Let’s Discuss! What Makes YA YA?

Before I start, I have exciting news! I passed my driving test today – which means I can now drive a manual car 😀 I’ll be making my first journey by myself tomorrow morning and I bet it’s going to feel so weird!

So onto the book talk, and I saw a blog post last week about what actually makes a YA book defined as YA? The post argued that just because a book has a teenage protagonist, that doesn’t make it YA.

Doesn’t it? Honestly, I disagree.

So let’s start with who has control over what makes YA YA?

You might argue that this is the author has control over this. Some people might even argue that the reader can decide.

But like many other things in our world, it’s actually all about the money. I believe (and forgive me if I’m not correct) that it’s actually up to the publishing company if the book is YA or not.

I was at a Rachel Caine talk last year, and I remember her talking about whether she was considering writing more of the Morganville series. She told us that she couldn’t really continue because the characters would become over 18 and then she would have to re-brand and re-market them as adult books. To me, this indicated it really is that simple.

A YA book is YA when the protagonist is aged 11-18.

Why? Because it’s easy to define and follow. Because it’s objective. Other ways, like judging by the kind of ‘voice’ a protagonist are very subjective, and it’s just safer to have a way everyone understands. Yes, some protagonists could seem more mature or some more childish, but that’s the same as real life!

What do you think on this subject?


May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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17 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss! What Makes YA YA?

  1. Yeah, they have a new genre now called ‘New Adult’ which I think is where the protagonist is over 18 (basically an adult) but the story is still kind if aimed at YA age range/teenagers.

    Congrats on passing ur driving test, Beth Xx
    Love Hannah ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read somewhere that as a general rule of thumb, you should make your characters about two years older than your target age range. I’m not sure if this was for middle-grade fiction or YA, but I know it was for something.
    Also, I don’t think YA books here have protagonists younger than 13 (and even then, usually they’re around 15-16 or older) unless it’s something like Harry Potter. Just as a reference point.
    Personally, I think there’s more to YA than just a teenage protagonist if you really want to be published – you’re “encouraged” to have specific things in your book (romance is one big example, I think I told you about authors getting their stories rejected and having to move to self-publishing because they didn’t want to include romance) that will make it more marketable. Think about this: If YA really is just an age range, then why do so many YA novels end up being so similar?
    And about New Adult, from what I’ve heard, wasn’t that aimed at both university-age students and people who wanted something different from YA?
    P.S. Congrats on passing your test, and give yourself a pat on the back for being able to drive a stick shift! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah that’s really interesting to know! I’ve read a few books that I thought was pre-teen because of the age of the protagonist but actually ended up being YA, that’s why I defined it as 11-18! Just my personal viewpoint though – so hard to define as it’s so subjective.

      Thank you, it’s hard but we drive mostly manual here! Also, I’m sorry if I don’t reply to your comments – they literally don’t come up in my notifications!


  3. Firstly, yay for passing your driving test! Congrats! And yes, I agree that the big factor for YA is the age of the protagonist. I just don’t like how NA has become so sexualized and become synonymous with erotica. But I know that many books, for example Elise Kova’s Loom Saga, are adult with YA crossover appeal, which means that YA audiences would be interested in those books. That’s a way how to market it, even though it’s frustrating when people say a book’s YA when it’s actually adult! 😉

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  4. Lol, I guess it’s my blog post you’re referring to ;). Well you know I kinda disagree with that as some books write all about a teenager but are boring to read because it’s an adult talking about the teens. I do agree though that it’s the publishers who decide which books make it as YAs though. Some indie books are way off the mark written in a way a teen just wouldn’t enjoy (I’ve had the misfortune of reading some really bad indie books 😮 ). But some books like Strange The Dreamer or Caraval I argue they’re not YA, even though lots of people say they are, because they read differently to me and crucially the publisher doesn’t call the YA either !! Interesting to hear different points of view on this subject :). Congratulations on passing your test too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was! I’m very glad you’re not offended 🙂 I didn’t want to sound too harsh on my disagreeing haha, so thank you!

      It’s such a hard thing to judge! Interestingly, Caraval reads as YA to me and the voice of the protagonist seemed quite ‘teenage’. I guess that proves how YA can’t truly be judged!

      Thank you so much 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a really interesting/complex question. The protagonist’s age is definitely a factor, but not the only one. Like you said, money and marketing are huge. There’s plenty of adult fiction out there with teenage (or younger) protagonists. I think writing style and subject matter are also factors, but largely it’s mostly about the market. I feel like I’ve read books from both YA and adult genres that should have been in the opposite category, sometimes is seems so subjective.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations on passing your driving test!
    Age is a factor but yes, but I think even the ‘voice’ of the book makes a difference. A story with teenage characters, but written from an adult POV wouldn’t be YA, would it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 🙂
      I totally agree that there are a lot of factors that make some books not fit the whole age thing, but the ‘voice’ can be very subjective – therefore hard to fit into a category as such.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think the age of the protagonist does play a role in what genre the book falls into but not as important a role as the publishers do. Adult books sometimes have a child as its main protagonist (eg. Room by Emma Donoghue). The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is marketed towards teenagers and the protagonist Bruno is only 9 years old. One can also argue that themes and subject matter of books play a large part in determining its genre. Adult books tend to show their overarching themes more distinctly and delve deeper into their respective topics or subjects. All in all I think there are many aspects of a book that determines its genre and even those are subjective.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ahhhh I think I disagree a little bit. I’ve read a few books where the main character is a teenager (and even a few where the MC is middle grade aged) where they are very much Adult books. An example I can think of off the top of my head is one of my favorite books from last year, The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel. The main character is only 12ish years old, but the book tackles some very heavy topics and is fairly graphic at times. It is an adult book. This isn’t to say that an older YA reader couldn’t read this book, I would say 16+. I think the content definitely needs to be taken into consideration, and not just the age of the main character.

    Liked by 1 person

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