More “adult” than “young”

The “young adult” sector is generally considered to encompass the 12-18 set. This is a pretty huge span: there’s much more of a developmental difference between, say, a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old than there is between a 30-year-old and a 32-year-old. Obviously, some YA books are aimed toward the younger end of the spectrum – the “tweens” – and some are pitched toward an older audience. Add to this that YA is beginning to encompass a few more years in either direction – so it might span from 10 to 25 (according to YALSA) – and that’s not exactly a homogenous demographic.

Additionally, there’s no switch that gets flipped when you turn 19, and all of a sudden you are totally uninterested in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and are picking up  Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom instead. Readers in their late teens and early twenties may go back and forth between YA and adult fiction – especially if there isn’t much out there featuring main characters in that age range, as seems to be the case (“Where Are All the Young ‘Adults’?”, Young Adult Review Network; “The College Experience in YA Books,” YALSA’s The Hub). Both of those articles have a few suggestions for YA fiction featuring late teen/early 20s protagonists; I’ve added a few below as well. Feel free to add more in the comments!

Love is the Higher Law, David Levithan (set in New York; characters are high school seniors/college freshmen)

Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld (set at a Massachusetts boarding school)

I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe (set at a fictionalized Duke University)

The House of Sleep, Jonathan Coe (set at an English university)

Lucky Girls, Nell Freudenberger (short stories)

10 thoughts on “More “adult” than “young”

  1. Thanks for the recommendations Jenny, and for reading my blog. I will certainly be adding these to my list. I think my issue though was with the fact that some of these titles are not marketed as YA. They are marketed as adult. I would love to see more titles like “Love is the Higher Law” that are released as YA and can found in the YA shelves. “Prep,” for example had a nostalgic element that isn’t in “The Piper’s Son.” I prefer the latter to the former. I could be way off with this, but I trust you since your an awesome librarian. Thanks again.

    • I agree with you about the marketing, and also about the nostalgia element – that’s one thing that often separates YA from adult, even if the story has a teenage main character. Usually, in YA, the main character narrates in the present or recent past, whereas adult fiction about teens tends to be narrated from a greater distance, looking back – thus the nostalgia. As for the marketing, it often comes down to a business decision: adult books generally have higher cover prices and a larger audience. However, the YA market is definitely growing, and more editors are looking for titles with crossover appeal, so hopefully we’ll start seeing more YA books for the late teens/early 20s set.

      I’ll have to check out The Piper’s Son. Thanks for commenting!

      • I think in the past it may have been safer to place late teens/early 20s books in adult because of your points, but I definitely think the YA landscape is in constant fluctuation and will need to appeal to this overlooked group of readers. I know when I was 16 and wanted to read about the college experience I had no choice but to go to the adult shelves and much of what I got to read did not end up reflecting what I actually went through in college. It seemed to cater towards the movie versions of collegiate rather than what really happens. Then again, I might have just picked up the wrong books. “The Piper’s Son” though is an amazing read and kind of, in my opinion, pushes the boundaries of what YA is and what YA is meant to do for readers. Thanks for the wonderful discussion.

  2. First of all I would like to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I have had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there. I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Thank you!

    • Thank you. As for your question, I tend to focus my posts here around a single idea or topic, and that idea usually comes from reading articles (or books). Then I frame my writing around those sources, and try to add something new if I can. Essentially, I use other people’s writing as a springboard for my own. Hope that helps!

  3. Did I tell you that the school system where I work has Freedom by Franzen on the 9th grade summer reading list? It baffles my mind to think why it might appeal to a 13/14 year old….

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