Let’s Talk Bookish – What Makes a Book YA?

Buenos tardes amigos! Hope you’ve had a good week. Welcome back to another Let’s Talk Bookish discussion. Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by me @ Eternity Books & Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts

Today’s topic is: What Makes a Book YA?

This is Dani’s topic and I’m pretty excited to read all the discussion regarding this.

What makes a book YA

Well, since YA is called Young Adult and marketed towards teens between the ages of 13 and 18 (whenever did 13-year-olds become young adults??), the characters should be between those ages. I also think the books should be relatively “clean”. Idk what other normal teenagers do, but I can never relate to half the things that happen in YA, and I feel like other teenagers don’t experience all the things that happen there as often as YA makes it seem.

But I digress.

So the two main things that I think make YA, YA are a relatively clean plot and characters who are between 13 and 18 years old.


My Issues With YA

#1: I think its age range is too big. The books 18-year-olds read can be a bit too mature (especially in the romance department) for 13-year-olds. And books with 13-year-old MCs may seem too childish for 18-year-olds.

It’d be nicer if we could split this into two groups, 13-15 and 16-18. It would probably make us all sleep better.

My second issue is that ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is being marketed as YA these days, even when they are most definitely Adult, or New Adult. Characters who are in university are not YA. Characters who are 19, 20, and above are also not YA. Personally, I feel like overly explicit content is 100% not YA.

Since the age genre for YA is so big, publishers should always stop and wonder if the book that they are about to market is YA would be suitable for a 13 year old to read. If it isn’t, then please, market it as New Adult. Since they’ve made the age range so wide, they have to always keep in mind the younger kids who could pick it up because technically they should be able to read it.

And that’s my very short two cents for today.

This Week’s Participant:

Dani @ Literary Lion | Breanna @ Paws and Paperbacks | M.T. @ The Last Book On the Left | Rafaela @ The Portuguese Bibliophile | Rian @ Dogs and Books | Evelyn @ Evelyn Reads | Jane @ Blogger Books | Sammie @ The Bookwyrm’s Den

So this was really short, but it’s also a very late post. My apologies.

What do you think counts as a YA book? Do you think books are mislabeled as YA all the time? What’s a book that you read that is labeled as YA, but you think it shouldn’t be? Should YA be separated into two groups? Chat with me in the comments below!!

41 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish – What Makes a Book YA?

  1. I definitely agree with you about all of these things. I was reading all kinds of things when I was a teen, but I always knew (and wanted to know!) what I was going to get from a novel – i.e. when I picked up an adult novel, I knew it could have explicit scenes. I think YA should be a safe place for teens that shouldn’t contain explicit content – I’ve read YA novels that were very sex-positive and did a great job of showing that whatever you do or don’t choose to do is okay. They did this without having any explicit scenes in them, so it’s possible to have a conversation about sex without going down that route, in my opinion. I find it frustrating that there are novels marketed as YA – some of SJM’s, for example – that then contain super-explicit content. These will undoubtedly end up in teens’ hands who are not comfortable with this type of content. And yes, some are, but they can always seek out New Adult and Adult novels. Great discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. YES! I think we should have teenage, young adult & new adult genres as different things because you’re so right the age range is way too big! And when you’re a teenage you change so much from one year to the next let alone over 5 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a great discussion!! I 1000% agree on some YA being too old for 13 year olds. They’re should be a genre in between middle grade and YA, like ages 13-16ish, they’re severly lacking. I feel like 17 to 19 is a great ‘YA’ age because most teens by then are fairly mature, you know?

    sksksks publishing is so weird tbh AHHHH!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I know!! That would be perfect, because from MG to YA, it’s a severe jump. I get that it’s about coming of age stories etc and yes, some peopel do experience these stuff early, but it’s still big jump in terms of content.
      Haha ✨💕

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I completely agree with you! At this point what is Ya even?! I think publishers shouldn’t be afraid to market their books as “New Adult” or “Middle Grade” or something more often when the books actually fit those categories better…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m an English major and took an entire literature course devoted to YA and defining the genre!! Our class definition was that YA isn’t a genre, but is instead a demographic of readership from ages 12-18; that age range can definitely change and authors can pick a smaller period when defining their audience, but that’s the general idea. Since YA is a description of the readership and not the book itself, books in the YA demographic can fall into several genres. I think this gives authors a lot more freedom to self-define their work and also allows readers to explore all sorts of genres of work that are specifically marketed for their age group!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I understand that YA isn’t a genre but the age demographic. So I guess it can’t really be getting darker lol, since it is the books within whatever genre in YA that are “dark”. But just in general, especially with fantasy since it is probably the most popular genre in YA, I think it’s a lot more heavier that it once was.
      My issue with YA is that I think that the demographic of 12-18 is way too wide; we could possibly have an upper and lower YA because just labeling everything that is for 12-18 as YA may result in 12 year olds reading books that are maybe a little too much and better suited for 16+. Sure, some 12 year olds could be ready for what we would techinically say is 16+, but that individual person can go look for those books because they know that they can handle them. At least, that’s what I think 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think the ages for YA are def a bit too wide though if it encompassed early 20’s/university settings it wouldn’t too bad either because YA are basically coming of age stories with characters maturing mentally.
    Also, 13 is def way too young and I was really surprised to see it considered as YA instead of Middle Grade since most MG characters are between 12 to 15 years of age.

    About the explicit content, (whether it’s violent or sexual as well as triggering subjects) I think it would be better to either label it as NA or to place some sort of content warning in the begginning of the book or back cover so people can be aware of this at least and make the choice to read that or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, good point! Wow, I didn’t know MG was really that wide? Maybe we just have our definitions of it all wrong lol. I know that MG is like 12, or 13ish, but YA is also defined as 12-18…so which is it?

      Exactly! Honestly, that should be for all books, not just YA or MG because some people need that warning. And I think it’s even more important for YA because the age range is so big and some younger YA readers may not be ready for the more serious/mature books.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree, sometimes I read a book that’s been marketed and labeled YA and it’s like, uhhhh, nope. 😂 I feel YA should be high school aged characters and publishers are really pushing the YA range lately! Maybe because in the mainstream people don’t understand the category of “new adult” so they may shy away from a book, but if they call it “young adult” then it gets recognized more?? I’m not sure…

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    1. Yeah, I think that’s also the issue. New Adult is relatively new (lol) so people don’t really get what it’s for. If it’s YA, it gets all the hype, and I think it’s even more because most people read YA, especially YA fantasy. I feel like that’s the most popular genre on earth, and if a book is marketed as such, it’ll probably get more exposure than if it were to be marketed as Adult or NA

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a nice discussion! I don’t think New Adult even existed as a proper genre a few years ago so they would just shove everything into YA because it was easier to sell, there are definitely some ‘YA’ books that are not YA 😂 I feel like readers like to read something thats slightly above their age though, 16/17 year olds are probably preparing for university irl so I don’t think that just because the character is in uni should make it new adult/adult (unless theres explicit content). I think its fine to have 20 year old protagonists in YA books, the content of the book should determine whether its NA or YA, not the age of the protagonist. I also hate generalising ages like this because readers are so diverse, 14 year olds and 16 year olds can read the same books if they want, some 14 year olds want light-hearted stuff, other 14 year olds might be going through it and need something darker, I don’t know reading is so personal and I feel like it should fall under the reader’s judgement (and publishers should definitely not falsely advertise things) Some younger readers (14/15 year olds) can definitely handle what 16+ readers can, I don’t think its fair to bar that off completely.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Asra! I’m loving discussing this!! I just wish I’d been able to write a better less-rushed discussion post, but oh well 😊
      You have a good point, but it’s not lilke it’s going to become a crime or something for younger teens to be reading “upper” YA. Technically, I’m a younger teen, but I’m fine with reading more mature books. I also read Adult sometimes too lol (YA mysteries are so bleh compared to Adult ones tbh). So it’s not supposed to limit a person in that age range. Everybody knows what they can or can’t handle, and like you said, some 14 yro can be reading things some 16 yro are not necessarily really ready for. It’s just that because we can’t classify books based on everyone’s indiviudal maturity, we need to classify it somehow, and age is right now the best way to do it.
      I also see why 20 yro MCs can still be YA, but usually, the content isn’t YA, so I just generalized that. I guess 18, 19, 20 could possibly fall under YA depending on the content, but everything above that probbaly is not going to be YA anymore.

      Thank you for reading 💖✨

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    1. Yeah, but if MG goes up, we’re still going to have the problem of MG being too childish for those that are like 13, 14 or 15. (Idk, how high are you thinking the age should go?) I think MG is just fine as it is, but in that 13-15 range, you’re starting to want to read something that isn’t so “childish” but then you also don’t want to get so much mature content all at once. Can’t wait to read your take! ✨

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  9. This year I’ve read two , no three, books labelled as YA that featured graphic rape scenes and another than had a pretty full on gay foreplay / sex scene. Maybe I’m old but this feels like way too much for a YA Book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it definitely is too much for YA. And it’s also why I’m saying we need Upper and Lower YA. That can pass as Upper YA (if the characters are in the 16-18ish age range), but I think it’s defintiely too much for Lower YA.

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  10. you see, i think the 13-15 age range you’re looking for is middle grade 😂 though not all YA books have the same level of maturity (The Heroes of Olympus vs. Six of Crows for example), I think that it’s fine to market them all as YA, because, speaking from experience, I think younger teens can handle upper YA content. What I absolutely do not want marketed as YA are books like A Court of Thorns and Roses and the latter Throne of Glass books!! Those books have very explicit sex scenes, and the characters are in their twenties! Nothing about that is YA-appropriate, and they should be categorized as New Adult. However, I don’t think books with explicit content and characters in their twenties being marketed as YA is entirely the publishers’ fault. YA is a very popular marketing genre, and when people hear NA, they’re likely to think of a contemporary romance. Imo, the New Adult category needs to become more mainstream, so that mature books don’t get miscategorized as YA.

    I completely agree with you about everything being marketed as YA nowadays! It’s just so popular that even if the author and publisher label a book as adult, people will call it YA anyways. This is really common with fantasy books written by women, actually… but that’s a conversation for another day, haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol, but technically 13-15 is YA not MG. OK, here’s an example: my sister is in that age range, and honestly…I feel like all the YA stuff of today are just a bit much for her? (or maybe I’m just being an overly worried big sister 🙄🤦🏾‍♀️) Like I’d be super uncomfortable to hear that she read it. But then at the same time, me at 13 yo was completely fine and mature enough to be reading all that. So I guess it depends?
      Like Middle Grade is way to childish and gets boring very fast, but then YA is always with characters that are like 17 on average and so I’m just there like “where’s a book for us in the middle?” I think having a distinction would help so that there are books with characters in that age group specifically for lower YA and then it won’t be such a jump from the innocence of MG to the relatively annoying but also sometimes good much more mature YA.

      Good point. Honestly, I didn’t know NA existed until sometime last year, so it definitely needs to become a lot more mainstream. And then people may finally stop pushing into YA and finally accept that teenagers don’t do half these things on a regular basis 🙄

      Haha, that was actually why Dani chose the topic (there was a Twitter thread where a fantasy author was talking about how her books were not YA but they were being marketed as such anyway), but I was stressed and didn’t have as much time as I would have liked, so I just stuck to what is YA. Maybe I’ll try and look into that some other time :)) ✨

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get what you mean!! 13-15 is YA, but I feel like books starring or for 13-15 year olds would be classified as MG right now, considering the fact that YA has become more mature? I was reading books like SOC at 13 & knew other people my age who were, so maybe that’s just me 😭

        it’s so sweet that you’re worried about your younger sister! I also wish we could have more books that are right in the middle of MG and older YA :(( I just feel like it’d be a little hard to write YA characters ages 13-15 bc people don’t rlly come of age/have their first love at that time?? & it would be hard to follow a 13-15 year old in a fantasy world 😂😂 I don’t know this is just my opinion I know I could be wrong :((

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  11. i agree with everything you said here, rukky! it’s really frustrating to see certain books labeled as ya when they should be na or adult. (there’s also the fact that many adult fantasies by women are called ya, even though the authors/pubs are very clear about it being adult, but that’s a discussion for another day lmao.)

    i think there’s definitely upper and lower ya, and i wish those distinctions were made clearer! and absolutely yes about the explicit content — obviously teenagers curse and have sex, but it definitely needs to be less explicit than what you might see in older books!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s like the whole definition of YA is being changed and we’re forgetting what it was originally meant for and just labelling it that way bc it’s close enough to YA? Idk, like Kay said, it may also be because YA is becoming a lot darker and grittier than it used to be.
      Hmm, so is it us book readers who always label them YA anyway? Bc I thought it was the publishers who marketed it that way? (obviously, I need to do more research on this lol)

      Exactly yes!! Also, not every teenager wants to read that, and if they do, they can always go seek it in the upper categories. ✨

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      1. yeah, i think it’s getting darker for sure! (i’m one of those teens who loves darker ya though but it’s not for everyone lmao). also yeah, i know the poppy war by rf kuang is definitely marketed and labeled as adult by the author/pub, but there are some readers who assume it’s ya—comes from how female authors aren’t taken seriously in adult sff and also because the mc is 19 (which isn’t even the age range haha). but the content is like…… so graphic, which makes the label harmful!!

        i’m realizing how long this reply is and i’m so sorry 😭😭

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Same, I love dark books too!! They’re just a lot more fun lol
        That’s terrible. I hope I haven’t ever done that. But yeah, I get why it’s super harmful. Honestly, the whole reader community needs a crash course to remember what all these labels actually mean instead of just dumping it on the book because the author is female or it sounds like it might be YA. Anything that’s mislabeled can be very harmful, but we kind of do it all the time.

        It’s not a problem at all!!! I love this topic and all the comments on this 💖✨ And well, it’s not really that long compared to what some others have written, and what I write myself 😂🤦🏾‍♀️

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  12. I definitely get annoyed at how everything seems like it’s marketed at YA today. I think YA has really gotten a lot darker and grittier in recent years as a lot more adults read YA which really annoys me because it kind of feels like adults are pushing teens out of YA, and I read a lot of YA books when I was much younger that I feel like would be marketed as middle grade today. tbh I feel like I almost never read a YA book where the protagonist is younger than 16 or 17 which is really a shame because when I was in middle school reading YA I was like… why are they all so old lol #cantrelate

    On the flip side though I disagree with you that all YA should be appropriate for 13 year olds. I think there should be upper and lower YA, with lots of the darker books that are super big now that older high school students enjoy, and also lower YA more for like middle schoolers. You mentioned two groups and I think books can generally fall into those categories, but there’s really no need to separate them and they all fall under the young adult umbrella. Some 14 year olds are more mature than some 16 year olds and both can find books in the teen section. I mean high school is 14-17ish and it makes sense to put all books for high schoolers together.

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    1. Hi, Kay!! It’s defintiely gotten a lot grittier and darker, and now that you say that, it makes sense and semi-annoys me too. YA is for us teens, adults don’t have to push us out all the time. Lol, same, I could never relate to half the things happening in YA books.

      Yes, not all YA has to be appropriate for 13 yro, but since they’ve lumped everything together, they should be more careful of how they market it. Like for instance, say a book like, idk Throne of Glass? The series progresisvely becomes a lot more NA, but it’s still considered YA. And sure, some teens are mature enough to be reading older content (me being one of them lol) but I think that we can still have the distinction between the two, and then the mature ones can go seek out the older YA books. Yeah, they don’t have to be totally separate, but I think there should be a distinction.

      Thank you for reading ✨

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      1. Honestly I have no idea who SJM gets away with calling herself YA. I read ACOMAF when I was 16 and I was… definitely surprised lol. And that was at age 16 which is at the upper end of YA, so I just gotta say it’s a good thing I didn’t randomly pick it up from the YA section of the library when I was like 12 or I would have been traumatized.

        I remember when I first started reading YA at age 12 I looked on the left flap of books and a lot of them would say “ages 12+” or “ages 14+” on them, and I would try to get the once that specifically said 12+. It wasn’t all books, just some of them, but I feel like I never see that anymore, not sure if that’s because publishers don’t bother writing it anymore or I just stopped paying attention.

        Anyways, I feel like it would be super helpful if books had that, saying like either 12+ for middle school or 14+ for high school (I feel like that’s when I had the hugest maturity jump lol once you enter high school and hang out with 17/18 year olds you can pretty much handle all YA imo for most people), and they could be still all shelved and marketed together in YA, but still be easier to find lower YA books.

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