Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Musings: Adult vs YA - what's the difference?

I'm reading a book right now that is sold as a YA fantasy. I'm pretty sure the reason it's shelved in the YA section is because the protagonist is 16. But the farther I get into the book, the more I'm convinced that it should be marketed to an adult audience. There is nothing remotely "teen" about the book.

That got me to thinking. Besides the age of protagonists, what is the difference between YA and Adult reading? Here's what I came up with.

1. Themes and situations. The themes found in Adult vs YA are a vastly different.

Some example of themes I've found in recent adult books I've read: Dating with kids. Sex. (I know there are YA books out there with sex, but the majority of the YA I read has little to no sex.) Work-life-balance. The joys and struggles of maintaining a long term relationship. Parent-child relationships from the parent's POV. These are all themes that would not pop up in YA books. Their ones I'm personally interested in because they more reflect my current stage of life.

Example of YA themes I've seen: Conflicts with friends. Love angst. Friendship angst. School conflicts. Parent conflicts (from the teen's POV). Coming of age.

2. Pacing. I think adult novels often have a slower pace. Not always, but I defnitely think authors can get away with a methodical pace in an adult novel. YA, on the other hand, tends to be very fast-paced -- one of the things I personally love about it.

3. Length. It's not very often I see a 700 page YA novel. I see them quite a bit in the adult section. I think long YA books are often sliced into multiple novels.

4. Age of the Protagonists. This is sometimes a good indicator of where a book should be shelved, but not always. One example I can think of is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. One of the main characters is sixteen at the start of the series, but the series is definitely written for adults. The characters, even the young ones, are all very adult with adult problem. So I don't think protagonist age should be the only thing taken into consideration when calculating the target audience for a novel.

What do you guys think? I'd love to hear what you guys have to say about YA vs Adult, and how you categorize the two.



9 comments:

  1. Hm. This is a tough one. When the novel is targeted to a younger generation, I think authors or publishers tend to group everything together into one genre, otherwise known as YA, because there's nothing in between. I've been talking about this with a group of readers awhile back and there's a relatively new genre called New Adult which is the ages of 17 to 26, or somewhere in that range, which sounds like your novel might be placed under. I've been seeing this a lot too, where authors place a novel in the young adult genre, but it is clearly intended for more mature adults. Nice post!

    Thanks for stopping by,
    @ Livin' Life Through Books

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    1. @ Felicia - I saw "new adult" on a recent book blog, but I didn't realize what it meant! Very cool. I'll have to keep my eye out for more books in this new genre to get a better feel for them.

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  2. I think the age of the protagonist is usually how you decide the reading grade, but that's not always the case. If a book is just over the head of teenagers, then the book should be marketed for adults. I think that's why books have reading grades, so that books can be read by people of any age and be relatable and meaningful to those readers.

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    1. @ Cathy - good point about the reading grades. I hadn't thought of that!

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  3. You've made an interesting point. I've read a lot of "YA" that's actually better suited for an adult audience. I don't always believe that the protagonist's age is the defining factor.

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    1. @ Andrea -- there's definitely a YA that crosses over into adult. Hunger Games and Twilight both come to mind.

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  4. Wonderful topic. I was just thinking about this today. I was looking at Nightlife by Rob Thurman and thinking that the MC is only 16-17 but they are definitely adult. They're just grittier. You know?

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    1. @ Jenny - Sometimes it seems like there's an almost intangible point that tips a book from YA to adult. "Grittier" is a good word to describe it.

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  5. I've been grappling with this very concept for my next WIP! Great minds really do think alike. It's so hard to tell where the YA line ends and the adult section begins. It's little wonder that everyone is confused. I don't really have an answer either. I agree with the you on your distinctions but I love Felicia's thoughts about this New Adult category. Maybe the distinction is not so much the age of the MC as it is the way the novel is written. So even if it deals with very adult themes it could still be written in a way that sounds young adult? I think I'm just clutching at straws now :)

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