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YA Friday: What is YA lit?

Young Adult literature is, unsurprisingly, literature written for young adults.

Notice the for. Not about. I will argue to my last breath that YA doesn’t have to be written about young adults to be written for young adults. It can be, but more important than the age of the protagonists is the style, the type of story, the language, and the intended audience.

Also, if we argue that YA = written about young adults, then we get into this messy business of defining what a "young adult" is. And the legal cutoff at 18 is hardly the end of a young adult’s development. I can say from experience that many teens continue reading their favorite authors and YA books through the college years, even if they do start the transition to adult lit. 

The “YA has to be about young adults” standpoint often classifies books with older protags as adult lit when the writing style, subject matter, etc. is clearly young adult. Two great examples of this: the protagonist of the Montmorency books, a criminal-turned-spy, is in his 30’s. The Abhorsen Trilogy features 19- and 20-year-old protagonists. And yet the novels are for younger readers.

Conversely, just because a book is written about a teenager or teenagers doesn’t make it YA lit. Take George R.R. Martin’s saga A Song of Ice and Fire. No one would ever mistake that as a YA series. And yet many if not most of the characters -- Dany, Jon, Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Theon, Loras, Margaery, Samwell, Gilly, Ygritte, Joffrey, Aegon, I could go on -- are children or teenagers. "Young adults." And they aren’t side characters either: the two pivotal characters of the entire series are aged 16 and 14. If the series has "main" characters, they’re it (with some Tyrion Lannister on the side). And yet ASOIF is by no stretch of the imagination YA lit.

YA = for young adults. It’s all about audience.


  1. So basically, A Song of Ice and Fire is awesome... Sorry, I'm so into that series.

  2. I can definitely agree with you there... ASOIAF is NOT YA.

    When I'm reading those books, I kind of forget every now and again what age they are because is so far out from what I usually read about teenagers, YA books or otherwise.

    And in the HBO series, they look much, MUCH, older because I don't reckon they'd get past any sensor's office (Even HBO's, and they're not prude by any stretch of the imagination) if they had, for examples, the Dany/Drogo scenes with an actress who looked the proper age.

  3. I have only had the pleasure of making through the first book so far. I wasn't going to grab the second until I read the ending of the first...Now it is on my to be grabbed list.

  4. Yes, ASOIF is awesome.

    Sarah: You know, 14 vs. 15 or 16 isn't all that different, which is how much they aged up Jon and Robb). They made all the characters older in the plot as well as their appearance -- Dany's supposed to be 16 or 17 in the show, because you can't legally show a 13yo actress having sex. I guess they decided to go with older characters as well as older actors.


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