What is YA?

What is YA

Young Adult fiction is written for kids anywhere from the ages of 13 and 17. However, that doesn’t mean it’s restricted to just those ages. The later Harry Potter books, for example, were anxiously awaited by people of all ages. This 38 year old even wrote a song about it!

Though a 40 year-old can enjoy YA as much as his 13 year-old daughter, when approaching a YA book one must take into account some the subtle differences between YA and Adult, else he might find himself wanting to crash his head against the wall.


The kids in YA are young. 14-18. Anything less quickly falls into middle grade. Anything more and it’s probably adult. Also, the protagonist of a YA story is almost always 1-2 years older than the age it’s marketed for. Yeah, it’s kind of weird, but let me explain…

As kids, who do we look up to most, but our slightly older peers? 7Th graders can’t wait to be freshmen. Freshmen can’t wait to be seniors. We like to read about people who are older than us, the people we want to be! But they can’t be too much older or our heroes start to feel foreign and faceless.

(Of course, there are also those nerd children who devour The Lord of the Rings when they’re eleven… Those are special people.)

Not only are the protagonists in YA a little older than their readers, they often act a couple years older than they are. The entire YA genre is consumed with the transition from child to adult. So what you typically find are high school kids faced with very adult problems, often figuring out those problems for themselves while navigating around the limitations of their age.


YA stories are usually set in our around school, though not as much you’ll find in middle grade. Dystopian YA is quickly stepping away from the school aspect, but in general, YA is focused around school.

School is what 15-year-olds know. It’s our past, present, and future at that age. We may despise it, but it’s familiar. Relatable. We know exactly what it’s like to be burdened by paper after endless English paper. What makes it fun is when we’re reading about someone who saves the world on top of that.


Romance is popular everywhere. Even the most manly of action flicks always has some kind of romance side-plot, but romance is especially popular in YA.

My theory is this: at that age, romance is new and exciting. A kid turning 13 is usually past the “boys have cooties” phase and has moved on to the “Oh my god he’s SOOOO hot” phase, so stories about sexy sparkling vampires are more than she could have asked for.

Not only do romance stories entertain kids, but they teach them. Kids watch the relationships between Edward and Bella or Harry and Cho and are subconsciously learning how to behave and how not to behave in those situations. However, as much as Young Adult books are the model for how teens should behave, they are the single worst place anyone can go for dating advice. Like, ever. Why do you think teenagers today pump so much drama into their flimsy, superficial relationships?

Okay, side note: I have read some stellar YA with very mature and wonderful relationships between 16 year-olds (I Don’t Want to Kill You, for example). Unfortunately, those books are not as prominent as sparkly vampire hunky-bunnies. It’s sad, but true.

Writing Style
YA is often more straight forward than a lot of adult fiction. I hardly ever read purple prose when I pick up a YA. That doesn’t mean that the stories aren’t beautiful or deep. It just means that they’re easy to digest very quickly (due to short attention spans). Large words are sparce, at least in the younger range, and authors can get away with breaking ALL the rules. ALL the time.

Also, a lot of YA is written in first person. So many crazy thoughts bounce around inside of our heads, especially at that young age. Hormones raging everywhere, figuring out who we are and our place in this world… A lot of introspection happens in YA. Enough to make a more advanced reader annoyed if not done properly.


Honestly, I’m not sure that I know enough about YA to justify writing a post on it. I have to admit, though, even though YA isn’t exactly a genre in and of itself, it’s the type of story I read most often. My guilty pleasure, if you will.

There’s something about the minds of teenagers that has always appealed to me, even now that I have only a few short months left of being one myself. Kids can be so amazingly irrational and creative and crazy. And young protagonists can deal with fun problems that would be silly for an adult to have.

However, the most appealing aspect of YA is that transition from child to adult, which, as I mentioned earlier, is really what this “genre” is all about. We all have to figure out who we are at some point. We all have to learn that growing up really isn’t so bad. And we all have to learn that adulthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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