Y is for Young Adult Fiction

A small portion of one of my bookshelves. This one contains the most YA.

Thanks in large part to the Harry Potter series and in smaller part to Twilight, a new generation of avid readers was born and a little known genre came to dominate the publishing world. Young adult fiction (or as it’s called in the industry, YA) is a juggernaut in the writing world right now. Massive YA sections are popping up in bookstores the world over, NPR just compiled a list of the best YA fiction and Hollywood is anxious to get its hands on the rights to just about every YA book out there.

YA is loosely defined as stories with a teenage protagonist that deals with teenage or coming of age themes. A YA protagonist cannot leave his/her teen years during the series or it ceases to be considered YA. Books with a main character younger than teen years are usually considered middle grade or children’s books.

But despite its name, young adult fiction isn’t just for teens. From Twilight Moms to readers like me, people of all ages are enjoying this resurgent breed of fiction. It’s phenomenon I’ve heard called “cross-over fiction,” when a book meant for teens is accepted by adults. (Seriously, can we add anymore obscure terms to this industry?) Witness the popularity of The Hunger Games and you know what I’m talking about.

What accounts for this occurence? Well, for one, I think many adults either don’t want to grow up, didn’t grow up, or are nostalgic for the simpler cares of youth. Maybe all three. YA books take you back to a time when life had a different set of problems and anything was possible. Magic was real and the world was a place ripe for exploration. They allow you a kind of “do-over” where you can relive your youth and maybe have a different outcome. And if you read paranormal YA, you might even get to have special powers while you do it. Plus, YA books tend to have a different tone than their adult counterparts. They still deal with important themes and there’s still violence and sex, but they’re done in a subtler way. In my experience, sometimes it seems like some adult writers get in your face with graphic detail just to prove how adult they are, so YA can be a nice change of pace.

I also think the rise in popularity is due to a much higher quality of writing and better plots. Twenty-something years ago when I was a teenager, all we had was a small corner of the bookstore that housed Sweet Valley High, The Babysitters Club, Christopher Pike horror novels, and the occasional gymnastics or figure skating-inspired series right next to kid classics like Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. There’s nothing wrong with those (I still have some of mine), but they’re a far cry from the variety and imagination of the dystopian, urban fantasy, historical and other highly evocative worlds out there. (There are even Arthurian YA books, such as the Chrysalis Queen Quartet by Nancy McKenzie, who also wrote about Guinevere for adults.) Most importantly, the plots of today’s YA novels are smart and they treat their readers as intelligent, weaving complex stories that put some adult bestsellers to shame.

Here are a few of my personal favorites in the YA genre, many of whom I’ve written about on this blog:

  • Alyson Noel – Alyson has a ton of books, but I came to her writing through her amazing Immortals series. She just recently released the first book her Soul Seekers series. Both of these deal with the mystical/shamanistic side of the paranormal, which I absolutely love. I also got to meet her  last year and can attest that she’s super nice.
  • Cassandra Clare – Cassandra is the queen of urban fantasy as far as I’m concerned. I loved the first three books in her Mortal Instruments series (less so with the most recent two, but I’m finishing the series.) Her characters are people you want to get to know, her use of metaphors is brilliant and she has an easy, humorous writing style.
  • Maggie Stiefvater – The only books of Maggie’s that I’ve read are her Shiver trilogy. She also has a series on faeries, an acclaimed book called The Scorpio Races and her newest is The Raven Boys. In my opinion, her biggest talent is her ability to create mood and tension, which she does like no one else, YA or adult.
  • Laini Taylor – While Laini has written previous books, she took the YA world by storm with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I recently reviewed. Laini’s books can be classified as urban fantasy, but I think of them as plain old fantasy. She’s got some of the best characters and richest worlds out there. And she’s funny, to boot. The sequel to Daughter, Days of Blood and Starlight, comes out in November.
  • Veronica Roth – Veronica is a bit of a phenom, being only 23. I loved her first book, the dystopian Divergent, but wasn’t as impressed with its follow-up, Insurgent. But I plan to finish the trilogy and certainly think she’s worth a read. I’m really curious to see what she does in the future as she grows as a writer and as a person.

What about you? Do you read YA fiction? Why or why not? What are some of your favorite books? What do you hope the future holds for this genre?