I have been thinking about this topic for quite a while, but I haven’t really made a post about it. I guess I was afraid people would take this post the wrong way? I want to say that I am not bashing YA books, or its readers. I read books marketed as YA often too, so I have absolutely no problem with the books themselves. What I do have a bit of an issue with, is the fact that it’s named YA (young adult). Hear me out.
Apparently, according to the American Library Association defines the YA category as aged between 12 and 18. That is absolutely ridiculous to me. I would classify that as “teen fiction”. However, I guess that doesn’t sound as great? To start my reasoning as to why this should be called teen fiction, I’ll show you some definitions.
Adult: A person who is fully grown or developed or of age; a person who has attained the age of maturity as specified by law.
That right there says it all. A young adult is in fact an adult. A person who recently became an adult. To me, this should mean that young adult should be categorized as 18-25 (or so). Because that’s when you are of age, in the eyes of the law, and you need to start making the most important decisions of your life.
You decide what you want to study. Which job you want. How to apply for jobs. How to live on your own. How to do the washing without shrinking or dying anything by accident. How to stay organized. Basically, how to adult. You need to learn all these things, because before you were most likely living with your parent(s).
Being a young adult is about figuring out things on your own. And I know that high school can be a lot of work and stress. You won’t hear me deny that. But it’s NOT the same thing! Don’t get me wrong, but in modern society, there isn’t a single 13 year old who would be classified as a young adult. Gone are the days when you are an adult at 13 because you are married off at that age. You can’t do that anymore, because it’s against the law. Why? Because you are still a minor, and thus not an adult.
I am now 21 years old. Although I’ll be turning 22 in September. I am about to graduate university. I have to start looking for jobs, and afterwards, a place to live. If I move countries, I’ll have to figure out all that paperwork. When I read a contemporary YA book, I want to read about women and men who are going through the same things. Yet I never can while reading YA, because that has now turned into teen fiction.
Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against what I’d call teen fiction. It’s just so frustrating to me that the only times I can really read about someone my own age in contemporaries, it’s in a “new adult” book. I like new adult. I do. But it’s usually about dramatic relationships and sex. Why can’t we have the YA topics too? We are also trying to figure out our lives!
I am going to stop now before I write 10 pages. I’m just so angry about feeling forgotten. The adult fiction usually stars people from age 30-35+, and young adult barely ever reaches 18. Where are the 20-somethings? What do we get?
What do you think about this? Do you feel like the categorization is right, or do you think teen fiction is a better word for it?
29 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Understand The Term “Young Adult” Anymore”
Great arguments, I agree completely! I love YA, but it’s true that there seems to be a black hole concerning the college age and that is a pity. Because there is so much life-changing stuff going on at that time and it is looked over. I think that they are trying to fill that hole with New Adult but I feel like it’s just starting and most of it is just not that good yet…
Exactly! It’s like a black hole, which authors seem to have forgotten about.
I actually have been thinking about this a lot lately. I think that YA is misleading to people outside the bookish community because as you said a young adult is above 18 BUT if they want to call teen fiction young adult and make New adult for people above 18, they should make sure to widen their subject choices rather than just sex and romance because it makes me feel like that’s what my life is supposed to be about right now haha (Okay not really but you get the point) but it is about so much more. I feel like important subjects skip our age range and go from teens to adults all the while overlooking us and it is unfair.
I loved reading this post, thank you for sharing your thoughts !
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Exactly! My life doesn’t revolve around a dramatic romance or sex right now, so it’s hard to relate to 90% of NA fiction! I also feel overlooked. There are so many important things to deal with at this age, yet it seems like everyone has forgotten that.
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This is a very interesting post! I think YA novels in my head has turned into this genre with main characters of teenagers around 17-18 years old. And the themes surrounding these books do not feel very adult for me. Which is why I’ve lost interest in the genre and prefer adult fiction now.
But I do feel like maturity does not really account to age. Sure, if you are 22 years old you’ll know more about finding a job or financial problems than 13 year olds. But just because of that doesn’t mean 22 year olds can act as mature as they’re supposed to be or 13 year olds cannot be as mature as a 20 year old. Same goes for a character’s actions in a book.
Thank you! I do understand what you mean, age doesn’t necessarily mean mature. On the other hand… I thought I was mature (and very adult-y) when I was 16. Looking back almost 6 years later (wait, 6 years? How did that happen….) I definitely wasn’t. I mainly meant that I’d love to see more books in which characters are going through things you have to start doing at this age: looking for jobs, moving out, etc.
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While they might not be always labeled “Young Adult” or “New Adult”, the books starring young to late 20s are out there. In fact, I would say the vast majority of the books I see on shelves in the general fiction area of a bookstore star characters in this age range, on par with the books that star early to late 30s. I guess it all depends on what the “YA topics” that you want to see are, because I find that YA covers a lot of ground in terms of themes.
I do like the themes in YA, I just wish I found more of them with my own age… You really find them easily? Wow, I should check more carefully in my bookstore then.
You’re definitely right about NA novels – the ones that seem to get the most attention are predominantly romance-based. Some of the ones I’ve seen around have more relatable sub-plots, but the main story arc is usually a dramatic, angst-filled romance plot.
Reading YA in middle school and high school helped me navigate a lot of tricky social situations because I was able to see how things might play out through books; I definitely wish that there had been some NA or YA books that would’ve helped me with moving into my first apartment out of my undergrad degree. Great points here, Jolien! 🙂
Exactly! I’m not saying that YA isn’t a good genre, because it’s amazing to have these books to help you relate. I just wish, like you, that there were more for us young twenties out there!
Great discussion post! I understand your frustrations, but I think the term “young adult” had become a lot broader than what it used to be, particularly now that it has picked up steam after the past several years. Take Hunger Games for example – a “young adult” novel, yet I’ve seen kids as young as fourth grade reading it, all the way up to adults my father’s age.
I think maybe the term has moved away from suggested age of readers to that of the topics within the books themselves and whether or not they are appropriate for such readers. Like, you see sex scenes and such in NA books, but hardly /ever/ in YA unless it’s skimmed over.
I dunno, like you suggested, it’s a pretty muddled category now. Either way, I still enjoy them. I still read “children’s” literature and greatly enjoy them, two authors being Erin Hunter (Warrior Cats sagas) and Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson). I’m reading his newest book, The Hidden Oracle right now and it’s adorable, as always. =3
Brittany @ http://www.spacebetweenthespines.com/
Thank you! That’s an interesting view, it might be like that. I would see how that could work, so you’d know whether or not they are appropriate. But that still doesn’t deal with the fact that YA actually stands for young adult :p. I do enjoy reading “children’s” books too! Rick Riordan is one of my favorite authors.
We basically get New Adult and chicklit, which comes with its own set of problems. New Adult because it’s usually college-themed and very heavy on sex scenes, and chicklit because it’s not exactly the most realistic representation of things. I feel very much in between genres, because YA has characters I no longer relate to. I’m in no man’s land.
Exactly! I don’t get why we appear to be forgotten…
i have had these same thoughts…. and then what is “middle grade fiction” – wouldn’t some of that cross over into that YA age bracket of 12-18? But MG fiction and YA fiction are worlds apart. I think the 20-somethings are supposed to have New Adult, but I think that’s just silly 😉
Right?! All these categorizations seem ridiculous.
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Well, there’s New Adult, which sadly mostly includes college-style romances. But I see what you mean, very few protagonists are in their early twenties – either they’re younger or older.
I wouldn’t necessarily give YA books to 12-year-olds, though. For me, YA books are for 15+ year-olds but anyone older can read them because they usually tackle themes that are interesting for everyone, not just teenagers. But I think you start becoming a young adult when you get that feeling that you are grown up already, which comes around the time you hit high school. I would definitely say I *felt* like an adult at 16 (even though now, looking back, I know I wasn’t). But it was around that time that I went on holidays with my friends for the first time, not with my parents, I started going out (and smoking and drinking but that’s a discussion for another time), and so on. It’s an age of acquiring independence and I think that YA books are (or should be) geared towards such a public.
But you’re completely right, there is a lack of books for young adults who are already independent, studying and perhaps even living apart from their parents, but who don’t have kids yet, or partners for life, or whatever is considered to be “adult”.
If you find any good (non-romance) books for your age group, let me know! 🙂
Great discussion, as always! 🙂
That’s a good point! You feel more like an adult (although in retrospect, I certainly wasn’t at 16 either). I will hunt for those books, and let you know if I find any good ones! 😀
There have been attempts to remedy this with creating the new genre of New Adult genre but this great article at HuffPost points out why it never really caught on. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-sarner/the-problem-with-new-adul_b_3755165.html
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That’s a great article, thank you so much!
I completely agree! I want to read YA-type plots about people in their early-mid twenties; not every NA book has to be all about romance. A lot of times I ignore when YA characters are between 15-17 and just go ahead and pretend they’re somewhere around 18-26. I think a lot of YA is about growing up, and these types of stories would make just as much sense (if not more) if they were about someone who was college graduate/entering the adult world age as if they were about someone who was turning 16. That’s not to say stories about 15/16/17 year olds aren’t important, just that not every YA book has to be about that age range. I definitely think there should be “Teen Fiction” about 13-19 year olds and “Young Adult Fiction” about 18-26 year olds, although I think a lot of “teens” would prefer to think of themselves as “young adults,” whether or not that’s true.
Great post! 🙂
I completely agree with you! Sometimes I pretend like they’re older too 😀 Those categorizations would work really well! Although like you said, we all like to think we’re more mature than we really are -especially in our teens.
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I’ve wondered about this once too, because I don’t think anybody considers 13-year olds or anyone around my age (15) as anything near an “adult” at all anymore. I do see how it would be a bit proper to call 18-25 year olds as YA because, if I think about it myself, the term “Young Adult” makes me think of those people who experience adulthood for the first time. But then again… isn’t that NA as well? Gah. It’s a bit confusing to think about it, but I totally get your point. Really great post, Jolien!
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Exactly! I feel like NA was just created so they could put sex scenes in YA (maybe not all of the NA books are like that, but most are). And I do like reading NA once in a while. But I want to read about more than just romance. Thank you so much! 🙂
Wow, this post is so insightful. I haven’t ever really dwelled on the term “young adult,” but now that you bring it up, I agree that the target group for young adult fiction isn’t actually considered young adult in society.
I just finished my last semester of college and I’m graduating this weekend, so I’m currently undergoing actual young adult struggles. I would love to read books where characters go through what I’m going through now, but as you said, they’re pretty hard to find. Sure, “new adult” is targeted more towards our age group, but you nailed it on the head when you said new adult is all about dramatic relationships and sex. Very rarely do I come across a book with a character that’s going through this transition period in life to becoming a “real adult.”
I think young adult fiction is coined “young adult” because teenagers like reading books that they believe are above their age group. For instance, someone in elementary school may want to read something that’s considered “middle grade” because it’s a step up to where they currently are. I think that saying a book is “young adult” makes the actual content of book sound more mature than it is, and therefore attracts a wider range of readers compared to if it were called “pre-teen fiction” or “teen fiction.” This is a hypothesis, however – I have no real basis for this.
Back to the main issue though – I’d love it if more books were written targeted towards our age group, with the content illustrating our day-to-day lives instead of focusing on angsty sex and bad decisions. Great post, Jolien! 🙂 ❤
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Thank you so much (also for the amazing comment)! I think you’re completely right though. We all like to believe we’re more mature than the others, especially at those ages. It could actually be like this.
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