Let’s Talk Bookish: What Makes a Book YA?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s discussion topic is ‘What makes a book YA?’ which I think is quite an interesting topic at the moment. YA is very popular and has evolved a lot over the last 20 years. The age range for YA is generally described as 12-18. In the UK you tend to see a bit more of a divide in bookshops, where there is a ‘teen’ section which would be books aimed at 12-14 year-olds and a ‘YA’ section which is more 14+, with YA dealing with more mature subject matter than teen fiction.

So what makes a book YA? Well, some of the things that seem to be common across most YA is that they explore the lives of young characters finding their place in the world or discovering something about themselves. While plot is important, characters are vital to YA. There is usually romance (though I would happily see more YA focusing on friendship than romance) and the pacing is often faster than Adult titles.  

Then there is crossover. Crossover can go two ways. It can be a YA novel that has appeal for adults so is published as YA but also marketed to adults. Or an Adult book that has appeal to a YA audience so is published as Adult but also marketed to YA readers. I don’t think there’s any problem with this when utilised appropriately. It’s a great way for books to reach more hands of people who will enjoy them. But I think it can become confusing for people in relation to the what’s YA and what’s Adult debate.

There are definitely issues with how women authors are categorised, particularly in the fantasy genre. I see time and time again novels by women that are labelled as Adult fantasy still ending up in the YA section of the book shop or with a YA label on Goodreads. For example, I always see some V. E. Schwab books in the YA section of the bookshop even though they are Adult. From a reader perspective this makes it difficult to know what you’re reading. I’d like to know when I read a book whether it’s YA or Adult (or crossover) so I can have appropriate expectations of what to expect when I read it.

One issue with this is that books aimed at adults, potentially with adult content not suitable for younger readers, ends up in the YA section and being unknowingly picked up by readers at the younger end of that age category.

A series that often gets discussed with regards to this issue is the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas. The series has been categorised as YA but has a warning about content not being suitable for younger readers on the back cover. If you haven’t read it, there are some seriously steamy sex scenes that are much more graphic than anything else I’ve read in YA. But at the same time, I think this series does appeal to a YA audience. So I can see why it was put in the YA category, since Maas’s first series, Throne of Glass, was YA as well. But with this amount of sexual content, especially later in the series, it probably should have been shelved as Adult. Fortunately, I picked this series up as an adult, but if I’d read it as a younger teen…hmm…well…it probably wouldn’t have been appropriate and I would have been surprised to find that content in a book I’d picked up in the YA section.

There seems to be an issue with fantasy being edged towards the YA category rather than Adult because it’s been written by a woman, when it would fit better in the Adult category. Adult science-fiction and fantasy is full of amazing works by women, but it still seems to be a genre dominated by men.

Attitudes towards female sci-fi and fantasy authors needs to change. It’s completely ridiculous that fantasy by women so often gets pushed towards YA purely because of the author’s gender.

What do you think makes a book YA? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish: What Makes a Book YA?

  1. Great discussion! I struggled a bit with this topic, since it kinda differs per reader I think!
    But I do agree that for YA the characters are very important!

    (www.evelynreads.com)

  2. I always assumed V.E. Schwab’s books were all YA but when I actually read A Darker Shade of Magic it definitely didn’t have a YA feel…which was why I was surprised that I’d picked it up in the YA section of the bookstore. I know that YA is a marketing category and it’s all about making money but I would LOVE to read more books targeted towards my age range but everything falling into the YA umbrella makes it hard to find them.

    • I thought the same thing about V. E. Schwab’s books until I saw her tweet about many of them being Adult, which I was surprised by! (I haven’t read any of her books yet.) It’s can be hard to find things when everything included in YA is so broad.

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