Is There a Difference Between YA and Adult Fiction?
By Jenna Byers
First question; is there a difference between YA and adult fiction? Yes, I suppose there is. YA protagonists are usually younger, and as such, they confront the same kind of issues that YA readers might face. Unless, you know, they’re Harry Potter, which just means they deal with stuff that YA readers wish they had to face. Like, for example, Defence Against the Dark Arts homework. Don’t complain, Ron, you’re writing an essay about vampires, I’m doing long division in algebra. Let’s trade.
Even characters like Katniss and Tris (The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies), who end up fighting wars, respond to these issues as teenagers, and they often bring a naive, teenage outlook into the situation.
Which is good, because these books are designed for teenage readers, so it would make sense that their readers can identify with the protagonists. But it also brings me to my second question; should YA fiction differ from adult fiction? What’s the benefit? Because I have read books about men and women of all ages from all over the world, and I have discovered that my identification with characters is not based on whether we’re the same age or gender, but it is based on how well-written or engaging the story is.
So do we need to offer teenagers teenage protagonists? I think that yes, we do. Teenagers are at that awkward stage where they’re not children anymore, and they’re not quite adults yet either, so there is a lot of boundary-pushing that has to be done while they try to grow up and their parents try to adjust to the speed of the change. So then authors who might think about writing YA novels with adult protagonists run the risk of making teenagers feel like they are getting a lecture. These novels would say ‘This is how an adult would handle this situation, so this is how you should handle it too’. When really, teenagers are impressionable, they’re not fully formed, so the books they read and the movies they watch now will have a greater influence than those they experience in the future. This makes it important to give them characters who want to work it out for themselves. This is great, because it also gives the teenage readers a chance to think about how they would respond in a similar situation. Even if they never actually fall in love with a sparkly vampire, they can think about what they would do if they found out the dude they had a crush on was breaking into their house to watch them sleep. And hopefully come to the conclusion that this is a weird, inappropriate thing to do.
Of course, all of this isn’t to say that teenagers can’t read adult novels, of course they can, and do, but I know that the books that have left impressions on me, the books that I still think about, are ones I read a decade ago, and the characters I remember are characters like Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua and Alexander Cold.
So, to conclude, YA fiction is different to adult fiction, and it should be different. It is there to encourage young, inexperienced readers and get them ready for a whole world of great books in their futures. And if it happens to teach them a moral lesson or two so much the better, but more on that another time.
“Editor. I suppose I’m an editor. I’d like to be a development editor, because I like working with authors, without having to do the actually difficult bit of writing all the words down. It’s much easier just to tell someone when they’ve made mistakes and get them to fix it.”
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