did I ask that question? Mainly because of the book’s semi-literary bent. It was gory, yes. In fact, VERY gory in parts. But what surprised me most was the eloquence of the prose. Comes in spurts, sure. And it’s a period piece, so some of the language is suitable to the setting. Nevertheless, this is rich, beautifully written.

And it’s a YA book about monster hunters!

Forgive my confoundment. It’s unbecoming, I know. It’s a result of never quite being able to wrap my brain around the genre. (Or is it a genre?) What distinguishes YA from general market fiction? Now I’m even more confused.

My surprise is probably indicative of a misconception I’ve held about YA lit, one I’ll happily dispatch. Going in, I assumed that part of what distinguishes YA from other genres is reading level. Complex, beautiful prose is the exception to the rule, I thought. In an age of video games, cell phones, and 24-hour connectivity, getting kids to read means keeping it… simple.

Well, don’t I feel like a fool.

So our local Barnes and Noble recently converted one entire aisle from Sci-Fi to YA. Which means there’s, like, five aisles of YA books. It’s a sign of the times. As American readership shrink and bookstores struggle to stay relevant, YA continues to grow. Some have suggested this is because of its themes. That YA captures the zeitgeist of a generation caught between childhood and the grim realities of life. Some suggest it’s about hope, a simpler life, the fleeting joys of childhood innocence. Or as one editor put it, YA is not a reading level; it is a specific perspective and aesthetic sensibility. In other words, YA is a point of view, a frame of mind. I’ve even wondered if it isn’t adults who are fueling the YA trend in an ongoing loop to recapture some lost, or longed for, innocence.

Whatever one concludes about the nature of YA, methinks you can rule out “reading level.” “The Monstrumologist” is Exhibit A.

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Bergren July 6, 2012 at 5:51 AM

I’ve come to define it as category, rather than reading level, after taking in a wide variety of YA books. It’s mostly defined by the age of the main characters–ages 14-17–and the strength of their young voices. In that category of books we find a wide variety of genres–fantasy, sci fi, paranormal, romance, suspense–with a surprising number of literary writers. I think that’s what’s delighting me most about YA. It’s genre-bending, and yet not dumbed- down for youth in the least, which makes it entirely accessible for adults to read too. Huzzah!

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Iola July 6, 2012 at 9:21 PM

Like Lisa, I always assumed YA was based on the age of the main characters, and, to a lesser extent, the themes (YA readers aren’t interested in middle-aged characters thinking about life. They want teenagers doing exciting stuff).

It’s not about reading level. After all, if our major daily newspapers are written for a reading age of 11-13, I doubt that most ‘adult’ books are written at a higher level. It’s just that ‘adult’ books (especially thrillers or romances) are more likely to have explicit sex, swearing and violence, whereas YA is a little more toned down.

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Margaret July 6, 2012 at 6:06 AM

I started reading YA books when our daughter hit high school. I wanted to preview some of the books that were sure to get her attention so I could offer some guidance. Much to my surprise, I found myself actually enjoying a few. As for reading level, some YA books are horribly written, some are skillfully written, just as with ‘adult’ literature. For me, reading “Twilight” was a torture, whereas reading “The Hunger Games” was a delight. I’m certainly spoiled by the quality writing found in the classics I favor, but I enjoy an occasional YA novel to give my brain a break. However, if, after 100 pages, the story and/or the style of writing are sub-par, I will ditch any book. To answer your question…Reading level? In many cases, yes, I think the reading level of YA hovers around Grade 8. Genre? I would say it’s evolving into one.

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Heather Sunseri July 6, 2012 at 6:22 AM

“I’ve even wondered if it isn’t adults who are fueling the YA trend in an ongoing loop to recapture some lost, or longed for, innocence.”

I’ve had people accuse me of the above – trying to live out my youth again. And that’s simply not why I enjoy YA. I enjoy writing and reading YA because of the writing style that is required. Mostly, I love YA that is fast-paced, page-turning plot that tests a person’s boundaries for the unbelievable, whether it be from a fascinating world built from a writer’s imagination, a unique way of seeing the paranormal or supernatural, or even a story of how characters get themselves in and out of insane situations. And by insane situations, I’m thinking of some of the dystopian books I’ve read recently. Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a book I think you might like, which was written for Middle Grade, but appeals to all ages. Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth – probably my favorite YAs in recent time – is set in a future Chicago and the characters in these books are far from “innocent” in that they must deal with very grown-up, life-threatening situations. In these books, the writing is so good that you believe the world and situations the characters are in so much so that you no longer care that neither are truly believable. And the fast-paced journey (and age of the characters) is what I think makes the books YA. Definitely not the innocence. And definitely not the reading level.

I haven’t read Monstrumologist, but the cover is intriguing.

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Mike Duran July 6, 2012 at 6:42 AM

Heather, my YA writer friends also reject my assertion that adults read YA to relive a missed-out childhood. However, I’m holding to it as a theory…

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Heather Sunseri July 6, 2012 at 6:54 AM

Ha! I hope to see a blog post someday where you dispel that theory. By the way, I was serious. You should check out http://www.amazon.com/Unwind-Neal-Shusterman/dp/1416912045. At least read the description and imagine it a story of innocence for middle schoolers, or for 40- or 50-year olds for that matter.

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R.J. Anderson July 6, 2012 at 12:11 PM

I believe UNWIND is YA, not MG — not just because the characters in the book are mid-to-late teens, but because it contains one of the most horrific scenes I have ever read in a novel. A scene which is all the more horrific for what we are NOT told, rather than what we are — if it had been an adult novel Shusterman might have gone into the gory details and merely disgusted the reader, but it’s far scarier that he doesn’t and lets your imagination supply the rest.

Anyway, I agree that YA is defined primarily by the age of the characters and by the lack of adult condescension about their experiences, definitely not by an “easier” reading level or watered-down content — or by the idea of “innocence”. There are YA novels every bit as complex, literary and thought-provoking as the best adult novels. And there are popular adult novels just as silly, superficial and badly written as the worst examples of YA.

I would say, however, that YA by and large lacks the kind of jaded cynicism or self-important air which makes some adult novels so tedious. Because adults can be fooled into thinking that reading dull plots, unsympathetic characters and pretentious writing is somehow necessary and good for them, but teenagers won’t put up with that kind of nonsense. And I have long maintained that the editors for MG and YA are the sharpest pens in the business, and make their authors work that much harder on revisions, precisely for that reason.

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Heather Sunseri July 6, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Yeah, I would have thought Unwind was YA, and not MG, however it made the list of most recommended reads by Junior High librarians a couple of years ago. And it’s ineresting, when I talked to a group of seventh graders about that book, they don’t find that scene as horrific as we adults find it. According to Amazon, the book is recommended to grades 7 and up. My daughter read it in 6th after her school librarian recommended it, and it’s one of her favorite books. My book club (that reads primarily adult books) read it and loved discussing it (we usually only discuss the books for ten minutes and drink wine). Anyway, I don’t always recommend the books I read to my husband who reads King, Clancy, Baldacci, Halen Colben, Lee Child, but I recommended this one to him. Just a great example of excellent writing, unique story and storyworld, and YA that crosses many age groups.

Anyway, this is a fun conversation today, Mike. When I tweeted the link on Twitter today, someone said to me, “In my opinion, it should be a genre, NOT a reading level. Good writing is good writing. Ditto for bad writing.”

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Christian July 6, 2012 at 7:15 AM

There’s a YA book series by D. M. Cornish, a South Australian author called “Monster Blood Tattoo”. It’s generally well-written, interesting and quite original. The writing style is very much literary-based, akin to some of Charles Dickens’ works. Have you heard of them?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_Blood_Tattoo_Series
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_Blood_Tattoo:_Foundling
http://www.monsterbloodtattoo.com/

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R.J. Anderson July 6, 2012 at 12:13 PM

I heartily second this recommendation! I was just about to make it myself.

Also, D.M. Cornish is an evangelical Christian. I guessed as much just from reading the books, even though there is no allegorical content or any kind of religion mentioned within them. If you read them, you may see why.

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Christian July 7, 2012 at 6:56 PM

I’m not sure what you mean by ‘evangelical Christian’ but yes, D.M. Cornish is a Christian. His beliefs come through in his novels but ever so naturally and carefully. His stories are clever suppousals (thank you, Lewis!) about early Australian history and the conflicts between white people and the Aboriginal natives.

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Greg Mitchell July 8, 2012 at 5:36 PM

Yes! I totally recommend this series.

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Kat Heckenbach July 6, 2012 at 7:27 AM

Well, first….WOOT! :) I told ya you’d love it! :)

OK, and I wouldn’t say it’s about recapturing lost youth, although there are likely some adults who use YA lit for that. I’d say it’s about getting to experience things through youthful eyes. YA and MG lit has this sense of adventure, of life to it that adult fiction just doesn’t have. Yes, it’s a perspective. It’s a way of seeing the world. Not blind innocence necessarily–some YA lit is very dark and jaded, but it’s dark and jaded in a very different way.

And I’m so glad you have dispelled the reading level fallacy. Sure, there is an array of reading levels to be found among YA books, but it is not what defines the category :).

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sally apokedak July 6, 2012 at 7:41 AM

Yes, Kat, on the sense of adventure.

Why should old people lose their sense of wonder over this world we live in and over the fantasy worlds we can explore through literature?

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Katherine Coble July 6, 2012 at 12:10 PM

So, just so I’m clear on this before I make a dreadful mistake: You guys were talking about this right around the same time you, Kat, were reading an ARC in the YA genre that was really not a good read. In my head I thought this was that book. It is NO T the same book? So I can read it without my head exploding?

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Kat Heckenbach July 6, 2012 at 12:54 PM

Katherine–The Monstrumologist is AWESOME. One of my fave books EVER. Beautifully written. Pure gorgeousness. (Well, gory gorgeousness. Gorygeousness? ;P)

I’ve talked about several ARCs I’ve read that were not good. I think the one I was reading (maybe) at that time was Dark Companion by Marta Acosta. Goes back and forth between adult and childish. Teen slang nearly made my teeth grind away.

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sally apokedak July 6, 2012 at 7:38 AM

Glad you’re finding YA books to be well written, Mike. MG (middle grade) books are also well written. By the time a kid is in sixth grade, if he’s a good reader, he can read adult books. So YA and MG authors don’t dumb down their work. Some write for reluctant readers, but those who write for readers, write the way they want to write, without worrying about simplifying sentence length and word usage. I know many people who read The Lord of the Rings at the ages of ten or twelve. Young readers who like to read, can read anything.

So now that you’ve discovered YA I hope you’ll delve more into MG, too. There are some great literary MG books, too.

If anyone is thinking of jumping into the YA market….the reason your store expanded it’s YA section may be that the publishers have bought so much YA over the last several years. YA has been hot for six years or so. But editors are pretty much begging now for MG. MG is just as good as YA, only it doesn’t deal with the same issues.

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Katherine Coble July 6, 2012 at 7:50 AM

Not to be too contrary but I just have to voice an issue I’ve been having. YA has been a great genre for at least 30 years. Thank you, Judy Blume.

Now, thanks to the runaway popularity of Hunger Games, there are a lot of people writing YA. A lot of people who SHOULD NOT be writing YA. I wish writers would stick to what they know instead of contorting to fit the current trends. I’ve long been a reader of YA–never stopped actually. I started reading it when I was a YA and just kept going.

But the stuff coming out now from so many authors feels forced, lacks a true YA voice, and in many cases is as preachy in its own way as the worst of Christian fiction. I’ve recently read 3 YA titles that all sound like an adult trying to sound like a teenager–and failing miserably. It’s like a bad drag show.

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Mike Duran July 6, 2012 at 8:28 AM

Katherine, can you give me an example of some books that you consider to contain “a true YA voice.” I’ve debated writing in the genre myself, but don’t want to do it to be trendy. definitely don’t want to do it if I sound like “an adult trying to sound like a teenager.”

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Kat Heckenbach July 6, 2012 at 10:24 AM

Mike–what genre are you thinking about writing? There can be a huge difference in voice and style between YA books depending on genre. Something speculative? Horror? More mainstream/contemporary?

Do you want to try reading an array of styles?

“The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” are good ones for the dystopian genre.

One of my all-time favorites is “Incarceron” which is a mash-up of dystopian/fantasy/sc-fi/steampunk.

What you may want to read, just to get an idea of voice, but not necessarily content, would be nearly anything by Maggie Stiefvater. She writes paranormal romance, but her writing is infinitely better than Stephenie Meyer’s. I just find her teen voice to be one of the most natural I’ve read.

Scott Westerfeld is another author I’d recommend. He’s got some sci-fi, but his newest stuff is steampunk.

With your penchant for the surreal, you might want to try reading “Daughter of Smoke and Bone.”

OK–I know I wasn’t the one you asked for suggestions, but there you have it. I couldn’t help myself :).

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Mike Duran July 6, 2012 at 11:11 AM

No, Kat, thanks. I liked your last recommendation. I have a story, fully-plotted, that is sci-fi / horror / coming-of-age-ish set in America during the 50′s. The idea’s been sitting there fully formed. I kind of need to see what happens with my WIP, though. I don’t think it’d be much of a leap, but I could be wrong. Maybe I’ll check out “Daughter of Smoke and Bone,” unless you have some other recommendations.

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Katherine Coble July 6, 2012 at 12:08 PM

_Daughter of Smoke and Bone_ and _Divergent_ are the ones I think I’d recommend as being both really good YA & also being sort of in your wheelhouse, as it were. I thoroughly second Kat’s recommendations. I’ve not readMaggie Stiefvater, although I hear her spoken of highly. To avoid: Karen McQuestion is an example of bad YA writing. There are others but I don’t want to be too mean. I’ll just say “Karen McQuestion” for now.

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R.J. Anderson July 6, 2012 at 12:18 PM

A massive YES to INCARCERON. I absolutely love that book! And based on what I know of Mike’s tastes, I think he might like it too.

Mike, if you’re going to write YA, you definitely need to read it. A lot of it. Because unless you know and love YA and respect the opportunities and challenges that it offers, you’re not ready to write it. I don’t mean that in an elitist way, I just mean it on a purely practical level. Along similar lines, I couldn’t write a Western even if Westerns were hugely popular, because I don’t know and love the genre. And if I tried, true fans of Westerns would see right through me.

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sally apokedak July 6, 2012 at 2:23 PM

I agree that anyone writing YA needs to read YA. But I am always happy to hear Christian authors saying they want to write it. There is not much call for it in the Christian market for some reason. So I’m assuming Mike’s thinking of writing for the general market and I’d love to see more and more Christians joining that market.

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sally apokedak July 6, 2012 at 2:13 PM

I loved Incarceron, too. And Divergent, though I didn’t read Insurgent.

Kat, I wouldn’t read Stiefvater’s werewolf books because she called them werewolf nookie and I thought, “Nah. Can’t go there.” Did you read them or are you talking about Scorpio Races book?

I also think Scott Westerfeld would be one you should read, Mike. He’s very good.

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Kat Heckenbach July 6, 2012 at 2:28 PM

Sally, I was referring to the werewolf books and her earlier faerie books (Lament and….the other one :P). There is a lot of kissing and stuff in the werewolf series, but only one “all the way” scene, and she leaves that part behind closed doors. I haven’t read Scorpio Races. The reason I mentioned her is not that I think Mike can at all benefit from her subject matter or anything, but rather her teen voice. It is SO natural.

BTW, Insurgent is good, although I thought not quite as good as Divergent.

Ballad! That’s the other Stiefvater book. Yes, the mind has not completely gone…

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R.J. Anderson July 6, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Yes to LAMENT and BALLAD. In fact I loved BALLAD so much, I blurbed it. :)

I agree with your comment about the werewolf books — they’re not explicit at all. And I haven’t read SCORPIO RACES yet, but am looking forward to it.

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sally apokedak July 6, 2012 at 2:44 PM

OK then. I’ll give her a try. I was just so irritated with her remark that I decided I could live without reading her.

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Kat Heckenbach July 6, 2012 at 8:29 AM

I don’t think you’re being contrary at all. I think you bring up a valid point. The YA bandwagon seems to be huge. I review for Amazon Vine and I am finding more and more YA novels that make me want to gag because the voice is horrible. Forced, overdone. Makes me think of the adults that try to “talk teen” and come off looking like total fools. Or, the book just waffles back and forth between an adult’s voice and a child’s.

Some authors simply have the teen voice gift. Other authors are better off just writing good, clean fiction and let the teens who are big readers find them. As Sally pointed out, kids who are readers read everything, including adult fiction and they’d rather read adult fiction that sounds adult than condescending teen fiction.

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Kessie July 6, 2012 at 10:52 AM

I always think of those as the bandwagon jumpers. “Oh, YA is big? I’ll just write one!” By someone who’s not spoken to a teenager in twenty years.

I don’t have a problem writing YA, because I recently was one. Teens try to do the best they can with the knowledge they have. They just think that they know everything, too. That’s where character growth and conflict comes in. :-)

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Jill July 6, 2012 at 8:29 AM

My teenage daughters get annoyed by adults trying to sound like teenagers because so often adults just don’t get it. While teenagers may or may not use a different vocabulary, they aren’t stupid. This actually drives my kids away from YA, except in rare cases. So, yeah, you’re not the only one to notice.

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sally apokedak July 6, 2012 at 9:28 AM

I think I don’t see this so much because I don’t read much YA contemporary.

This is also why I don’t write YA contemporary, too.

If I had to write like teens from our world, I’d fail, even though I have to teens at home. I’m just too much of a dinosaur.

I haven’t read any John Green yet, because I don’t read contemporary, but I’m guessing he has the YA voice down. Check out his videos. He’s so funny. I just broke down and bought Paper Towns last week to give him a try.

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Sherry Thompson July 6, 2012 at 9:10 AM

I didn’t know from YA growing up & I have no children. Therefore I will offer my expert opinion based on long experience.
YA is a reading or maybe better an “interest level” which means it must contain at least some of the elements that are of greatest interest to young adults.
However, I think that there are a wide variety of these elements. Various combinations of them within one story allow for a variety of YA genres.

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Katherine Coble July 6, 2012 at 12:15 PM

There ARE definitely exploding sub-genres in the YA field. Dystopian, romance, paranormal. It interests me how there really isn’t a lot of YA mystery. Unless, of course, you count my beloved and wonderful Flavia DeLuce.

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Aubrey Hansen July 6, 2012 at 2:33 PM

Fascinating question. At this point, I write almost exclusively YA, so it’s an important topic to me. Now, I’m only a twenty-something, so my perspective might be a little skewed. I write YA partially because I’m still at that stage of life. But I can tell you why I haven’t graduated to adult books even though I’m fully capable of reading them – I don’t want the content.

A lot of adult literature deals with topics or includes content that I just don’t need. Language and sex are big ones. I know there’s plenty of exceptions, but sometimes it seems like making something for an adult audience means adding adult content. I don’t want that, and don’t always have time or desire to take risks with random books, so I often retreat to YA where my chances of finding something clean are a little higher.

I think writing YA or children’s fiction should involve being conscientious about your readership’s stage of life. YA should be about topics and contain content appropriate for people of that age. Unfortunately what’s deemed appropriate for the YA audience has been stretching in recent decades, so there’s plenty of YA I won’t read nowadays. I still read a lot of middlegrade novels because, while they’re not as intellectually stimulating, they’re more likely to be “clean fun” I can enjoy without worry.

So that’s why I don’t read much adult fiction. Most of the stuff doesn’t even look interesting, and when I do find something that’s good enough to get me past the back cover summary, half the time content kills it. It’s depressing and frustrating, and most of the time I just don’t want to mess with it. Honestly, the literary community has given me no reason to want to grow up.

So in my opinion, YA ought to be defined by an appropriateness for the age-level. I’d also say having protagonists from that age-range is generally desirable, but not required. I don’t think reading level has anything to do with it, partly because, by the time someone gets to high school, they oughta be able to read at an adult level anyway.

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R.J. Anderson July 6, 2012 at 2:41 PM

THIS. To all of it. I only read adult books these days if I already know a fair bit about them (i.e. “classics”), or if they come highly recommended by someone whose moral and literary judgment I trust. I’ve been blindsided too many times by graphic depictions of things I do not want to see. And not in a “this is the awful part, but stick with it and there is a worthwhile payoff” kind of way either — just in an exploitative, nauseating kind of way that makes me feel like I’m being told way more about the author’s kinks than I ever wanted to know. In YA, that kind of thing is a lot less common — not that it doesn’t happen, but it’s not nearly as likely.

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sally apokedak July 6, 2012 at 2:56 PM

The only thing I disagree with here is that MG novels are less intellectually stimulating than YA books.

Jonathan Stroud and Eoin Colfer come immediately to mind as writing some complex books. Also Cornelia Funke. There are plenty of others. MG can be very layered and stimulating. Harry Potter goes without saying. How about “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead. Usually the award books are intellectually stimulating.

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R.J. Anderson July 6, 2012 at 3:02 PM

I missed that part of the comment — I agree with you. Actually, I believe MONSTRUMOLOGIST itself is generally considered Middle Grade rather than Young Adult, since the protagonist is only 12 years old.

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Scathe meic Beorh July 7, 2012 at 12:40 PM

YA and MG are reading levels. But so is most of what is being written for grownups. I am so horrified by the lack of intelligent word choice and sentence structure that I refuse to read anything beyond WWI, except for Ray Bradbury (and even there I find much of his work poorly researched, such as Samhain being some kind of Celtic ‘Lord of the Dead’ as he states in The Halloween Tree). Serious question: Where are the R. L. Stevensons and Lord Dunsanys of our own day? Who is writing lofty now? I am completely out of the loop, and could use some guidance if there is any. I’m not holding my breath, though.

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R.J. Anderson July 7, 2012 at 1:54 PM

My first and biggest recommendation would be Patricia A. McKillip. You might also find D.M. Cornish to your taste (mentioned upthread). Have you read Mervyn Peake’s first two GORMENGHAST books?

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Scathe meic Beorh July 7, 2012 at 5:49 PM

Thank you. I have read McKillip, and was not too impressed. But as the Lord leads, I will look into these other authors. Thank you, R. J.

I have begun writing my own ‘lofty’ work, my latest offering, ‘The Place Where Infinity Blooms,’ recently published by Cogwheel Press. But it is not for me to decide whether my work will stand the test of time. I do my very best, and that is all I can do.

I appreciate this blog and those who frequent here.

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Christian July 8, 2012 at 12:24 AM

I tried the first of the Gormenghast books as a teenager and found it very atmospheric and well-written, but by golly was it slow-paced. I don’t need action every 10 pages or anything like that, but having 150 pages (or more) where next to nothing happens? That really tested my patience. Much to admire but I can’t say I’ll return to finish the book.

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Scathe meic Beorh July 8, 2012 at 10:29 AM

I guess I’ve been spoiled by postmodern editing style, but I took a look at some of Mervyn Peake’s work, and though I am forced to look over adverbs and dialogue tags in turn-of-the-century and previous writings, because they were the norm, I find that I can’t bear to read work including these if the author is from our own post-WWI era (except for Ray Bradbury, probably because he infuses so much life into his writing).

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R.J. Anderson July 8, 2012 at 11:12 AM

I hear you. One doesn’t read Peake so much as wallow in Peake. And I was about a quarter way through TITUS GROAN as a teenager before I realized I had read several consecutive chapters of really weird nothing. Yet for some reason I kept going, and then Steerpike showed up and I couldn’t stop. Not that he is a loveable character by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly makes things happen.

For me it’s the sheer bizarre scope of Peake’s imagination that keeps me coming back.

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Abigail July 9, 2012 at 9:36 AM

It might be helpful to think about YA in broader terms than simply the age of the character being a teen or the “reading level” being about Grade 8 or 9. There is a lot of variance in the YA genre in the maturity of the voice in the main character. This is all fine as different voices are going to appeal to different readers. I don’t think we should get too hung up on that.

At it’s heart, YA is telling a coming of age story in a very intimate voice. Teenagers are at the cusp of discovering who they are, and how they will choose to fit into their universe.

Now for my controversial spin on YA: Many have accused Gen Y (people roughly between 16 and 30) of being adultlescents and delaying the maturing process. Some of us don’t hit our “coming of age” until our early to mid twenties or even later (disclaimer: I’m at the older end of that age bracket). This is why I think YA characters can extend into their 20s if it it’s a coming of age tale. I know there is a lot of controversy over this, yet there are probably just as many 25 and 35 year olds reading books like The Hunger Games and The Selection as there are 15 year olds. I’d love to see some more mature (age of character older, not graphic content) YA novels for that reason.

There are adult books with 8 or 12 year old protagonists (Caspian Rain?). We don’t call those MG or YA. So why not YA coming of age stories with 22 or 26 year olds? It should be the story theme and the voice that determines the genre, not the “age bracket” or “reading level.”

RE: the comment about “there are a lot of people writing YA who shouldn’t be.” I think this is because they don’t understand the concept of YA. If they think they need to write down to write YA, they totally miss it. I think it’s easier writing a fantasy, dystopian, sci-fi, or alternative universe YA than a contemporary YA because you don’t have to “match” your voice to today’s slang. It IS hard for adults to write an authentic contemporary YA. This is why the most popular YA–for teens AND adults–is paranormal or dystopian, NOT contemporary. Although, Nancy Rue, I love your YA contemporary novels!!!)

So, yeah, Mike, I think you could write a YA novel. :) Just think back to a coming of age time in your own life, the themes that gripped your soul during that time and run with a story. I’d love to see you write a “literary” YA with an older character. (Yeah, I just read your guest post over at Rachelle’s blog).

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Aubrey Hansen July 9, 2012 at 9:42 AM

I absolutely agree with your controversial opinion. I’d like to suggest that the 20-something age bracket is rather underrepresented in fiction. There’s books for all ages of kids, YA for teens, and then it jumps to full-on adult. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but as a twenty-something, I don’t see a lot of fiction directed at my age bracket. Twenty-somethings are adults, but not like the 40s and even upper 30s are. Not all of us are married with kids; we’re going to college, hunting for jobs, trying to decide on a career, etc. We’ve grown up but we’re not totally there yet. It truly is another stage of coming-of-age, and I don’t see it heavily represented in literature.

So, I agree totally. Great points. :D

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Christian July 9, 2012 at 4:51 PM

I’m in my late 20′s and I totally agree that there are few stories specifically aimed at people in their 20′s, even early 30′s. It wasn’t until you drew my attention to the fact, that I realised I’d never really considered this reality.

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Kat Heckenbach July 9, 2012 at 10:43 AM

Actually, there is a rising genre called “New Adult” aimed at the 20-somethings. Google the term–there are gobs of posts out about it. Not saying there are gobs of books in this genre yet, but it’s a gap that looks to soon be filling quickly :).

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Aubrey Hansen July 9, 2012 at 10:44 AM

Awesome! Thank you for the tip. I’ll google that. :D

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Kat Heckenbach July 9, 2012 at 10:45 AM

You’re welcome! :)

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Abigail July 9, 2012 at 2:11 PM

Oh glorious day! :-) Thanks for mentioning this!!

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Jason H. July 9, 2012 at 2:03 PM

Aubrey, your comments reflect what I have seen as well. Life event for those in their 20s and 30s like graduating from high school, attending a university, beginning a career, getting married, starting a family (regardless of their order) are certainly “coming 0f age” events but seem poorly represented. It is hard for me to believe that these events are not ripe enough with promise, and yet there is little focus on them within the age group.

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