The Progression of the YA Genre in Children's Literature
“I don’t know whether [Northern Lights] is a young adult book or children’s book or adult book that somehow sneaked its way into a children’s bookstore… If you asked what sort of audience I would like, I would say a mixed one, please.” - Philip Pullman
Young Adult fiction has been around for many years, bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood, innocence and experience. This week, we’re discussing our own thoughts on what it means.
“For me, it started with the Twilight series. The concept of a teenage-vampire love story rocketed YA fiction to heights it hadn’t reached before. Something so commercially successful couldn’t be ignored, and over the following years, fantasy series, speculative fiction and teenage romances have remained some of the most popular books of recent times. Working as a bookseller, I take customers to the YA section with care, giving children and their parents as much information as I can. There are some series, such as His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, that would be appropriate for an accomplished younger reader. But, of course, there are books in the YA section that are inappropriate for this age group. Sarah J. Maas’ series, for example, I would only recommend to older teenagers. Content is everything in YA, as is reading ability and personal sensitivity. I believe children should be challenged as readers. I certainly was, and it made me love books even more!”
“YA fiction was the natural progression from days spent devouring Blyton’s tales of The Famous Five. It took my young mind from the innocence of ginger ale and running around the countryside to the gritty realism that growing up meant: falling in love, falling out with friends and other feelings and experiences I had never considered before. As a 90s teen, the market was filled with brightly covered books promising to teach me about writing Love Letters or the inevitability of meeting a Two-Timer (titles from the prominent Point Romance series). Sweet Valley High was also popular, with its focus on escaping everyday life amidst the comfort of a wholesome family construct. These books were central to my daily reading, and I can’t remember when I outgrew them and moved to the next rung of the literary ladder. But, as an aspiring children’s publisher, are they the kinds of books I’d seek to publish now? Regrettably, no. Although these books inspired my love of reading, YA fiction has continually evolved since its first introduction in the 1960s, rightfully giving way to more relevant and current experiences. Love may be a “tale as old as time”, but the way it is seen by young adults today is very different to how it was seen in the 90s, and our protagonists need to take us on a more diverse story-telling journey.”
“As an avid reader from a young age, I can remember my first experience of reading YA books. It felt like a door had been unlocked to a whole new realm of reading when I was told by my school librarian that I could explore the YA section in the library, which was filled with stories unlike anything I had read before. I was instantly drawn to fantasy titles, such as the Ingo series by Helen Dunmore and The Doomspell Trilogy by Cliff McNish, later side-stepping into other genres like romance, which coincided with my first encounter with the online publishing website, Wattpad. I can remember my friend group in high school becoming obsessed with the Wattpad story The Kissing Booth (now a popular Netflix film series), and anxiously awaiting each new update to the story so that we could discuss what had happened. Platforms like these, where teenagers could access YA writing easily for free, made reading feel social and operated as a more communal form of publishing, as Wattpad authors would often change their plots based on how readers had responded to the last instalment.”
“To me, the YA genre has always been defined (whether positively or not) by a sense of obsession. As a child, I’d always been an avid reader, but it was my early teens that saw me begin to become addicted to the worlds I found in novels. I feel like the real impetus for this, and what separated it from the children’s novels I’d read before, was the romantic plotlines of YA books. In the books that really made an impact on me, the main character and their love interest were always perfect for each other, and I felt anything that stood against them deep in my soul. And I wanted to be them, to the point that fourteen-year-old me announced to my friends that Edward Cullen had ruined men for me because no one would ever be as perfect as him (mortifying now, but my friends all nodded seriously at the time). Together, we would take an author’s world and inhabit it, making it fully our own. Yes, fanfiction was involved. Perhaps this says more about me than the young adult genre. But I do think that the loyal obsessions of teen readers, and the shared communities between them, continue to be at the core of the success of the genre in the last decade.”