Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What is the Difference Between YA and Adult?

What's the difference between young adult and adult novels? Tell me I'm not the only aspiring author who has wondered (and still wonders sometimes). Some novels are clearly written for younger, middle grade readers. But what about older teens? After all, the term "young adult" implies that the reader is an adult, right? So where is the line drawn?

I recently read a fairly popular young adult novel featuring a ninteen-year-old freshman in college who is in love with someone two to three years older than her. That makes the male protag, like, twenty two!

The distinction? I'd love your thoughts in the comments. Here's what I've discovered via a little research:

(the following information I found from Let The Words Flow, Wikipedia, and here)

Age of Intended ReadersYoung Adult Fiction (often abbreviated as YA), is "fiction written for, published for, or marketed to adolescents and young adults, roughtly ages 14 to 21 (Wikipedia)

While we shouldn't go over the top researching teen slang, the narrative and dialogue should read like a teen would think and speak. A young adult novel filters the world through the eyes of a teenager. Remember what it felt like to be a teenager? Remember your thought process? Teens see things differently, feel differently, and understand on a different level.

(Let the Words Flow)

Content and Theme
Themes in young adult novels focus on the challenges of youth and the journey of becoming an adult (think coming-of-age). Some common themes (found here) include:

  • Identity

  • Sexuality

  • Science Fiction

  • Depression

  • Drug Abuse

  • Familial Struggles

  • etc...
In a paper written by April Dawn Wells, seventeen common traits of young adult novels are outlined:

  • Friendship

  • Geting into trouble

  • Interest in the opposite sex

  • Money

  • Divorce

  • Single Parents

  • Remarriage

  • Problems with Parents

  • Grandparents

  • Younger Siblings

  • Concern over Grades/School

  • Popularity

  • Puberty

  • Race

  • Death

  • Neighborhood

  • Job/working (photo credit)

What am I missing? Have you ever read sections of a young adult novel and thought yeah right, a young adult would never think that/use that language, etc... Have you ever read or written a novel that falls in the gray zone between young adult and adult? Do you like cross over novels? I would love to learn from you, so please share your thoughts.


  1. I've read a lot of adult books with a teen protagonist and I've thought "Why is this not YA?"

    I've not written a book between YA and adult but I am writing one at the moment between MG and YA. I just don't know where is fits.

  2. I was just explaining the difference to my sister. I'm more of a YA writer, but I have a friend that writes MG, and down to the tone and mood our books are different. But sometimes I read YA that has such a younger feel that I think it should be MG and the age of the protag should be different....and sometimes vice versa.

  3. Interesting thoughts! I write YA, and I think the themes as well as the types of stories specific to YA are what separate it from adults. I think there is also a strong emotional component that is vital in YA (not that it isn't in other books, too)-- readers want not just a good story, but a vicarious emotional experience. I still can't specifically describe the differences, though! It's a hard thing to articulate.

  4. I have wondered this same thing. My latest book, The Sister Pact, had a 24yo protagonist and was sold as romantic suspense but my greatest fan mail was from teenage girls. Makes me wonder if we're targetting the wrong market!
    Thanks for outlining it so well,