Discussion: Are YA Books Becoming Too NA?

Discussion, Young Adult Books
Are YA Books Becoming Too NA? As new adult books gain popularity, more young adult books contain graphic or explicit content. Are we losing YA as a category?
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A few years ago, several indie authors saw a large gap in the publishing world. The young adult market was flooded with Twilight wannabe’s and Hunger Games knockoffs while the adult market continued to produce tomes of literature geared toward the serious adult reader. Yet nobody was writing books for that crossover stage between the two.

In order to fill this gap, authors started writing New Adult, or NA, novels. New Adult started off being mostly contemporary romance novels with the fast pace and simpler writing style of Young Adult, but with explicit content often seen in adult novels.

Since these books didn’t belong in the YA category nor the adult category, authors faced an uphill battle to publication. Naturally, many authors turned to self-publication and we began to see their new work that way. After many runaway bestsellers published by indie authors, the big publishing houses started to take notice. Slowly, the New Adult category has gained recognition and a permanent slot in the publishing world.

NA is here to stay, there’s no doubt about that.

I love watching trends in young adult books and following the ebb and flow of different genres and themes. I’ve noticed a few things about New Adult books.

Are YA Books Becoming Too NA? As new adult books gain popularity, more young adult books contain graphic or explicit content. Are we losing YA as a category?

They’re infiltrating the Young Adult category

There’s been some debate over whether to shelve NA books in the teen section or the adult section. I’ve seen both, but with the popularity of NA, I’ve noticed content that used to be found exclusively in adult novels is now filtering down into young adult. YA has started dealing with heavier issues and allowing more explicit content in their books than ever before. F-bombs are perfectly acceptable now, as are detailed sex scenes. In fact, many books labeled as YA contain just as much “adult” content as adult books do. Take

YA has started dealing with heavier issues and allowing more explicit content in their books. In fact, many books labeled as YA contain just as much “adult” content as adult books do. For example, Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas contains a very long, very explicit love scene in it. I always categorized that series as Young Adult, but the detailed love scene placed it squarely in the New Adult category. Other books, like Kill All Happies by Rachel Cohn, contain no sex but are heavy with f-bombs.

There’s not always a difference between NA and YA books

And I DarkenMany big publishing houses are spitting out sweeping, epic books (like The Glittering Court) geared toward adult YA readers—under their children’s imprints. Books like And I Darken by Kiersten White are lengthy and violent. By the time we get to Now I Rise, the second book in the series, the characters are well into adulthood, the violence is amped up, and there is a semi-descriptive love scene. Yet the series is published, marketed, and categorized as young adult.

Many adults read YA, so publishers gear books toward them

Young adult books are labeled as for ages 12-18. However, many adults (myself included) love reading YA. But adults can handle—and even want—more graphic content than the teens these books were originally intended for. Since most young adult books are being read, reviewed, and raved about by adults, it only makes sense that authors and publishers would start producing YA books for their adult fans.

YA readers don’t want “grown up” books

If adults want to read “grown up” content, why don’t they just read a book written for adults? That’s because adult books are too long, too slow, and have too many descriptions to keep YA readers interested. Young Adult and New Adult books are shorter, have a faster pace, and have a smaller cast of characters. Plots aren’t as complex, and everything that happens moves the story forward. Adult readers of YA books love these fast-paced, obsession-worthy, swoony books they grew to love as teenagers. As adults, they want similar stories—with more adult content.

NA books are not for children

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasIt’s a weird thing, to see books for adults disguised as books for teenagers. Young adult books are for kids ages 12-18 and are published by imprints clearly labeled for children. But like I mentioned earlier, a growing number of books labeled as young adult may not be appropriate for teens. As a parent, I worry that adult love for YA is overshadowing the needs of teenagers and jeopardizing YA as we know it.

My concern is that kids don’t go from reading middle-grade books like The Land of Stories to reading A Court of Thorns and Roses overnight. We still need books to bridge the gap, books that offer kids who aren’t emotionally ready for (or are uncomfortable reading) graphic content something worthwhile. If kids don’t have good, age-appropriate material to read, they stop reading.

We need a way to distinguish NA from YA books

I’m not complaining about NA starting to leak into YA. There used to be a big gap that’s now getting filled. I’ve read and enjoyed many young adult books that I would never hand to a twelve-year-old. However, as my daughter gets closer to her teen years, I wish I had a way of knowing whether a book is age appropriate or not—other than reading it myself, first. If authors and publishers want to produce YA for adult readers, that’s perfectly fine with me. But we need a way of distinguishing if a book is truly intended for teen readers or the massive numbers of adults that read young adult books. I almost wish publishers would split their age recommendations for YA into 12-14 and 15-18, to help parents and their teens better navigate this new reading landscape.

What do you think? Have you noticed this trend in YA books?

 

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Shana Gorian
    June 9, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    I have definitely noticed this trend for a while now and I agree with you that the split needs to be quite obvious – much more than it is now. It very much bothers me that YA books are becoming much too NA. I have a young teenage daughter and when I think about the implications, it makes me shudder! YA was created for a reason and had standards before. These writers and publishers really need to think about this more – how it’s causing our kids to grow up even faster than they already do.

    • Reply
      Dena at Batch of Books
      June 9, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! My oldest is nine, but I’m SO worried about her teen years and what she’s going to read. While the YA books I read are fine for an adult, I don’t want her reading that stuff when she’s twelve or thirteen.

  • Reply
    Kristin
    June 9, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    I completely agree! I have to prescreen my kid’s books because of this. YA is too broad of genre. I definitely think YA needs to be broken down into a couple genres or maybe adding an age to them. Like YA12 meaning 12+ and YA16 and NA

    • Reply
      Dena at Batch of Books
      June 10, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      That would be so helpful! I think it is too broad. The differences between a twelve-year-old and a sixteen-year-old are huge!

  • Reply
    Dedezoomsalot (@DedeZoomsalot)
    June 19, 2017 at 9:50 am

    I agree with you, wholeheartedly. My daughter is 13 and reads most of my books; I love getting to share the love of reading with her. She is mature enough to handle YA, but I try to keep the really graphic stuff out of her hands. I wouldn’t let her watch an adult video or read erotica, and it seems like some NA books take that direction.

  • Reply
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