Due to recent controversy, I’ve got another discussion post here for you today, with the prompt of how do we distinguish between young adult, new adult, and adult fiction?
Recently, the lines between the genres (and the dying NA genre) have been blurring as adult fiction writers write YA and YA authors write adult and Sarah J. Maas just goes and does her own things without a label (more on that later).
A little bit of context first, the debut author of The Poppy War recently wrote a tweet about how her novel wasn’t YA, it was adult because of very explicit themes on genocide, rape, etc. Most of the controversy wasn’t actually about this topic, but I’m not going into that because it’s not the point of this post.
I personally find this classification of The Poppy War to fall true after reading the very extensive list of trigger warnings in the book & I’m currently reading it. Despite what the first chapter may suggest, this is more than just a schoolgirl in China taking a test, but it dives much darker and deeper than that.
Many bloggers and book community members have classified this book as YA, and I find it reasonable that the author wants it to be called adult because of how there are many darker themes that aren’t normally in YA novels. It’d be a really big surprise if I picked this up thinking it was YA and then encountered things like rape in such an explicit nature in this book. I think that just because a book is adult doesn’t mean that teen readers can’t read it, it just means that its target audience is different and what to expect is different.
Which brings us to the question, where do we the draw the lines between genres?
Adult novels, at least of the science fiction fantasy genre, tend to be more long winded, more technical, and less diverse in my experience. There’s also a greater potential for violence and triggering topics in a more explicit nature that isn’t really found in YA. Plus, the protagonists are usually adults, but not always.
New Adult novels, being the dying genre that it is, tend to include more college aged protagonists and sometimes are a little…smuttier than your regular YA novel. Because the genre is
dead dying, it’s mostly filled with things that lean more towards erotica.
And YA is usually filled with teenaged protagonists, a little more diversity than adult in my opinion, and a more distinct set of tropes than what is present in other novels. It frequently uses less explicit sex or violence scenes.
But there are so many crossovers.
We can’t just define these boundaries by age, because protagonists can be of an age that isn’t normally defined in that genre. We can’t just say books with adults are adult books, book with early adults are NA, and books with teens are YA.
Look at books like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The protagonist is a kid, but will children grasp the full extent of the novel? Sure, children can read it & I’ve had friends who read it in third grade. But the intended audience is older so they can understand the nuances within the novel like the “Fury” is supposed to be the “Fuhrer”.
Which shows how age does not define genre, but it can definitely contribute to it.
Most things fit their age category, but you should always look at content because I feel like when the content goes into different territories, the genre can definitely change.
I’ll use The Poppy War as an example. Looking at the laundry list that is the content warnings and how reviewers have remarked about the explicit nature of Part III, this definitely doesn’t seem like YA content. The book is based off of the Nanking Massacre, and if you read just the Wikipedia article, you can see how horrifying and destructive and brutal this event was, showing how despite possibly teenaged protagonists, this is definitely not typical YA material.
On the other hand, my contrasting example is T.E. Carter’s I Stop Somewhere, which is the most explicit YA book about rape that I can think of. And it is nowhere near as explicit or brutally horrifying as The Poppy War. There are only two scenes showing the event of the boys raping women, and even then it’s more vague and less explicit than the actual event would be.
So yes, age can define genre, but we must also look as content because the explicit nature of the content or the topic that is being talked about in the novel can sort books into their categories as well.
But why are these lines between genres being questioned? When did this begin happening? Don’t we have genre categories for a reason?
Well, I feel like a lot of this can be attributed by authors who write both YA and adult or have adult novels that appeal to YA readers. Writers like Jay Kristoff, J.K. Rowling, Erin Morgenstern, V.E. Schwab, Fonda Lee, and Sarah J. Maas.
(To make things easier, I’m merging NA and adult for now.)
Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight series can be found in the adult section which makes sense because some of the scenes are more graphic.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series transitioned (in my opinion) from middle grade to YA in The Goblet of Fire because of the larger amount of violence in comparison to the earlier books, seeing the Triwizard Tournament and all.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is classified as adult, which makes sense because of the writing style, yet it’s still wildly popular among YA readers.
Fonda Lee wrote Exo, a YA novel, and Jade City, an adult novel, yet Jade City still appeals to YA readers.
Sarah J. Maas’ books are technically considered YA, but as her books have publishing dates that are later than that of Throne of Glass, the novels get increasingly more adult with some of the…smuttier scenes in the novels. And now she’s releasing an adult fantasy series, which will blur the lines even further.
And V.E. Schwab has only written two technically YA books–This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet and City of Ghosts for MG readers which is coming out later this year–yet her adult novels still remain largely popular in YA spheres.
I think the fact that the genres are crossing isn’t a bad thing because it opens doors for readers to try new things. But I also still think that the classifications are important because they suggest to the reader what type of content they will be in their future.
It also makes transitions as readers age easier. The transition from MG to YA was really hard for me as a child and I went a couple years barely reading anything because YA was too scary and overrun by paranormal novels for me to think of braving the genre.
So, tl;dr is:
- Genre is mainly determined by age, but content can trump age in some cases.
- The number of authors who blur the genre lines are increasing, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.