Is Young Adult Really Young Adult? and the Emergence of New Adult

When it comes to writing, I feel I’m able to switch between certain genres pretty easily. I’ve written YA (Young Adult), Science-fiction & fantasy, steampunk, and most recently, flintlock fantasy. Granted, many of these are somewhat interchangeable, but they all have distinguishable elements that make them what they are. For example, YA is supposed to be intended for a young adult audience, generally ages 13 to 19. Teenagers. However, I know many readers (myself included) who are over the “intended age” of the YA genre, some of whom are in their 30s and 40s, who really enjoy YA books. This leaves me with the question: Is YA really YA?

My understanding of the YA genre is that the main character must be in the YA age range, and be faced, more or less, with the emotional and societal challenges that someone his or her age may face. Granted, the character may have to go out and kill, something most (but, unfortunately, not all) don’t know about, aside from what they’ve seen or read. But these characters are usually forced to deal with extreme emotional issues. Teen romances, peer pressure, substance abuse, and the like. However, does that mean that only readers in that age range can relate to and enjoy these books? Do people in their 30s and 4os not know what it’s like to deal with romances and peer pressure and substance abuse?

Although, I will say that content is one of the factors that defines the YA genre. Because this genre is supposed to be intended for a young adult audience, the way it’s written and the degree of violence and language is generally all the same. These books tend to have a lesser amount of graphic violence and sex than in standard adult books. It’s still there, but only to a degree that it wouldn’t necessarily scar a teenager. Seeing someone shot certainly would screw you up less than seeing someone get raped and ripped apart (in most cases, anyway. Certainly there are circumstances where death in any form will cause severe emotional trauma), and the vulgarities are generally kept do “damn,” “hell,” and “bastard.”

Now this is where the NA (New Adult) genre comes in. NA is intended for and usually has characters in the age range of 20 – 29. Quite literally a new adult. These books generally deal with a little more extreme issues than YA. They may involve financial  or marital issues, and the content is somewhat more graphic. These books tend to have more graphic violence and sexual scenes, but perhaps not to the degree of a standard adult book, and the vulgarities now span from “damn” and “hell” up to “shit” and the occasional “fuck.” But the books are intended to be read by an audience that is exposed to that more.

But, despite the degree of violence and sex in these books, does that mean that readers of any age can’t still enjoy them? Just because the main character in a YA book in only 16 years old, does that mean that someone who is 45 can’t relate to what they’re going through and still root for them?

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