What’s the right age for YA?


I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions lately about what YA literature is and what should and shouldn’t be included in it. Topics I’ve discussed before and am rehashing over on Novel Publicity and Emlyn Chand’s website in the very near future. One topic that I haven’t covered much, that deserves to be addressed, is age regarding young adult readers.

A loose definition of Young Adult literature is stories involving teen characters aimed at readers aged 10 to 20. That’s right, 10 to 20. Stop and think about that. Think about how different you were between those two ages. Think about all the things you went through. The situations, the emotional state, the maturity level between those two ages.  Huge difference from one to the other, right?  When I think of young adult, in any aspect other than literature, I’m thinking of someone around 15 or 16 years old and up. Someone who’s starting to do more adult things like learning to drive, looking into choices for colleges and other areas of further education, possibly having more steady romantic relationships, or having a part time job and learning to save or manage their money. Those are adult type situations that kids aged 10 to 14 are probably not dealing with, hence why they are referred to as pre-teen or teenagers and not young adult.

So why does the Young Adult literature category cover such a broad span of ages? Some might say it’s because Middle Grade literature is considered a part of the Young Adult category. This may be true, but why not break it out into it’s own category. I’m not sure many people even know such a thing as Middle Grade literature exists. I have a feeling when people think of books for kids, they think only of Children’s lit and Young Adult lit. Nothing in the middle. Right now Middle Grade literature is supposed to be aimed at readers between the ages of 10 and 12. Only a two year span.  I think if the industry made more of a definition between the two and marketed Middle Grade lit up to age 14 or so and started the Young Adult category at 15, parents would be better aware of what might be covered in the books.  That’s not to say if your mature 13 year old is an avid reader and can handle some more difficult situations and/language that they shouldn’t be allowed to read a Young Adult novel. I was reading adult literature at age 13 and was able to handle it, but at least my folks knew what I might be encountering in the books I was reading.

There are many Middle Grade series that have great writing and are enjoyable and entertaining to both younger teens and older alike. Heck, even as an adult I can come up with several series I’ve read in my 20s and 30s that I’ve enjoyed. Some of my favorites are: Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins (of Hunger Games fame), the Percy Jackson and The Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan, the Dragon Slippers series by Jessica Day George and The Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funk. There are tons more, plenty to keep a young reader interested and engaged until they’re ready to handle more difficult topics.

I don’t know that the industry will ever look to adjust the ages or the definition when it comes to “Young Adult” literature, but I wish they,along with bookstores and libraries, would start separating Middle Grade from Young Adult more definitely. I think it would help parents and young readers alike to know what they can handle and what’s acceptable.  Again, there will be exceptions to the rule but the parent would have the choice and make it easier on their kids when allowing them to pick out suitable books for themselves.

What is your take on the huge age span covered by Young Adult literature? Do you think they should keep it to one broad category or should it be broken down into Middle Grade and Young Adult? What would your opinion be in having a rating system of sorts on books? Not one that would restrict someone from buying a specific book, more just for informational purposes.

13 responses »

  1. At my local book store, they have a separate shelf that has the books that would be considered middle grade. I don’t think it’s labeled and it’s in the YA section, but if you look at the titles, you can see they are aimed at younger teens.

    I always thought MG was a separate genre. Guess I learned something new today. ^^

    • They don’t consider MG or YA as genres I don’t think, just as categories. They don’t seem to split MG or YA off into genres at all. My local B&N has one section of YA for paranormal I think, but nothing else. I get they have limited space, but that makes it so much harder for kids to find stuff they’re looking for ya know?

      I’m fine with MG being the in YA section so long as it’s plainly labeled ya know?

  2. I have been stewing a blog post about this age group as well–the debate on what is MG and what is YA. In some places MG exists and some places it doesn’t. My series would sit right on the fence of the two if it ever existed. Since the MG area sort of exists and we have adult group, the YA group seems to be split in half. Some adult content sneaks its way into YA books with a YA plot. This YA group gets really bloody and confusing. So, then I just say I am a MG/YA author and my books are ideal for ages 7-14 and big kids at heart. I’m done with banging my head against the wall.

    Wonderful post BTW!

    • It is definitely confusing and as I stated, I feel young adult is okay to deal with some heavy topics and cursing because that’s what goes on in the world of teens these days. But then what about those younger ones who aren’t all about going to parties with drinking and drugs and sex yet (not that the older ones *should* be for that but you know what I mean)? They need stuff that is right for their maturity level.

      By the ages you stated, I would definitely dub your book as middle grade and if you’re going to shop it around, that’s how I’d market it. I can’t promise the stores will separate it but hopefully some places will. Best of luck to you with it!

  3. I write young adult stories with the higher age bracket in mind. I know what I liked at that age so I include it in my work. Some would say its bad for the younger group, but you write what you love. The industry should change the categories if they have a problem with it. Readers are intelligent though. They dont need these labels to decide what to read. I read many “adult” books when I was younger. It was all the same to me.

  4. My state series is middle grade level (actually upper elementary/lower middle grade) and I’ve put the ages on it as 9 to 12. The books themselves may be a little below some 12year old level of reading and may be above some 9 year old level of reading but to come to happy medium, I had to go this way since my target audience would be classes who study state history (usually 3rd grade) as well as classes who study US history (usually 5th grade).

    I would say middle grade was geared more to the 9 to 13 age level and young adult to the 13 and up level. But again, no set rule or anything because it would depend on the maturity level of the reader as well as the content of the story. My novel is a young adult novel and there aren’t any parties or sex or drugs or anything like that in it and I feel it is geared for the 10 to 15 or 16 age level – especially since it is written like a Nancy Drew Mystery or so I’ve been told (so far, my only young readers haven’t commented on the book – whether they liked it or not and I’ve had two reviews on amazon for the novel but both have been by adult readers; the other people who have purchased the book have all been adults and they have purchased for their own reading) – so I really don’t have a good idea what level the book is geared for.

    Good posting – thanks for sharing – E 🙂

    Elysabeth Eldering
    Author of Finally Home, a YA paranormal mystery
    “The Proposal” (an April Fools Day story), a humorous romance ebook
    “The Tulip Kiss”, a paranormal romance ebook
    “Bride-and-Seek”, a paranormal romance ebook

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  8. Just read your post and loved it. I agree with a lot of what you have said and am actually posting something very similar tomorrow morning. I would absolutely LOVE to hear what you have to think regarding my idea for helping solve this problem with YA. If you get the chance, please feel free to check out my blog tomorrow at http://readingenvogue.wordpress.com Thanks so much!!

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