29 Comments on “Young Adult vs. New Adult vs. Adult Fiction”

  1. Graeme Ing

    Nice summary. Looking at YA in particular, because that’s the “genre” I choose to write also, your earlier bullets are the typical means of classification, but I think your last bullet addresses the more recent phenomena of adults reading YA.

    In fact I like the motto of Flux books: “where YA is a point of view, not a reading level.” Maybe we just associate with the simpler, often adventure, story, than some adult fiction that can get overly obtuse and often wordy.

    1. S. M. Boyce

      I agree, Graeme, that the language is probably the most important part of the YA…it makes YA easier to identify with. Good note, too, on how it’s usually an adventure story. YA is very often heavy on the action.

  2. Kaamil Garyson

    YA and Adult I’m familiar with. This NA thing is new to me. I also think these classifications tend to run together, as you noted with the Twilight book 4. I’ve also seen children’s books that could border on YA, such as the Harry Potter series. The lines drawn between the different genre fictions and different classifications seem to be pretty gray and are rather confusing to me. Thanks for clearing up some of the confusion.

    1. S. M. Boyce

      Agreed. I think these aren’t really rules, just guidelines. There will be exceptions to everything, but the basic goal is to keep…I dunno, erotica out of unsuspecting fourteen-year-olds’ hands. :D

  3. Robert Zimmermann

    It’s strange, up until a few months ago when I read Hamilton’s discussion on NA, I never put thought into there being “Adult” books exactly. I mean I knew there were books that children should read/might not be able to understand and then there were books written FOR children/teenagers, but I didn’t think “what makes it different?”

    It took me a bit to wade into the waters of YA, mainly due to reading adult books and thinking YA was below, so to speak. I’d spent years of my life increasing my reading ability in order to read “books that weren’t for kids.” At first, it was me devouring Hemingway throughout high school and more recently I was mainly reading some mainstream genre fiction & literary “classics”…but did I really GET everything I should have from those novels? Maybe, sometimes at least.

    Once I started (recently) to focus on more YA novels, I was surprised at my reaction: I had been missing out. There’s a large amount of stories out there that have sucked me in as soon as I picked up the book. And there are also issues and concepts brought up in the books that aren’t hard to figure out, but aren’t dumbed down leaving the reader with a feeling of “DUH.” OK there are those books too, haha, they are there in every type of book. These concepts while easier to find in the books are also easier to grasp. Then that can help lead to further understanding in more adult books later on. It sets up a good base, while someones being able to give you a whole picture as well, depending on the book.

    I think my main distinction comes down to the level of comprehension needed, along with the age of the characters. The character age makes it easier for the reader to relate with the story. You don’t want to read a YA writing style book about a 40 year old cop solving a crime in a big city. It wouldn’t be believable or enjoyable. But change that to a 17 year old solving a crime in the shadow of the cops….you have yourself a much better book.

    I’m not going to touch on NA really right now. I’m still on the fence about it, though I feel if it gets more usage it’ll be a good thing to have around. More people need to hear about it and it needs to develop more. Are there any more NA books other than Hamilton’s The Forever Girl that you could use as an example? Or is it just still too new?

    1. S. M. Boyce

      Very nice post! I think you make a great point in that there is amazing fiction in the YA category. I think it’s really used as a marketing tactic, to show people who don’t want the cussing/sex that this book is free of those things. It’s like a rating on a movie.

      I’m glad you took a swim in the YA waters! As for NA, it’s still very much new. I’m still discovering what it even means, much less books within the genre. Thus, my rather empty list. I’ll let you know as I find more.

  4. Jennifer Donohoe

    I write YA fiction and have a hard time with my latest book I am working on now. There’s an alcoholic father (who curses – quite a bit). I’ve been weighing this out as the book tones down quite a bit when he leaves the story. In addition to all the bullets above, I believe YA fiction should teach a particular attribute about life also. The reader should learn something from it. I think this is missing in most stories now. YA is a great genre to write in as it also creates less dilemnas for the writer. We can go up to a certain point and don’t have to worry about it from there. Sometimes less speaks volumes over actually saying it. The NA genre is also new to me. I’ve not heard about it until this point. I would like to see where it goes. This could be an avenue for those books that teeter on the edge.

    1. S. M. Boyce

      Great point! Yes, YA fiction does often have embedded lessons, though I’ve noticed that’s missing from a chunk of YA books I’ve read. I think a lesson, when properly hidden, is a component of a great YA book. Thanks! I’ll add that to the post and credit you.

  5. EM Castellan

    I think you’ve given a good overview of the three genres here. I have actually tackled the problem of defining YA fiction on my blog, the post is too long to summarize here but do check it out if you wish: http://emcastellan.com/2012/04/19/what-is-young-adult-fiction/ Also, have you heard about NAAlley, the New Adult fiction blog? Interesting as well.

  6. sarah

    I guess you are correct in your definitions, but I’m disappointed. To me, YA is entirely capable of using beautiful, complex language and tone. Perhaps that people generally think it doesn’t is why so many teenagers skip YA and head straight on into Adult fiction, where they can read intelligent, challenging books with profound themes and poetic language. Which is a shame, because then they might miss out on the novels of people like Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, Melina Marchetta.

    I disagree that YA is mostly adventure. True, there is a lot of adventure out there (and a lot of paranormal romance) but there are also some wonderful, gorgeous books about normal life, personal development, family issues.

    I disagree a bit more with the New Adult definitions. I am currently working on what I guess would be marketed as a New Adult book, and it definitely breaks some of your rules, hopefully especially the last one! But when I was 17/18, I was more adult than teen. I was out of school, working to support myself, as were so many of my peers. I wonder if these days we are keeping our children young for longer, and consequently dumbing down our intellectual expectations for them. I sure hope there are some 17/18 year olds out there who can understand complex psychological themes and language, who can cope with a few swear words, and can keep their heads at the mention of sex. I’m figuring there must be, considering how well-received books like Froi of the Exiles have been. (It breaks all your definitions in one foul and fabulous swoop :-))

    You classified LOTR and Jane Eyre as Adult books. You do know that mostly teenagers read LOTR, right? It’s the classic coming-of-age novel for many teens I know. Heck, even some middle-school kids read it. I wonder if many people first picked up LOTR as an adult, or if most brought it with them from their teen years. And last year my 16 year old students were studying Jane Eyre in high school.

    I can understand why we have age classifications. Makes it easier for the publishers and their marketers. But I don’t think many people in the real world take much notice of them. Thank goodness! I often read children’s books just to immerse myself in the beautiful, lyrical prose and the depth of theme. Unfortunately, Ive found increasingly that the YA category is acking the power and psychological impact of the books teens used to read years ago – like Anne McCaffrey’s dragonrider series (sex, violence) and Mervyn Peake’s books (talk about hard-to-comprehend language!) and the sci fi classics of the great masters (RIP Ray Bradbury.) Alas for the young adults of today! And alas especially for the new adults, if we think them only capable of tolerating a little bit of steamy detail, some mild swearing, and straightforward language.

    But don’t think I’m getting down on you personally. I think your definitions are accurate. I’m just sad about it :-) Sorry for such a long comment!

    1. S. M. Boyce

      You’re always free to disagree. That’s part of the fun in discussion!

      I think there’s been a miscommunication. YA doesn’t require dumbed-down language…it’s just more relaxed. Loquacious language and complex themes are great, but that doesn’t mean people want to read that all the time. Sometimes, we just want a simple read that focuses on the characters or plot, rather than the narrative and language. It’s all a matter of preference.

      Also, there’s no need to completely skip the YA label. Just like with any genre out there, there will be books you like and books you don’t like that fit into the YA category. But to skip an entire genre because of an age label means readers will miss out on a lot of great books with wonderful plots and powerful characters. Again, it’s mostly an age rating, meant to warn readers of the book’s content and help prepare them for what to expect. The other components are common themes that I’ve noticed have begun to build reader expectations of the YA label.

      Plenty of people of all ages read LOTR, though admittedly mostly just teenagers read Jane Eyre. The point of them reading these books in high school, though, is to advance their understanding of the English language and to teach them to appreciate complex language in a narrative. They’re not YA books just because teenagers read them. Adults can read YA books and teenagers can read Adult books. It’s not about who’s reading what; it’s about the book’s complexity, among other things.

      Yes, age labels make it simple to market, but there’s a reason for that. It gives people an idea of what to expect in terms of content, beyond the book’s genre (fantasy, scifi, etc). I read kids books, too. Just because Where the Wild Things Are is a kid’s book doesn’t mean I’m not supposed to read it. It just tells me that it’ll likely be a short, illustrated book with a fun, carefree story and a straightforward moral or two at the end.

      I’m really glad you commented. Please feel free to continue along with the discussion if you’re game! I wish you all the best with your NA book :D

    2. Joy

      I am jumping up and down, agreeing with you. :) I hope to find new YA fiction that resounds as deeply as the offerings from McCaffrey and McKinley. As for the need for a NA category? *shrug* I do know it will be interesting to watch this evolve!

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  8. Victoria Smith

    Thanks for posting a link to NA Alley S.M.! I’m a contributor there. This was a great article and I’m going to add it to our resources page on the blog! It’s great to see all three categories up there and compare apples to oranges.

  9. Hennessee

    For me it is all so mind boggling. What’s worse is writing with early 20 year old characters and finding the right publisher. I’m currently struggling with something in the New Adult area, but where do I find publishers?

    1. S. M. Boyce

      Yeah, the NA label hasn’t been fully developed yet and is still very much risky. I doubt too many traditional publishers will look for it until someone else takes the risk first. If you’re interested in going indie or looking at an indie publisher, you may have better luck.

  10. Jack Heath

    It’s interesting that you left violence off your list of differences, and it’s even more interesting that you may be right. My publishers don’t seem to mind brutality in my YA books any more than they do in my adult ones.

    This is very convenient for me as an author, but I can’t figure out the reasoning behind it. Sex and swearing are (usually) legal, while violence is (almost always) not.

    1. S. M. Boyce

      Excellent observation! And yes, violence seems to be the loophole, but I do think it has to be tempered from what you could get away with in an adult book. I have noticed that we can get away with murder and torture in YA books though. It’s curious.

  11. Austin

    Well yes for the most part that classification works but the lines between ya and NA will often be blurred until they are both more defined, as their own.

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  13. L.G.Kelso

    S!!!! How did I miss this post and your blog (did you change it recently? Or have I just zoned out lately?).
    I like how you break this down. I think that in figuring out what things are, such as NA, figuring out what it isn’t can be equally helpful and important. I think there are many of books that are considered upper YA that could fall into the Na category and vice versa.
    And thanks for the link to NA Alley! I (and the other girls) appreciate it!

    1. S. M. Boyce

      Yeah, this is definitely just a start and not a definitive analysis or anything, but I wanted to write out what I thought were the basic differences between the age labels. And you’re welcome for the shout out! You guys are great and deserve it.

  14. micahblackburn

    I literally learned about NA yesterday. Up until then I thought the choice was basically YA or Adult (and I think this came from years working in book stores). Thanks for breaking down the genre differences so succinctly. Now I think I might have found the right target for my own novel.

    1. S. M. Boyce

      Glad I could help! This article definitely skims the surface, but I just wanted to offer a general overview. I recommend NA Alley for more info. Happy writing!

  15. Donna Leonard

    I see that you wrote “Classics” and “Erotica” as examples of Adult Fiction, but I don’t see what you wrote for the examples for YA and NA, yet other commenters here seem to have been able to see them. What I see are the words, “So, by my thinking, here are some examples of YA books:” and then there is a line and then the next heading, “New Adult.” The same thing happens at the bottom of the NA section. Did you edit them out? If you aren’t seeing what I am seeing, I can send you a screen shot.

    1. S. M. Boyce

      That’s odd. It looks like you can’t see the covers of books I listed as examples. Those two categories are simply headers before examples of each type of age label. Do you see the book covers I’m talking about? They show up for me.

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