Is “Young Adult” a Genre?

Throughout this week’s podcast episode, Allyson references the term “young adult” as a genre. But is that really what it is?

The term “genre” means “A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.” So, since young adult fiction always features a young adult as a protagonist, you could loosely consider it a genre because the subject matter — young adult protagonists — are the same.

However, is that really honoring the spirit of the word? Would you really say that Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight were the same genre because their protagonists were young adults?

Take a look at the definition again.

  • Do these two novels share the same form? Well, they are both novels … but “novel” isn’t really considered a genre.
  • Do these two novels share the same style? Not at all. One is more literary and explores the tough subject of prejudice, hate and slavery. The other is a book written specifically for the teen market and explores young love and attraction.
  • Do these two novels share the same subject matter? When you get right down to it, no. One has realistic characters in realistic settings dealing with realistic scenarios. The other is clearly a dark fantasy edging on romance.

Allyson did mention that one thing she liked about the “young adult genre” was that it was so wide and varied. And doesn’t this very idea truly preclude it from being a genre at all?

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About the author

As The Genre Traveler, Carma Spence loves to view the world through Genre-Coloured glasses. In other words, she sees the world through a lens of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, where trash cans can be Daleks in disguise and neighborhood forests can harbor faeries and sprites. Magic realism is real! Or at least you can choose to see the world that way to add to the fun and awe of life.

3 comments on “Is “Young Adult” a Genre?”

  1. Shaun Duke

    You might add Twain to the list of young adult writers retrospectively, but he was writing at a time when YA didn’t even exist as a marketing category. YA is only a genre in marketing terms, but its category is a loose one, since so much of what is written in YA lit is found elsewhere. The difference is that YA books only feature young protagonists. Never adults. Whereas other literary categories may include both.

  2. Carma Spence

    I concur. Today, “YA” simply means the protagonist is a young adult. When Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn, he wrote it for adults but today it is marketed as YA because of Huck’s age. This is why I argue that YA is not a genre at all, just a marketing classification.

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