Young adult fiction is more popular than ever these days. Franchises like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games all started with young adult novels. But what exactly does the term mean? Outside of publishing, the term “young adult” refers to those who are (like your own Hattiesburg Young Adult Fiction Examiner) in their early 20’s. Not so in this realm. The term is broad these days, but there are still several things that a novel should do in order to be considered “YA” (as it is so often called). Read on.
1. The protagonist usually falls between the ages of 12 and 18. In the publishing world, the term “young adult” actually refers to teenagers. This sounds limiting — after all, don’t most teenagers read at least some books featuring older or younger characters? Of course. But if a book is written specifically for teenagers and the protagonist is not their age, it’s going to be a tough sell.
2. The protagonist has a “coming of age” experience. Whether a character is fighting an evil wizard, grappling with a strange and potentially dangerous ability, or battling a life threatening disease, their struggle must bring them one step closer from youth to adulthood.
3. The book is significantly shorter and fast paced. Trilogies and series are common and, in some genres, almost expected. But the average adult novel falls anywhere between 80,000 and 150,000 words. Young adult novels generally run from 40,000 to 80,000 words. Sci-fi and fantasy stories that are part of a series often run longer (Divergent is over 80,000 words, and the first in a trilogy). And writers like J.K. Rowling can get away with longer books if they are already established and popular. But debut novels like Twilight, which runs well over 100,000 words, are rare.
Not only are these books shorter, but they are more condensed. The author must introduce the characters and the conflict quickly, and the pacing is generally faster as well. Teenagers are a picky audience — they want their action and conflict in a timely manner. And that’s probably not a bad thing.
Hattiesburg residents: Check out the Hattiesburg Public Library on Hardy Street and the Oak Grove Public Library on Old Highway 11, both of which have great YA selections. Books a Million at Turtle Creek Crossing also has a large section of YA books. Happy reading!
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