Young Adults novel (shortened as YA novel) is a literature subcategory within the Young Adult fiction genre. The concept of the young adult (YA) refers to adolescence and youth, though it is very context-dependent. According to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) YA books are those aimed at people from 12 to 18 years old (teenagers). In most of the cases, the protagonists of the novels fall within those age ranges, and the story is told through teenage eyes.
What are Young Adults novels?
YA novels have teens as their target audience, although adults also often read them, as in the case of the Harry Potter book series. These books address a diverse set of contemporary relevant topics such as dystopia, romance, paranormal (and fantasy) stories, drugs, suicide, sex, gender issues, bullying, parental divorce and terminal cancer. The most successful YA novels books are typically those with high emotional stakes (literal life, death struggle or a school crush story). Two important trends in the YA novel are epistolary novels (in letter format) and verse novels (with poem characteristics).
Between children and adult literature
“In their development into adults, teens are establishing their identity, forming relationships and expanding their perspectives. Thus, they want to read books that speak to these issues (death, religion, politics, race, economics and sexuality)” (Ulate & Meads, 2014, np). Just as teenagers are not children anymore nor adults yet, the literature specifically published for them cannot be categorized as children literature (CL) nor adult literature.YA literature is not just a combination of these two categories, but a whole new genre with its own characteristics, content, format, authors and audience. YA novels, in contrast with CL, represent more possibilities: a tragic novel like Lois Lowry’s (1993) The Giver, or a dystopian irony like M.T. Anderson’s (2002) Feed, are good examples of how YA novels explore literature modes that CL does not (Coats, 2010: 307) .
According to Coats (2010) while fantasy is a major subgenre of children’s novels, there are more science fiction novels for the middle school reader as the target audience. Moreover, this distinguishes YA literature from CL where the protagonists are younger than 12: “while YA literature addresses teen readers, the best works embody complex literary devices and universal themes found in canonical texts and other adult literature” (Ulate & Meads, 2014, np). However, “despite having thematic and structural tendencies of its own, the YA novel blends with the novel for adults in its employment of, for example, themes and scenes of sexuality and the presence of science fiction” (Coats, 2010: 308).
According to VanderStaay (1992) — who discusses the role of YA literature to young readers —, on the one hand, this genre is said to be prejudiced by what we want to say to our teenagers because “it serves as a model from which to learn from, identify with, and most importantly, to emulate” (ibidem: 51); on the other hand, much of its influence is from what young people want to hear, and not exclusively from adult impositions as it happens in the CL system.
In the academic scene, there are books providing analytic frames for studying YA novels, such as the Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature (Wolf et al., 2010). In his chapter, Coats (2010) writes about literary experiences and creative production from renowned authors and illustrators specifically from YA novels. This genre currently brings interest to students and scholars in a range of areas including Childhood Studies, Youth Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, Geography, Politics, Psychology, Education, Health, Social Work and Social Policy.
Anderson, M. T. (2002). Feed. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Coats, K. (2010) Young Adult Literature: Growing Up, In Theory. In Wolf, S., Coats, K., Enciso, P., & Jenkins, C. (Eds.) (2010). Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature (1st ed.), Routledge, pp. 315-330.
James, A. & James, A. (2012) ‘Youth.’ In: Key concepts in childhood studies. SAGE Publications, pp. 141-142.
Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. Boston; New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Meads, K. & Ulate, J. (2014). Young adult literature-not just entertainment. Washington Square The Stories of San Jose State University.
Topping, F. (2012). Act Your Age! A Cultural Construction of Adolescence. Taylor and Francis.
VanderStaay, S. (1992). Young-Adult Literature: A Writer Strikes the Genre. English Journal, 81(4):. 48–52.