Monday Musings

Monday Musings: Adult Fiction vs. YA Lit

TeenYAvAdult1Last week my book club met to discuss Red Rising by Pierce Brown. In my review of the book here, I mentioned that I could have sworn at one point I had seen the book categorized as a YA novel, but instead it belongs in adult fiction. Several other members of my book club had the same experience, which prompted a discussion about whether or not this book should have been classified as YA. This got me thinking about what makes a book YA and not Adult fiction?

There’s been a lot of debate, and I’m sure there always will be, on the merit of reading YA literature. Some people think intelligent, functioning adults should not be reading books written for teenagers, while others argue that you should be able to read whatever you want, and there is nothing wrong with reading YA literature. I love reading just about anything and everything I can get my hands on. Last year around this time I wrote a column about reading YA books in which I mentioned that sometimes, it’s nice to just read a book that’s not too dense and doesn’t take me weeks to finish. This also makes me wonder about the difference between YA and Adult novels.

If you were to describe the difference between a YA novel and an Adult novel, how would you do it? It’s not easy, but I know I view YA novels and adult novels differently, even though I love both. I tend to think of YA as lighter, easier, and more refreshing reads; they’re also more colorful. I can’t really describe what I mean by that, but books like Harry Potter are a perfect example. To me, YA tends to be colorful and imaginative in a way different than adult fiction. Not that adult fiction lacks imagination – there are plenty of scifi and fantasy novels out there full of imagination – but YA novels just have a different feel. They’re not as “dark” as adult novels. I really can’t think of a better way to describe it than that, and it’s more a feeling I get when I read than a concrete description.

Reading Red Rising, to me, felt like reading an adult novel. The story was very similar to The Hunger Games, and it focused on teenagers, but it didn’t read like the YA novels I’m used to. It had that dark grittiness that I tend to associate with adult novels, and it was in many ways far more brutal than The Hunger Games. So though the main characters were mostly in the same age range, and it had a lot of the other elements of a YA novel, it still felt like I was definitely reading Adult fiction.

On the flip side, last year I read The Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz. This book was labeled as an adult novel, but it read like a YA novel. I don’t know if it was the length of the story, the choices in the font, or the story itself – which was more simplistic than a typical adult novel storyline – but it just did not feel like adult fiction. The only thing that could possibly classify it as adult was some of the language and sex scenes, but you get that in YA novels now anyway.

So is there a definite difference between YA and Adult fiction? And should that difference exist? Why can’t novels as complex as Red Rising be targeted to teens? And why aren’t more novels written that way for teens? I was reading John Grisham and Michael Crichton before I was 13, so teenagers can certainly handle adult novels. Is this a conscious choice or just how things seem to fall? And why is the more colorful, creative style of YA fiction looked down on by adult readers?

Has anyone else experienced this or had similar thoughts?

6 thoughts on “Monday Musings: Adult Fiction vs. YA Lit”

  1. incredible, the only difference between YA and adult fiction is the age of the protagonists. Everything else depends on the story itself and the author and not on how its labeled. I’ve read a lot of YA books with thicker and more complicated plots than some adult lit.

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  2. I definitely agree, Adult Fiction is a lot heavier. Adult Fiction seems to have a slower pace than the usual YA books I read that jump from one high point to the next. (There are obviously exceptions to both generalizations)
    I read Adult books in Middle School before I found YA books. As long as we aren’t talking about themes of extreme sex or violence, I think both YA and Adult Fiction are appropriate for a wide age range!

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    1. I feel like when I was in middle/high school there wasn’t as wide a variety of YA books as there are now. That’s why I was reading a lot of books way above my age range. There was Babysitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley, etc. but I don’t remember the kind of YA stuff I read now. Maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places. I wish there were more books like what I’m finding now.

      And yes, the pacing is another big difference between the two genres. YA does seem to read a lot faster, which is one of the reasons I like it. I know when I pick up a YA book I’ll probably finish it in just a couple days, even when it’s not a book that I have trouble putting down.

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      1. There really wasn’t a big selection of YA books! I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and then they started putting out adult versions of the books. I read Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz because their books were awesome and I could!

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  3. I agree with you that Red Rising was kind of odd in the fact that it was YA but it had the feel of an adult novel. I read recently that they are currently working on the movie script for this book, and I wondered how well its going to translate to a movie for YA audiences. Should be interesting to see. I enjoyed this book, though in struggling to keep interest in the sequel. I do think that the nowriting style of YA books is a conscious choice, and while you were reading adult novels as a teen, I dont think the average teen can handle or maybe they just dont have interest adult novels. Not all teens, but the typical teenage reader. I enjoy both adult and YA Novels as well, I find YA to be light and fun reads, so I am going to keep enjoying them lol.


    1. We discussed the movie possibilities in my book club meeting. I wonder if they will target it towards Teens like Mazeunner, Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. or if they’ll try to keep it broader to attract more adults? Since it’s shelved in the regular SciFi section in bookstores a lot of adults have read it.

      I may have been unusual reading adult books at that age, but I do think there are still a number of teens capable of reading and enjoying books targeted at adults. I love reading YA books and even a few middle grade novels, but there are some novels that I feel are written down for teens and almost feel demeaning. They don’t need books or plots to be oversimplified for them. That’s why I really like the more complex YA novels; I like when the writers treat their audience as intelligent humans, not just teens.


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