Defining the Young Adult Genre

by Victoria Pakizer

Young adult literature is named after its target audience: young adults. These stories have an adolescent protagonist, written with young adults as the primary audience. They focus on tangible story elements like character, plot, and setting rather than theme and style. Plots explore problems that adolescents face, such as young love gone wrong. These issues are never devalued and always treated seriously.

This genre is usually found outside the children and middle grade section and never included in them. Separating the genres places a barrier between them, stating that these are not books written for children, but for adults.

One reason for the separation is controversial content. Many young adult books contain swearing, drugs, sex, and violence. Some argue the content is inappropriate for books targeted at younger audiences, while others say young adult literature should explore such topics because it’s what adolescents struggle with.

Another controversy surrounding the genre is defining it. Some people claim it’s not a real category, but a marketing tool. Part of this stems from the wide variety offered. Current bestsellers include The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, a book about two cancer patients falling in love, and Divergent by Veronica Roth, a series about a dystopian universe. Some people argue that Rick Riordan’s bestselling series, Percy Jackson, is young adult, but others say it’s middle grade. People argue that classics like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye count as young adult literature.

Despite all the controversy, young adult is a thriving genre. Currently, five of ten bestsellers on Amazon.com are young adult literature. This year alone, adaptations of young adult books, such as The Maze Runner, The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and Mockingjay: Part 1 among others, are all coming to theatres near you. The genre is here to stay.

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