What Makes A Book Young Adult / YA Versus Just Adult?

What’s the difference between YA and adult books? Find out what makes a book YA and why it’s important.

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Books in bed
Books in bed
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Today I want to talk about YA or Young Adult books and more importantly the differences between Young Adult and just plain Adult. In the last few weeks I’ve been a little more involved with twitter and the whole book blogger community than I’ve ever been before and seen lots of great reviews for books I’ve both read and some I haven’t but I just can’t help it, it’s really starting to irk me the way so many people call an adult book YA just because it has teenage characters in it.

While it’s obvious that teenagers feature heavily in YA books and are usually the main protagonists (rare if they’re not) it doesn’t mean that every novel with a teen-aged main character is a YA novel. It’s like saying every novel with kids as our main characters is a children’s novel or perhaps Animal Farm featuring just the animals should be read by animals or kids because animals are usually in kids picture books right?!

I know plenty of you might be saying, is it really that big a deal? Well to me it is. It’s not just that I have my own opinion on what makes a YA novel YA but I know of plenty of bloggers who stick more rigidly to certain genres and some might not want to read YA books at all, so calling an adult book YA is making those readers miss out on a great book. The reverse is also true with some YA readers wanting to read only YA books and being disappointed when the adult book they’re reading doesn’t turn out to be the YA they expected.

So today I’m sharing my take on what makes a book YA and how they’re different from adult books. I may be wrong…I may be right…Stick around and tell me what you think. If you’re a reader, blogger or even a writer/author…this is what (I think) makes a Young Adult book…

The target age of YA or teen books is about 13-18 (though some darker books are suggested for 15/16+), although in reality there’s always a little give on both edges of the age group. Knowing books are marketed to this age group means that books have to appeal to teenagers. Of course plenty of adult books appeal to teens too but the reason YA books are so called is that they speak to teens. YA books published today by traditional publishers (no offense meant but many indie books are mis-marketed as YA) don’t only feature teens but they have to be written for teenagers. It’s not enough to stick teenagers into the book and say it’s YA, the book has to be something that teens relate to whether they’re the issues or the feelings in the story (I’ll get to that in a minute).  

Oh, but just to confuse some of you, some YA books don’t even have teen protagonists! ‘Max’ is an excellent novel written by Sarah Cohen-Scali it’s about Max a child who’s been born as part of the Nazi Eugenics Program. He’s the narrator of his story and the book is very dark with Max spouting out some nasty Nazi beliefs and ideals.  Although Max is just a kid, the whole book is marketed as YA.  Why? Because Max’s mind is that of a teenager.  He’s learning the world from a teenagers point of view and the whole book has a teen voice.

Max is an excellent book by the way and I’d recommend it to older teens and adults.  Very dark but they should read it in schools it’s that good!  I don’t have a review on this blog for you but have reviewed it in the past on my old blog (if you ever find it ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

YA novels have to have a ‘teen voice’.  A teen voice is basically how the book reads. YA novels are often written in the first person narrative because it gives you that teen perspective right away. Teenagers are new to the adult world. When adult books are written with teens as the characters they usually talk about teens and, even if the characters in the stories are new to events and stuff that happens in the book, it’s all described from an adult perspective, the perspective of someone who’s been through it before. Take Caraval for instance. Plenty of people mark this as a YA novel just because Scarlett and Tella are in their late teens. Even though Scarlett has very little experience in relationships and is new to many of the experiences in the wonderful world of Caraval, the whole book isn’t written from a teen mind. If Caraval was a YA novel then Scarlett would be more concerned with social interactions, potential embarrassment and there’d be more focus on certain moments such as her interactions with a certain male character. She’d act more awkward with these new experiences thinking about them from a teenage perspective.

Caraval is a really good novel by the way (you can read my review here ), a great fantasy that many teenagers will enjoy reading but what makes it adult is the fact it doesn’t speak with a teenage voice. And that’s okay. It’s still a stunning book and more than appealing to teens, but YA books have to have that teen voice, that teen perspective or else it doesn’t fall into the category of YA.

A lot of YA books focus on teen issues and in fact many adult issues too such as, growing up, body changes, sexuality, sex, drinking, racism and even drugs. Not all novels have to focus on these subjects but YA novels are far grittier than kids or middle grade books and even many adult stories. Teenagers are new to all these experiences so YA books often deal with a lot of these gritty topics because teens want to read about them and because it’s all new and different to them. It doesn’t mean all YA books are filled with sex, drugs and alcohol. Plenty are in fact pretty mild and deal with simpler issues such as ‘fitting in’ and some even have a more ‘fluffy’ feel with happy endings and funny stories but YA novels WILL focus on teen issues of some kinds, the issues that affect teenagers every day, and they have to be told with that ‘teen voice’.

The pacing of YA books tends to be fast. Although all books are different YA books tend not to slow down too much with deep long and flowery descriptions. Most YA novels, even long ones, will have fast moving action and most of the text with focus on the action rather than long descriptions of the setting.  Teenagers are, by default, living crazy busy and fast lives, so it fits that books written for them and about them should keep up this fast paced feel.

YA novels are evolving all the time. Even the YA books I used to read when I was a teenager (hello those massive piles of ‘Point’ books on the shelves! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Anyone remember those? ) have a different feel to today’s more grittier and faster paced stories. However YA books have always remained books about teen issues written for teens.

Many people wrongfully attach the YA marker to books that should be called adult. In fact many books on amazon today are categorised as YA by their authors (sorry I’m thinking of indie authors here. Nothing against some of you or your books but some books really shouldn’t be called YA). Once you start to read a lot of genuine YA books you’ll start to pick up on what makes it YA versus not. There are vast differences in the way these books feel and read. It doesn’t mean that adults can’t enjoy YA or that teens can’t enjoy adult books. But let’s start labelling them the right way.

If you want to read a typical YA novel just check out some of the big name publisher’s websites for YA books.  A lot of publishers print for the YA market these days and yeah I’m biased because they send me books but I’ll say Walker Books is a big YA publisher!

This is my idea of what makes a book YA and it’s the same view as many I’ve read online on this subject. You might disagree and I’m happy to hear what you think makes a novel YA. Do you read YA books?  Does having teen protagonists make the book YA for you? Is it the pacing or the subject matter? Let’s have a discussion and learn something new! Tell me what you think, I’m excited to know if you agree with anything I’ve said?


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Author: mypeacockbooks

Books, Art, Poetry & Peacocks! I'm a girl who enjoys blogging, reading, being arty and showing off 'Phoenix' the Peacock to everyone I meet!

45 thoughts on “What Makes A Book Young Adult / YA Versus Just Adult?”

  1. Eurgh, Y-A, shudders!๐Ÿ˜‚

    Cool post, totally agree that just because a main character is young it doesn’t make a book Y-A. I had this discussion with people last year who called Nevernight by Jay Kristoff Y-A just because it featured a young MC and I guess because they were Y-A fans and didn’t want to dirty themselves by reading adult fantasy – It’s definitely not Y-A, far more blood, violence, etc than in some adult fantasy I’ve read.

    But no, a young MC doesn’t immediately make a book Y-A and it’s stupid for people to think that way, there’s many many adult fantasy books that have young MC’s who grow up throughout the series, many even preteen in books before they get to being teenagers (Fitz in the Farseer trilogy, Jorg Ancrath in The Broken Empire trilogy and Nona in Red Sister).

    I guess Y-A for me, as someone who doesn’t read, I picture it as having less violence, blood, gore, swearing and grimness which adult fantasy fans like.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. Some YAs have less swearing, violence, etc but some these days can be pretty shocking and ‘adult’ in subject matter. I think YAs though deal with these things like they’re new so more focus on each horrific event rather than it being a ‘normal’ part of the book. Not sure if that came out right..
      So many people are mislabeling YA books when they’re not. I know they’re not dark novels but both Caraval and Strange The Dreamer keep being labelled as YA and seeing #YA on twitter all the time started to make me go a little nuts. It was either write this or go off on someone’s tweet, not sure I’d be popular after that though lol! :D.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, being popular is overrated, I’ve never been popular!๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ™

        Probably best just to write the post and a discussion post is always good for comments too.๐Ÿ˜€ But replying to a tweet could have been stirring the pot so to say as Y-A can be quite vocal.

        I thought Stranger the Dream and Caravel were both Y-A?? Though that is only from the reviews I’ve read labelling them as such.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, don’t want to get on anyone’s bad side, had enough on my old blog ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ! Strange the Dreamer and Caraval are no way YA. They have some young characters but they’re not YA, they don’t have that same YA voice, Strange the Dreamer especially has a few characters of different ages and I even checked the publisher – Hodder & Stoughton doesn’t display it on their YA section which is kind of proof enough for me ๐Ÿ˜€ lol

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to agree with you, a YA book goes beyond than just having teenage or young adult characters in the book. Like you said, it’s more of how appropriate or relevant it is for the young adult age group to read.
    “YA novels are evolving all the time. Even the YA books I used to read when I was a teenager have a different feel to todayโ€™s more grittier and faster paced stories. However YA books have always remained books about teen issues written for teens.”
    ^YES! We’re on the same wavelength on this too. I think the YA books I read back then were more mild, and also less inclusive and diverse.
    (Lastly, this is a side note but a small pet peeve of mine is when others call YA a genre. It’s not! It’s a targeted age group.)
    Anyway, fantastic post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I agree YA is actually an age group. I’m not sure if I called it a genre but just like adult or middle grade it’s a target age group. Genres are fantasy, romance, etc. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and comment ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. This is JUST the post I needed to read. Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚ I was actually googling this exact same thing the other night. I didn’t know if I can actually call my forthcoming book a YA because while a lot of the story showcases the protagonist’s teenage life, the crux of the plot is when she’s 21. And I drop several f bombs, lol… Not sure if the latter has any bearing.

    Reading your article has helped me out, but I’m still slightly conflicted due to the fact that there’s an inner child vibe that drives the book, even well into the protagonist’s adulthood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I totally forgot to mention that this is Eva. “Lunnah” is actually a book I’m thinking of sending out to a publisher instead of self-publishing it. It’s a really huge step for me, and I want you to know that you’re one of the people who have inspired me throughout my writing journey. That review you wrote for “Sought After Blood Lines” made me realize that my writing does in fact have potential and it actually isn’t terrible. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi again, I read it was you, thank you for telling me, I had no idea. Good luck with the book and with sending it out to publishers if you do, I know it’s not easy at all and scary to send your work out there but you really do have a great talent for writing and I’m not just saying that because we are friends ๐Ÿ™‚ .
        Oh that is such a wonderful and kind thing to say. I don’t feel like someone who could inspire anyone. It was actually you who inspired me to be more confident and want to share my writing with people. You’ve been a really wonderful friend. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m so glad we met โค โค โค
        Now I'm going to check out your new blog if that's okay?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sorry for the double comment. XD Anyway, thank you so much. I think I’ll need a literary agent to help me through this. This will be a scary process with quite a bit of rejection along the way, but I’ll keep at it until I succeed.

        Thank you so much for saying that! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m very glad we met on here too!! But that goes without saying. ๐Ÿ˜€ โค

        Anyway, the blog is still in its infant stages, but feel free to take a look! ^_^ I'm going to start posting excerpts on Tuesday.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I came late to your SABL blog so it will be exciting watching this one grow ๐Ÿ™‚ Btw just curious do you think SABL will ever be finished? I don’t mind just wondered what ultimately happens lol.
        Yes a literary agent will probably be needed. I’m not sure if some are better than others but there’s also sometimes opportunities to go straight to the publishers. There’s a UK publisher for example, that holds open submissions from authors for one month or so every year (I think it’s every year). I’ll let you know if I hear about any others. ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh and if you ever want any more help or anything, just ask . I’d be happy to read your book if/whenever you’d like me to โค โค ๐Ÿ™‚
        btw someone just called me an expert on books/ya – that's a confidence boost! ๐Ÿ˜€ lol

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      4. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I’m not sure, to be perfectly honest. I will finish it at some point, but I don’t feel called to do so right now. In a way, SABL was practice for this non-self-published book.

        What I’m writing now is a tad bit more autobiographical and I feel it’s something I need to do.

        Yes, I have noticed that several publishers accept unsolicited/unagented submissions. But if I have a literary agent, I know they will be far more knowledgeable and can help me along the way. I’d still be interested to hear more about that UK publisher, though.

        Thank you! I’d be happy to share it with you upon its completion. I of course wouldn’t expect you to review it… only if you were able to and truly wanted to.

        They did?! Well, I’m definitely not surprised! ๐Ÿ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I’m glad SABL gave you the push to write something more personal. Whatever you truly feel drawn to is the right decision in the end ๐Ÿ™‚ The publisher I know of is called Borough Press, I think it’s an imprint of HarperCollins but I don’t know when their next publishing run is or what their details are. I certainly understand getting the literary agent. Best of luck with it when you do, it’s certainly a good idea as they do their best to find you the best deal and the big name publishers can only be approached that way.
        Enjoy writing and finishing off your book ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope it goes well and you enjoy doing it ๐Ÿ™‚ โค โค

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Thanks for the encouragement and the publisher info. It means a ton coming from you. ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ I hope this creative momentum continues for a while!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi!!! ๐Ÿ˜€ The f bomb thing doesn’t matter at all. Several books I’ve read have lots and I mean lots of f words used throughout and they’re called YA! As for the story, there’s plenty of adult books that look back on younger years. Maybe your book might fit into what is now called New Adult? I don’t actually know much about new adult only, not sure about the actual writing style of anything (haven’t read enough of them yet) but it’s supposed to be focused on that age just after teens but before people really settle down so college/uni years. It’s difficult for me to say though for sure as some YA books don’t feature teens at all like I said. Sorry I’m not more help. It’s usually easy for me to be able to tell YA versus not when I’m reading it but tricky to explain it, took me a long time to write this post and I’m still not sure it’s that helpful lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll look into New Adult. Either way, you did in fact help me out. I feel less uncertain than I did before reading your post, so that’s very telling. ๐Ÿ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you โค I'm still unsure exactly what new adult is. I think it's like a sub-genre of adult but plenty of books now call themselves new adult. I think I'll check some out on NetGalley see if I can understand the difference in them ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Cat , nice post i learnt a lot. I am not much of a reader of fiction. Having said that, i may read one or two a year or none. I am more non fiction. But in general reading and i havent been best friends since childhood. .. but i have changed that equation over the last 15 years. But i cant read as many books as you get through in a week. I liked this post and i would love more of these cause i learn something about the genre and classifications from an expert.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow thank you for saying that. I certainly don’t feel like an expert but it’s so lovely of you to say that. โค I've really taken to reading in the last few months but I didn't used to read as much as I do now. There's nothing wrong with reading less (I can't blog so many new inspiring posts like you can) or even a different genre, non-fiction books are just as worthy of reading as fiction ๐Ÿ™‚ โค Thank you for the boost. I'll certainly think of more posts I can write up about books. This has been my most successful post so far on this blog so that's exciting ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting point. I was at a talk by Rachel Caine about a year ago and she defined YA as books including protagonists age 13-18. She was talking about her Morganville series, and mentioned she could no longer continue the story as Claire would soon turn 18 and then the book would be published as Adult. I’ve always seen YA as that, but it’s cool to see a different view!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting. I think if there’s a fan base and the character doesn’t age much beyond that then some people might accept an 18 year old character, it really does depend on a variety of factors. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting ๐Ÿ˜€ !

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi. I’ve been meaning to comment on this post for a while. As an author, it’s so hard to pin down what age range you should be targeting. I know my book, Visions of Zarua has been loved by 12 year olds to people aged 70+. The characters are all in their early twenties, so I’ve always assumed it should be for the adult market.
    My new book again features characters in their twenties, though one of the MC is 19. Yesterday a reviewer said The Lost Sentinel will appeal to the YA market. I know you are reading it soon, so I’d love your take on what age group I should be targeting. I don’t want to put readers off by aiming for the wrong market, but I don’t want to miss out on valuable sales either!
    Thanks for bringing up this interesting subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting :). I think a lot of books can be enjoyed by multiple age groups. I’ll certainly let you know what I think about your new book but in my mind it’s always good to target the adult market if unsure or just market it as straight fantasy without trying to set an age group. There are lots of YA readers who would happily read adult fiction and many teens eventually do but some adults don’t always like a book marketed as YA and avoid them. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved your example of Animal Farm not being a children’s book just because the main characters are animals. My trivia team actually lost a final question because they said they were looking for a children’s book and though it sounded like it was describing Animal Farm, that book is definitely for adults. The mislabeling of books is rampant and it makes choosing books difficult at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading :). It does sound like a kids book but of course it’s not. Sorry to hear that about your trivia team, at least that mistake won’t be made again :). I think there’s a lot of mislabelling everywhere of books but with online sites like amazon mislabelling too, people are more confused than ever as to what genre/age range books are. Thanks again for visiting ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  8. Reblogged this on wworleyblog and commented:
    It’s worth being reminded the difference between YA and adult books. For an adult writer of YA you may think you remember being a teen but the layers of experience gained since then have to be peeled off to find that teen voice, or work with teenagers to discover that mix of naivety and worldly-wise, empathy and self-absorption and emotional engagement or apparent apathy together with a different set of priorities from an adult.

    Liked by 1 person

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