There’s a growing trend in Young Adult books, and it has to stop.
I’m not the first to notice or call this out, but an awful lot of “young adult” books–particularly in genre fiction like fantasy–feature “teen” characters that think and act more like 30-year-olds. Or they contain content that can be inappropriate for the younger end of the YA reader spectrum.
And I think I know why.
Here are the 5 reasons I believe these books are getting shoved into YA spaces:
1. It’s written by a woman.
First, I’m not talking about adult books that get mistakenly placed on YA Goodreads shelves, such as The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. There was a great BookRiot article about sexism in publishing and how it affects perceptions, and I strongly suggest giving it a read. It’s a definite problem, but not the one I’m addressing today.
I’m talking about books that were written as New Adult or Adult, but the characters have been aged down (in numbers only). That way it can be shelved as Young Adult, because YA is usually branded as a “female space” while adult fantasy is often incorrectly perceived as a “male space”.
This is (obviously) a load of crap, and is also a very gender-binary way to look at things.
2. The author already has Young Adult fans.
Yes, I’m looking at you, Six of Crows. If those characters are really sixteen and seventeen, I’ll eat my hat. They behave and think like people at least in their early twenties, if not a bit older. But the Grisha Trilogy was a wildly successful young adult series. So a spinoff book was placed into YA even though it probably would have been a fantastic new adult book. The only thing that would have to change is the stated age of the characters.
3. New Adult “doesn’t exist”
So many recent books seem to hover in that liminal space between Young Adult and Adult. (*cough cough* A Court of Thorns and Roses *cough*).
But since publishers abandoned New Adult before it could process its initial messy growing pains–and never embraced it in genre fiction at all–these books are forced to choose whether they’re placed in Young Adult or Adult spaces.
And they get pushed into YA because…
4. Young Adult sells really well.
There is a huge and ravenous fanbase of Young Adult readers, many of whom are actually above the target age range of 14-18.
So when a publisher is stuck trying to decide whether to nudge an on-the-fence book in one of two directions, of course they’re going to pick the one that gives them the best sales opportunity.
5. They’re categorized by writing style rather than target audience.
There’s no denying that most Young Adult books have some distinct style features. Among them are:
- Strong character voice
- High emotional focus
- Faster pacing
People who grew up reading Young Adult during or after the Twilight-era YA boom are now writing their own books. Many of them (including myself) are crafting stories with the same sort of prose and pacing as the books we loved as young readers. Many of us want to read and write Adult books, but ones with powerful emotion and voice.
However, in the industry, these hallmarks often make a book “feel” like YA, and they’re often aged down to fit the category.
So what’s the solution?
This is a pretty loaded question… there are so many factors, but two things would go pretty far in helping this situation.
First, we need to take a long, hard look and address the problem of sexism regarding age categories. Women are writing some fantastic adult and new adult fantasy; it’s not just a men’s space. Likewise, there are male authors creating wonderful YA books. And there are talented nonbinary writers in both spaces. Let’s all mix it up and acknowledge that gender has nothing to do with the age category of an author’s books.
Second, bring back New Adult, in all genres.
Readers are so hungry for this category. Publishers: for the love of all that is good in the world, please bring this back. I understand our first foray into New Adult was a disorganized mess of contemporary erotica. But we need a niche for stories about 23-year-olds, but written with YA pacing and voice. Books in the indie space are killing it in the New Adult category. There is a need. Just carve out a spot for it on your shelves already.
Right now, we’re pushing teens out of their own space. We need to leave YA books as a place for and about teens, while carving out a new place for those books that aren’t truly meant to be YA.