What Is YA Literature? top 3 Examples

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 the problems they face in day-to-day life, with relatable characters who feel like friends.

Young adult stories don’t belittle the problems that young people face. On the contrary, they’re easy to relate to, and they 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.

What Is YA Literature?

The definition of young adult literature has changed over time–because the definition of a young adult has changed over time. Today, most people agree that young adult literature is aimed toward teenagers ages 12 through 18. More than half of the readers who enjoy young adult literature are over the age of 18.

Sometimes, young adult literature books are referred to as coming-of-age stories. In a coming-of-age story, the main character goes through a pivotal experience or situation that helps them grow into adulthood. This experience can be related to a relationship, hardship, or job–anything that helps the character overcome a situation, mature, and prepare for the next phase of their life.

This type of literature was created to bridge the gap between children’s books and adult fiction and non-fiction. Many teens and young adults no longer want to read children’s stories, as they’re no longer relatable to the problems that young adults face in their lives. Adult books are often too grown-up, dealing with marriage, family, and career issues that teens and young adults have yet to face. Young adult literature perfectly fills the space between not-a-child and not-quite-an-adult.

Check out our classic literature explainer and our modern literature explainer.

Young Adult Literature Themes

What is YA literature?
Books and short stories that focus on self-identity can help teens discover and develop new ways to deal with identity issues

Young adulthood is a transitional time, and it can be challenging for teens and young adults to move into the next phase of their lives. Unfortunately, many teens and young adults feel alone in their struggles and that they are the only ones who have dealt with specific issues, such as loneliness, depression, friendship struggles, and relationship problems. Young adult literature makes it clear that this isn’t the case.

The vast majority of people have dealt with the problems discussed in young adult literature. Reading stories about protagonists who have gone through similar struggles can help readers understand that dealing with hardship is part of the human condition.

Some literature enthusiasts struggle to understand why young adult literature is so popular with people outside of the genre’s target market. Despite being older, many people still deal with the issues that plagued them as teenagers. Adults who are going through a tough time or dealing with relationship or friendship issues often take comfort in young adult novels, as they provide a reminder that no one is alone in their struggles.

Young adult novels often embody several themes, including:

  • Romantic and sexual interests: Young adult book lovers know that romance and sexual interest are a standard part of teenage stories. For teens, seeing others go through heartbreak–and make it out on the other side–can be comforting, especially when they’re going through something similar in their own lives.
  • Friendship: Losing and making friends is a part of being a teenager, and friendship issues can feel especially tough when other changes happen. Many young adult books focus on themes of friendship, sometimes intertwined with themes of romance.
  • Self-identity: Issues of identity–including sexuality, educational preference, and lifestyle choices–can be challenging for many teens to come to terms with. Books and short stories that focus on self-identity can help teens discover and develop new ways to deal with identity issues.
  • Life and death: Many teens sadly have to deal with the reality of life and death in both family and friendships. Reading about others dealing with similar issues can help teens realize that life will go on, even when it feels difficult or hopeless.
  • Individuality: Teens are often trying to find their place in the world and can relate to characters who also feel like they don’t quite fit in. Focusing on the importance of embracing the things that make us unique can help teens take pride in the factors that set them apart from their peers. This can be especially valuable for teens struggling to form strong relationships in middle school or high school.

Young Adult Fiction Vs. Non-Fiction

While most people think of young adult books as fiction only, there are also non-fiction young adult books popular with many readers. Young adult non-fiction books often tell the real-life stories of teens and young adults who have gone through hardships, such as living through war or battling depression and coming out on the other side.

YA Literature Examples

1. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

I stared at the deep-voiced boy, taken aback, but he was looking away toward the dark forest behind us. He’d said that the Cullens didn’t come here, but his tone had implied something more—that they weren’t allowed; they were prohibited. His manner left a strange impression on me, and I tried to ignore it without success.

The Twilight series is beloved by teens worldwide, and for a good reason. The Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle created by Stephanie Meyer is relatable to teens who struggle to figure out who they love and why. The story, in addition, the fantastical elements allow teens to get lost in a dream world, all while bringing them back to reality by using relatable themes of romance, insecurity, family, and friendship.

Twilight: The Twilight Saga, Book 1
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Stephenie Meyer (Author) - Ilyana Kadushin (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/05/2005 (Publication Date) - Listening Library (Publisher)

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Strewn around the Cornucopia are other supplies, their value decreasing the farther they are from the horn. For instance, only a few steps from my feet lies a three-foot square of plastic. Certainly it could be of some use in a downpour. But there in the mouth, I can see a tent pack that would protect from almost any sort of weather. If I had the guts to go in and fight for it against the other twenty-three tributes. Which I have been instructed not to do.

The Hunger Games series is set in a dystopian world where Katniss and her peers are forced to fight to the death to save their communities. The books are set in a world that’s tough to imagine, but the themes–including friendship, love, survival, and family–are relatable to teens. Many teens find inspiration in Katniss, who stands up for what she believes in no matter what hardships it may cause her in the future. Her bravery and perseverance remind teens that they can do whatever they set their minds to, even when circumstances are less than desirable.

The Hunger Games: Special Edition
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Suzanne Collins (Author) - Tatiana Maslany (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/30/2018 (Publication Date) - Scholastic Audio (Publisher)

3. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Harry was at the point of telling Ron and Hermione about Filch and the Kwikspell course when the salamander suddenly whizzed into the air, emitting loud sparks and bangs as it whirled wildly round the room. The sight of Percy bellowing himself hoarse at Fred and George, the spectacular display of tangerine stars showering from the salamander’s mouth, and its escape into the fire, with accompanying explosions, drove both Filch and the Kwikspell envelope from Harry’s mind.

Teens around the world dream of escaping to a new life, and in the Harry Potter series, it’s easy to imagine a world in which a magical owl delivers a sacred invitation to a world of wizardry and magic. Harry Potter touches on all the themes of typical young adult novels and is relatable to all audiences.

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)
  • Brand New in box. The product ships with all relevant accessories
  • J. K. Rowling (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 07/01/2009 (Publication Date) - Scholastic Inc. (Publisher)

If you are interested in reading more, check out our round-up of best science fiction books.

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  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.