Breaking the “young adult” myth

When I began writing my novel, Summoned, I gave little thought about the intended audience. I merely wrote a story that I would like to read. I made my main character eighteen because I needed a protagonist that was young and perhaps a bit naïve or unworldly.

In my story, Lina is compelled to leave her home by an unknown, magical force. Her naiveté and her youth play a large role into her journey. It would have been a whole different story if my main character had been older, perhaps with a husband and children.

I did not write novel with young adults as my target audience. I didn’t even consider marketing it to this group but after two reviewers called it a “young adult” book that got me wondering where they came up that this is geared to “young adults.”

What really defines a “young adult” novel? Is it the age of the protagonist? Or is it that the subject matter is aimed at teenagers? Or maybe something else totally?

Young woman lying on a lawn reading a book uid 1531307So I decided to look around the Internet for an answer. Most often, people seem to categorize a book as young adult when the protagonist is a teenager. But really, just because a teenager or even a child is the main character doesn’t make the book a “young adult” or “juvenile fiction” book.

Take Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Even though the protagonist is twelve through part of the book, the subject matters (genocide and war) are not aimed at a young audience.

In my opinion, the key here is subject matter. A book about a middle or high school student with typical school type problems is clearly a teen/juvenile type novel. The problems and situations are geared toward those readers. Many young adult novels have teen angst – the woe is me syndrome of most teenagers. No matter what else is going on, a large part of the story tends to be about a teenager’s struggle between childhood and adulthood.

And then there is the consideration of what a “young adult” really is. When I hear that, I am thinking high school through college age. But the American Library Association defines Young Adult as 12-18 years old. Many publishers list it as either 10-14 or 12 and up. No matter how you look at it that is a wide range of people to market a book to. There is a big difference between the maturity of a twelve-year-old and a college freshman.

Of course, just because something is written for teenagers (or “young adults”) doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold merit. I know that there are some readers out there that would not consider reading a book intended for teens. But the success of the Harry Potter series shows that this isn’t true for everyone.

Perhaps, the “young adult” label is more of a marketing strategy. I know quite a few authors that didn’t strive to write a book for teens but have found success marketing their books to them. If you want to read a good article on “What is Young Adult Fiction,” check out this website.