#7 Book Talk: Teenage and Young Adult fiction – is there a difference?

When I was writing a book review recently, I realised I had separated teenage fiction from young adult fiction in my head. What’s the difference? Is there one?

In the terms of publishers, this debate is straightforward: there isn’t a single difference. Teenage/YA fiction can be aimed from 12 to early 20s – but isn’t that a pretty big age gap? Is that why I’ve separated the two terms?

Let me try and explain what I class as teenage and what I class as YA (big emphasis on ‘try’).

I have associated teenage books to be more about coming-of-age stories with younger characters in their early teenage years. I think of light topics, romance being the main plot, issues at school and friendships that are on the line. Books that come to mind are the Twilight series, Stargirl, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and Girl Online.

I don’t mean for that to come off as a bad thing. I personally found Stephanie Meyer’s writing to be spectacular and it was nice to sit down with Zoe Sugg’s books and have an easy afternoon read. Teenage literature definitely has its place in the world – it’s a nice transition from going from children’s books before getting into the more serious topics that can come with adult fiction.

So then what do I count as YA fiction?

I think of it as this: heavier topics underlying in the plot where the primary character is around 16 or older and thinking of their journey from school/college to go onto university. I think of YA as having to deal with all more of the stresses of life – self-confidence, mental health and the pressures of society as well as going through something on top of that, whether it be a traumatic event or a family issue. Romance is more of a secondary plot, but it’s still there and the emotions are very much raw. For example, Asking For It, All the Rage, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and I’ll Give You the Sun. 

By my own ‘definitions’ of teenage and YA, there are certainly some books that count as both: Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, My Heart and Other Black Holes and All the Bright Places. Again, none of this a bad thing. Of course two genres that are so similar in style are going to entwine at one point or another and we should be embracing it – after all, wouldn’t the same thing over and over again be boring as hell?

The creative arts are never going to be black and white, especially literature where there are no rules. Earlier, I said teenage books cover ‘lighter’ topics, but this isn’t true of prolific children’s author Jacqueline Wilson. I read every book there was of Wilson’s while I was growing up and I’d say it’s definitely left an impact on me. I vividly remember a book she wrote called Cookie which covers domestic abuse and non-related book titled Lola Rose does the same. Heavy topics set in children’s books breaks the rules, yet these are the ones that stick with me the most.

It’s a beautiful thing that genres are merely guidelines are nothing else.   At the end of the day, whether I think of a book as teenage or YA it doesn’t actually matter – the category I subconsciously squeeze it under doesn’t take away it’s magic and that’s what I need to remember.

What do you think? Is there something I missed? Let me know!

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