Here we will discuss the question “What is YA literature?” and look at some of the best YA novels.
Young adult books aren’t the same as children’s books. Typically, young adult literature focuses on important themes relevant to people in their teens and early twenties. However, some literary critics once write off young adult literature focusing on minor problems (such as teenage romance gone wrong). Still, today, young adult literature is a force all its own and has taken over bookstores and box offices alike.
Many teens and young adults find it difficult to relate to adult characters in books, making it hard to get lost in a story, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. However, young adult literature presents teens and young adults with stories about their daily life problems, with relatable characters who feel like friends.
The best young adult books and stories don’t belittle young people’s problems. On the contrary, they’re easy to relate to and help readers know that they aren’t alone in the problems they face at school, home, and work. Now, let’s take a look at what you need to know about young adult literature, including how it’s different from other types of literature, the difference between young adult fiction and non-fiction books, and examples of the most popular young adult books available today.
- History of YA Literature
- Characteristics of YA Literature
- Importance and Impact
- YA Literature in Other Media
- Critics and Criticisms
- The Future of YA Literature
History of YA Literature
YA literature has evolved over time. Initially, literature aimed towards younger readers was scarce, with most novels aimed at adults. Over time, the young adult genre has snowballed into the most popular genre available in bookstores, with authors like J.K. Rowling and Michael Cart gaining international fame for their novels.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, young adult literature started making a noise in the literary world. The young adult genre quickly became popular, with classics like The Outsiders and The Giver being published. The genre provided a new narrative, resonating with the experiences of young adults, paving the way for modern YA authors to step into the limelight.
Spanning from the late 1990s to the late 2000s, the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series arrived on the shelves of bookstores worldwide. These stories were so immensely successful that they were adapted into popular movie franchises. Young readers and adults enjoy young adult fiction, with series like Harry Potter becoming a household name. Check out our round-up of the best J.K. Rowling books!
Characteristics of YA Literature
Age Range of Main Characters
YA literature has a few key characteristics that can help you identify it. Typically, the main characters in the story are in the 12 to 18 demographic. This choice of age allows readers to see the character’s experiences and identity. Often, the characters face struggles similar to those faced by teenagers during middle school and high school.
Themes are an integral part of any great story, and YA lit has a few go-to themes that you can spot in almost every YA fiction book. Themes of coming-of-age, self-discovery, first love, adventure and dystopian experiences are often used. These themes resonate with the experiences of young adults, making the stories relatable and engaging.
The language and writing style of YA literature is accessible. YA books usually contain simple language and dialogue, focusing on the character’s experiences and less on the language used. The writing style typically mirrors the thoughts and feelings of young adults, adding modern references to help the reader relate to the characters.
Moral and Ethical Dilemmas
YA writing can revolve around dystopian worlds where the main character might face moral or ethical dilemmas. Often, they face a situation where they need to think critically and form their own opinions. This can occur when facing the “villain” during a betrayal or realizing that someone is not who they thought.
A common trope in YA writing is to have the main character realize that their mentor is not on the right side of a certain situation, and the main character must turn against them to do what’s right.
Importance and Impact
YA literature isn’t just an entertaining read; it also uses its platform to speak on important issues and make an impact on young adults. Young adult books promote inclusivity and diversity, with many books including characters from various backgrounds.
Diversity and Representation
Often, young adult novels include characters with various racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds while also exploring sexuality and gender identity. YA literature is known for providing a safe space for LFBTQ+ youth to find a community of like-minded, inclusive readers.
Contemporary issues are often tackled in young adult books, with mental health, social media and activism making an appearance in many modern books. For example, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars sensitively explores the challenges faced by teenagers battling cancer, offering the opportunity for readers to spark important conversations. Read The Fault in Our Stars on Amazon; click here.
Bridging the Gap
The YA genre is important in bridging the gap for young people to graduate from children’s to adult reading. It provides a stepping stone for young readers to explore more complex themes as they grow up.
YA Literature in Other Media
YA literature has become very popular in mainstream media, with many books adapted for television and film. Short stories and novels alike have found immense success in this booming genre.
Many popular YA novels have been adapted into blockbuster movies. Some of the most famous examples include Twilight and Divergent, adapted into multiple movie franchises. These adaptations brought the stories to life, immersing fans in the worlds they love.
Television and Streaming
The influence of YA literature is undeniable, with television series gaining immense popularity within this genre. Shows like The Vampire Diaries and The 100 captivated viewers and were particularly popular among young adults.
More recently, shows like Shadowhunters have become very popular on streaming platforms. This series is based on Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. Shadowhunters is a supernatural show based in a dystopian world where the main characters face love, loss and search for self-identity.
Fandoms built around YA literature have become a cultural phenomenon. Fans often engage in writing activities together, creating alternate versions of their favorite YA novels, often inserting themselves into the storyline. Not only has the fandom encouraged young writers to publish their work in a supportive environment, but it has also created a sacred community of friends and fans of the story.
Critics and Criticisms
Despite its success, YA has had its fair share of criticism. Many people debate about whether YA lit qualifies as “real literature.” Some argue that the genre’s popularity and commercial success detract from its literary value, while others see it as a legitimate form of storytelling.
The debate often cites the argument that books targeted at young readers might not receive the same critical acclaim as literary works for adults. However, YA authors argue that its ability to engage young minds, tackle important themes and provide a safe space for exploration is essential within the literary world. The popularity of YA literature could be seen as a testament to its impact on readers and society rather than a hindrance to literature.
YA literature has faced many controversies in its time, where books have been challenged or outright banned from schools, libraries and stores. The controversies often stem from concerns about inappropriate content for young readers. However, these concerns can also come from conflicting beliefs or values.
Books like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird were banned in various US school districts. Due to the content of the novels, including swearing and divisive social and political commentary, the stories have caused quite a stir in the literary world. However, these books have also been studied in schools as examples of outstanding literature, showing that there are always two sides to every argument. Read To Kill a Mockingbird on Amazon; click here.
The Future of YA Literature
YA literature is an ever-evolving genre that keeps up with current trends and issues. Emerging trends in today’s world include topics like climate change, mental health, social media, LGBTQ+ issues and AI technology. With this in mind, we can expect to see these topics begin to make their way into new young adult books and stories.
Authors and publishers are adept at connecting to young readers, which demands that they be aware of cultural and societal shifts that shape the lives of young people. Because of this, I expect that more books will engage readers in essential topics, focusing on encouraging conversations and thoughtful debate.
Advancements in technology provide new ways for young readers to engage with their novels and fandoms. With audiobooks, E-books, Book-Tok and interactive apps on the rise, I expect that reading will shift further into the virtual landscape soon. These digital formats cater to diverse reading preferences, often making literature accessible in new and exciting ways.
Not only do digital platforms allow readers to immerse themselves in literature, but they can also provide a social space for like-minded people to connect. Many fandoms and YA readers have found communities online with platforms like YouTube and TikTok.
Young adult books are not confined to English-speaking countries. YA literature is a popular genre worldwide, with many books available across multiple countries in different languages. This movement to make literature accessible globally created an interconnected literary landscape involving young readers in a powerful education movement.
Translates of popular YA novels have allowed international readers to discover new and shared experiences through readers by relating to characters and storylines. The globalization of YA literature offers fresh narrative and cultural insights throughout various countries.
Looking to the future, YA literature will continue to evolve and grow in popularity. Themes of self-discovery, first love and friendship will always resonate with young readers, encouraging them to keep going no matter the challenge. Adapting to new trends and current topics, YA will continue to thrive globally, facilitating fandoms, friendship and community among new generations.
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