What Does Young Adult Fiction Mean? How Was It Invented?

What exactly is “Y.A.”? What does it mean? Why did it begin in the first place, and when was that? What has it become since? We conferred with librarians, agents, publishing world executives, and the experts of the Internet to put together a primer of sorts. They don’t all agree, either—nor is this current-day definition one that will remain so forever. As author Michael Cart, writing for YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, for which he is a former president, explains, “The term ‘young adult literature’ is inherently amorphous, for its constituent terms ‘young adult’ and ‘literature’ are dynamic, changing as culture and society — which provide their context — change.” [...]

Marcus points to World War II as another impetus in the creation of Y.A. literature. Teens were put through the very grownup experience of war, and came back as veterans old beyond their years, while their younger brothers “felt they’d missed the experience of a lifetime.” This, says Marcus, had a huge impact on society, setting the stage for things like rock-and-roll, and more grown-up literature for “kids.” But there’s also clearly a marketing element at work here: The creation of Y.A. as a category makes “good business sense,” says Marcus. “All along since the beginning of the 20th century, specialized publishing departments were being formed, with the underlying idea to create a parallel world to the world of the institutional book buyers.”

From “What Does Young Adult Mean?” The word and the concept for “adolescent” and consequently “teenager” and “young adult” are fairly new. So the idea of books just for those types of kids/adults/pre-peoples is also a new enterprise. YA fiction is still a young adult.

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4 thoughts on “What Does Young Adult Fiction Mean? How Was It Invented?

  1. Children’s literature in general does not fall into clearly-defined categories. And now there is a new category of readers called New Adult, which includes young adults up to the age of thirty. To me it’s all nonsense, but people like to have everything pigeon-holed and labeled. The truth is, people are not reading as much, and the level of reading ability has fallen. With the birth rate decreasing, the children’s/young adult genre will eventually suffer the effects.

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