Young Adult versus Adult

When I was younger, I always dreamed of writing a book for young adults.  But over the past few years, YA books have changed.  When I walk the shelves of books stores, dark books with tortured protagonists seem to line the shelves, books that I never imagined finding in a young adult section only a few years ago.  So now I’m having trouble determining exactly what makes a book young adult verses adult.

These are the rules I thought were important:

  • The character must be a young adult.
  • The themes and topics must be appropriate for young adults.
  • Vocabulary and language must be appropriate for young adults.
  • Young adult books should deal with a different level and type of character development.
  • Young adult books should run from 40,00-80,000 words

The problem I’m having now is that these rules don’t seem quite so important anymore.  And also, what people deem appropriate for this age group is shifting.  I know school libraries are still fairly careful about the content and language in the books they supply, but young adults are going out of their way to buy books that the schools don’t allow.  If anything, they seem drawn to books that aren’t “allowed.”

Now, I have no desire to get into a debate about what should or shouldn’t be allowed, I’m more interested in trying to figure out what rules I should be following as a writer.  Part of me says that it is just my comfort level, but the other part of me wonders how I can compete with books that push these limits more than mine do.

So, I guess my questions are as follows: what is the difference between a young adult book and a book for adults?  And, are there really any rules anymore when it comes to YA books?


About lisamorrowbooks

Lisa Morrow is a life-long reader who treasures fantasy in all forms. Being a middle child in a large family gave her a unique perspective on the world, but few experiences compare to her time spent studying abroad in Cambridge, England and wandering throughout Europe. After her travels, Lisa settled down in Arizona to teach junior high English, and later, to spend time with her young children, husband, and cats. To some people, her life may seem quiet. But to her, every day is spent in a world colored by the imagination of children, and fantastical worlds created by her very own mind.
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6 Responses to Young Adult versus Adult

  1. I think one of the “rules” should be (and sometimes seems to be) that the main character is one the reader can admire. Yes, they can be selfish or lazy in the beginning, they can have personality flaws and a dark past, but through the novel they should grow and change in a positive way that gives a young reader someone and something to look up to. When I was a kid one of my greatest heroes was Alanna from the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce because she was such a strong female character. Yes, there was a requisite love triangle in the books, but she never spent whole chapters crying and lamenting the way some YA novel characters (*cough* Bella *cough*) do now-a-days.

    • This is a really excellent point. I find even my students lose interest in characters who they don’t admire. They don’t mind some character flaws, but being selfish and lazy aren’t tolerable as tolerable as, let’s say, being naive.

  2. Zen says:

    It’s difficult to find true Young Adult books anymore. When I go to bookshops, the only way I differentiate between the Adult books and the supposed YA ones is through the covers. Recently all YA covers look the same; they all feature a pretty girl or guy. You wouldn’t find any of these covers in the Adult section.

    • I’ve also noticed the covers all seem to be in dark shades. Walking through the YA section, every color is dark and “dramatic”. A few years ago, this section had a lot of variety.

  3. I’ve often wondered that myself, since many of the YA books I read are better than the “adult” stuff. 😀 I’ve been kind of wondering the same with my current work in progress as well since it could probably appeal to audiences of either sort. Honestly I think it just comes down a lot to the age of your protagonists. If it’s written *about* and from the perspective of young adults, like teenagers, I generally consider it a young adult book. As far as themes go, maybe I’ve always had twisted reading habits but I remember some pretty hairy stuff in YA books I read as a kid, including ones I got at the school library or from the Scholastic book fairs. One that comes to mind was about a young boy who ran away from a crappy foster home situation and made a home for himself in subway tunnels. I recall another (that was sort of similar in theme to the movie JUMPER, I totally was not reading porno :D) having quite a violent attempted-rape (same-sex rape, even) scene in it.

    Anyway, I don’t know that there are RULES at all as such, aside from the “this is the best way to get an editor to even look at your book” sort of rules. If you were trying to sell the Song of Ice & Fire series to a YA publisher you probably wouldn’t have much luck what with all the murder and incest and buckets of blood and whatnot. But if the sort of violent domestic-abuse situations in Twilight are totally YA, then I seriously don’t know.

    • You are absolutely correct. Following some “rules” would likely help a person get published, but then, if it is good enough, or written by a well-known author, it seems the rules get thrown out the window.

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