Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Growth of the Young Adult Genre by Shannon Delany

The Growth of the Young Adult Genre

By Shannon Delany (13 to Life, Secrets and Shadows, Bargains and Betrayals, Destiny and Deception (January 2012, St. Martin's Press), Rivals and Retribution (August 2012, St. Martin's Press) and Spirited: 13 Haunting Tales (March 2012, Leap Books)

When I was a kid, there was no YA section in the book stores or libraries. No Young Adult label or genre.

Don’t get me wrong, we had some amazing books that fit in that category (A Swiftly Tilting Planet; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; and Arrows of the Queen all jump to mind). We had other great stories staring teenage protagonists like Where the Red Fern Grows; The Red Pony; and Old Yeller and long before that Shakespeare wrote that play about those two crazy kids, what were their names...? Oh yeah. Romeo and Juliet. And, I swear, if Pyramus and Thisbe of old myth weren’t teens, well...They just had to be. With the secret love, the mishap with their rendezvous, the scarf, the blood, the lion and the tragedy...

Yeah. Definitely YA drama.

Young adult stories have existed for about as long as our species has been telling tales and creating literature. But YA only truly became a powerhouse (and a heck of a moneymaker) very recently. There was a time teenagers were considered small adults and were married off or thrown into employment early on and so leisure time simply didn’t exist. There was also a time when books were not nearly so plentiful, accessible or affordable.

I think of those eras as the Dark Ages of reading.

Lots of people point to JK Rowling as the leader of the YA movement. I like to think of her as the one who helped solidify it through the popularity of her series, not the brilliant creator of an entire genre. She opened a door the industry was only starting to realize existed in the wall of imagination and gobs of us, thousands of YA authors, have come through that opening. I certainly appreciate her holding that door.

Having been a teacher I appreciate most of all the fact more teens are gobbling up imaginative writing (whether it be fiction or creative non-fiction) and opening their minds to new worlds and possibilities. Even reluctant readers can find a novel that speaks to them, like Speak, Crank, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Struts and Frets, Ender’s Game or The Hunger Games. There is truly something for everyone (and plenty of books being banned as a result—that’s right, the only thing that’s truly taboo is the existence of a taboo). No topic is untouchable. No story too bold to be considered for its potential mass market appeal. That all resulted from the genre’s blossoming over the past ten years or so.

Every YA novel seeks to be a unique individual. Like its readers. And none of them is truly the same although all have a few similar characteristics--like their readers.

Now even authors of adult fiction are jumping into YA, realizing they can grow an audience for their backlist of books and get the emotional payoff of re-imagining their teenage trials and tribulations (or at least painting their memories with a more colorful brush for the public’s amusement). YA has even given birth to the “New Adult” genre that seeks to capture those who have gotten past most of the teen drama but are deep in the drama of the 20-something set.

For a genre that only started to be recognized as an individual relatively recently, YA has grown up quickly and had offspring early. It seems oddly fitting somehow... ;)


  1. I am also of the generation that did not have the title of 'Young Adult' for our books... just a steady diet of Judy Blume, and the ones you had mentioned, and a mom who gave me the Clan of the Cave Bear series in my mid-teens.

    Though, if this new genre has helped to revitalize younger readers, I am all for it. I am actually glad that JK Rowlings opened the door, and we are creating more readers... it's good for their souls! Thanks for the great post!

  2. Great post! Certainly FB/Twitter re-posting worthy.