YA?

I have a few questions about YA. Of course, I am talking “Young Adult Fiction”, not Yearly Allotment or Yesterday’s Anger.

But just what is meant by “Young Adult”?

I remember a college student being angry because they enjoyed YA but most of the books they had read recently seemed to be aimed squarely at 12 year olds. What in the world is adult about a 12 year old? Not a thing. Technically, if we look at the world and society, a 21 year old IS a young adult, a 12 year old isn’t!

But the definition I see is “Fiction written for ages between 12 and 18”. If you have ever talked to a 12 year old and an 18 year old, they are very, very different beasts.

I did see one definition that called it between 13 and 18 (in the US that is 7th grade through graduating high school), which I like better, but I am going to say high school age. We can stretch it to Jr. High, but the difference between what a 7th grader reads and a sophomore in high school reads is much much larger than between a high school freshman and a high school senior. Same number of years between, but what a difference those two years makes!

Just as an example – as a 7th grader I was reading The Hobbit, Ursula Le Guin’s Earth Sea trilogy and such. By my freshman year in high school I was reading The Lord of the Rings, Le Morte d’Arthur and Dune. By my senior, it was Stephan King, Shakespeare and The Silmarillion.

As you can see, to me Tolkien is the perfect YA…

I have read books marketed as YA and felt they were too simplified. I think they were going directly towards that 12 year old end of the market, not the 18 year old. Even there, The Chronicles of Prydain, aimed at 9 to 11 year olds, is much more mature than a huge amount of the YA I’ve read.

The style of so many of these books seems, “I am writing for kids and need to write in a style kids can identify with! It isn’t really me, but I am 100% sure it is them!” With so many YA books I can tell it is YA by the third paragraph because the author seems to be writing in YA mode. OK, maybe I just don’t get it and the kids do love everything super simplified and spoon-fed with easy words and such. As I kid I hated that stuff with a passion and I still do.

And what is with the stupid cliches in about every modern YA book I read? Oh poor misunderstood rich, talented, good looking, super intelligent, magical protagonist! Give me a freakin’ break! I hated that stuff when I was a kid. Maybe a little, sure, all kids feel misunderstood, but piled on so high feels idiotic to me.

OK, so to me YA is a book that has a teen as the protagonist. There should be some element of self-discovery in it. There should not be graphic sex (or really any sex at all), but exploring the awakening of sexuality and personal sexual feelings is OK as that is a normal part of being a teen. Just don’t talk body parts or actions. Graphic violence should be scaled back as well. There should be some of the feelings and things kids feel, but not piled on too thick.

And there should be growth.

Sounds right, right? Or correct, right? Hmm…

Anyway, I have an idea for a book with a teen protagonist. It is a journey of self discovery. There is a lot of growth in that protagonist. There will be no sex and the violence will not be too graphic. There is no alcohol. A “witch” gives a drug that heals, but no modern drug use (it is a fantasy).

So I can write a YA book, right?

Well, I want to write this exactly as I would write an adult book. I want to use the same words, the same style, the same everything. There will be complex sentences, hard words, complex ideas, etc. But simple places as well. I do not want to write to kids, I want to write to me.

So, can I call such a book “YA”? Do I have to write YA in “YA-mode”?

What do you think? Can I write a book that by content is 100% YA but by style is an adult book? Can I call that book YA?

50 thoughts on “YA?

  1. Marilyn Armstrong

    Recognizing that I was not a typical reader for my age, nonetheless when I was growing up, there were books aimed at young people, but it was the subjects that were aimed at us, not the writing. The writing was pretty much the same as the writing for adults. It was assumed if you didn’t know that word, you’d ask someone or look it up. That was how you gained a wider vocabulary.

    Youthful writing seemed — well for me, anyway — was about animals. Dogs and horses especially. But of course those were MY preferences. My son, for example, was very into the Hardy boys and other youthful mysteries.

    I ran out of young people books very early and moved on to adult fiction which my mother encouraged. When the librarian wouldn’t give me an “adult book,” my mother started her own one-mother riot. After that, I got any book I wanted. No one wanted to take on Mom when she was angry.

    But EVEN books for children were NOT written childishly. A lot of YA fiction is simplistic and simple-minded. Being young doesn’t make you stupid. A lot of authors don’t get that. They think “young” and “dumb” are the same thing.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I was like you, I went straight to adult books when I was about 14. But YA back then wasn’t like it is now – there were a lot of books written for kids up to maybe 14, but little for older teens. I read one Hardy Boys book and two Nancy Drew books when I was 10 and thought they were too young for me (written in a different time for a different world!). But after that there was no real series for older teens except sci-fi, like Dune, and fantasy, like The Lord of Rings. But they were technically adult books, so…
      I’ve had the bad luck to read a few YA books that to me seemed to be writing down for younger people, but I know a lot of adults who tell me that the best YA is written at an adult level. I’m not going to change the way I write, but we will see if they think what I come up with is YA ;)

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  2. Tessa

    I have read many things written as YA, and I don’t get the age value put on it. A few that I have read fit into the YA age bracket, but for the most part, they are more Young Adult. I enjoy reading books written for younger adults, and I am in my 60s. I do think many people label their books YA, but they really aren’t in reality.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I have talked to a few people about what they think about YA, and many have different ideas. Most, though, agree that it doesn’t have to be simplified at all. I will go ahead and write how I want to write and then ask if people think it is YA. If not, then, oh well…

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      1. Tessa

        From what I know about YA I don’t think it would be, but like you said there are so many different interpretations to the term YA. And you can certainly write it any way you want. No one is forced to read it. I think genres have gotten so complicated that who knows what anything is anymore. I hesitate to call my work any specific genre.

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  3. Writing Sparkle

    The YA question is one that stumps me as well. I watched an author Interview recently where he said he thinks of YA at ages 13 to 99. When I chatted with my editor for Chimera and Curses about my intended audience, she pointed out that Stephenie Meyer with her Twilight Series was writing for YA, but it was her “secret audience” that drove her sales and fame. That secret audience was readers in their 20s.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I know as many people in their 20s that like YA as in their teens, and I know a lot of people between 29 and 99 that like it… And good YA does transcend age, but so much seems to be at that specific age… I am just going to write the book I want in the way I want and worry if it fits into YA when it is done.

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  4. Nortina S.

    I guess it would depend on who your target audience is—if you want a 12-year-old to read your book, then you may write in that reading level. Though, many young teens do read at a higher level, just as some adults may prefer books written for children (something I learned in a university literature course, when out of the 5 books we read that semester more than half the class voted that they liked the book written for third graders more than the adult literary fiction novel—not everyone in that class was an English major). I wouldn’t automatically consider a book with a teen protagonist YA, but then again I’m not the type to follow genre rules lol. I say write it! Write in whatever style you want. And then you can make a decision on what “genre” it best fits in once you’ve gotten feedback from your beta readers.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I think I am going to go the way that you suggest – I will write the book the way I feel it needs to be written and worry about genre later. I’m not a person who likes to pigeon-hole either, and hate the idea that if you write in genre X then you are supposed to use style X, like the big best seller in genre X. All of my favorites are the ones that broke all of those rules!

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  5. Pingback: If We Were Having Coffee on the 15th of October, 2022 #weekendcoffeeshare | Trent's World (the Blog)

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks. I did that drawing a long time ago as a generic “fiction” illustration, but I really like it, and it fits here :)
      I know there is YA that doesn’t talk down to kids. I am not sure if the authors write them the same way they would write an adult book, only making sure they didn’t include graphic sex or something equally “non-YA”. I mean, teenage pregnancy is a topic for YA, so there are actually few totally taboo subjects, but… I agree, kids do want to be treated like adults, even if they want things targeted at them to be interesting to them, i.e, an adult level book about teens skateboarding might be more interesting than an adult level book about playing bocce at the retirement home. lol. Anyway, thanks for the input.

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          Yes, I think a lot of teens enjoy “adult” books, but a lot of the best YA books are enjoyable to most adults… A lot of cross over, so no real line, just what the people marketing it say.

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  6. dawnkinster

    You definitely don’t have to write YA books in YA mode. LOTS of kids read at levels higher than their grade. They will find your book. Lots of 12 year olds will too, and many of them will appreciate not being talked down to.

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      1. trentpmcd Post author

        It doesn’t have to be YA. In fact, I could write a very gritty, very adult book with a teen protagonist that would not be aimed at teens in any way, shape or form… I guess what my question is, if I have a book that has a teen protagonist, doesn’t go too deep into adult-only themes or adult only subjects, has some of those personal growth/coming of age ideas, does it have to be written like the typical YA book? And if it is written in the same style as an adult book, why not call it YA if it otherwise fits? Amazon does market YA to a larger audience….

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      So often I hear that before writing/publishing a book that is “X”, it needs to be written like other books that are “X”, no matter what “X” means – contemporary fantasy, YA, etc. I think that is why so many of the YA books I see are written in that YA mode. But I think you are right. Just as I read books that weren’t targeted at my age group, I think some of those books -could- have been targeted at that age group. A lot of kids do like the more adult style.

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  7. Jarrick D Exum

    Well said. I consider myself a YA/Teen Fiction writer, but it’s mainly aimed at high schoolers of color. Maybe I should do more stories featuring young twenty-somethings to change it up. I actually have a WIP that is more realistic and edgy than my usual “family-friendly” stories.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks. I can see an issue with being too family friendly – to reach the older teens or early 20-somethings, you need to create a world they can identify with. Too sanitized and it may not be for them… Despite my complaints, I know a lot of YA does take on some of the trickier and thornier subjects, even occasionally going deeper than most adult books dare tread.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      “Coming of age” is a term often used with movies, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in books. With this book, it would be fantasy with a teen protagonist and some coming of age and personal growth themes (adult books often have personal growth as well…).
      YA is in many ways just a marketing term, and is one of the biggest selling market segments. If you don’t call something YA, Amazon will not market it to teens. So if that is my target audience, the term needs to be used, at least for Amazon and other sellers.

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            1. trentpmcd Post author

              It is hard. I am just going to write like an adult book (well, I should say, the way I have written my books), and see what beta-readers think – I think it could be called YA fantasy, but I am not sure what others think or what limitations going either way brings by having to stick it into a pigeonhole.

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              1. Colleen M. Chesebro

                I need to rewrite my first “YA” book. It’s going to be a labor of love. Since I have to rewrite it, I will definitely change my protagonist’s age to make her older. I should have done that to start with, but I didn’t think it through. That’s just how it is sometimes.

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                    1. trentpmcd Post author

                      Yep. I did pretty much stop writing anything but 100 word stories for a year or so, but am starting back into it… gotta keep trying. And I still haven’t gotten my groove back for poetry.

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  8. willowdot21

    I read and enjoy all books Trent I always ignore the ladels! I believe a good book will find the right audience. If you have a story you want to aim at the YA market I am positive that if you write it within your very high standards it will find it’s target audience! ….to be honest I don’t believe in labeling books….there I have said it.
    Look at Tolkien’s writing it has all the things that Y A writing should not have.. Stephen King the same..
    I rest my case πŸ’œπŸ’—πŸ’œ

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      When books are marketed (not that my books have been market much ;) ), they usually do have to have genre and such to aim them at the right people, even if the book isn’t easily categories. There is also a feeling that I often see that if you call your book “X”, it is supposed to fit into what other books described as “X” do so people “get” them.
      Actually, I feel how you do. I try to ignore the labels. And I agree, Tolkien is the ultimate YA author in many ways, so…

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