The Evolution of YA: Young Adult Fiction, Explained (Feat. Lindsay Ellis) | It’s Lit!


There are those who
say that kids these days don’t read books. But that’s just not true. Millennials and whatever
we’re calling the generation after millennials are actually
more well-read on average than earlier generations and
also read more books per year. And believe it or
not, we have the likes of the “Hunger Games” and “Harry
Potter” and even “Twilight” to thank for that. So thanks, YA. Young adult is a term whose
meaning has varied wildly over the years. It can apply to coming
of age tragedies or serialized adventures
of babysitters or insert really dated
twilight joke here. But where did this young
adult genre come from? And why did it get so big? [MUSIC PLAYING] While narratives
for children have existed since people
started telling stories, a designated literary market for
that mysterious, magical period of time known as
teenagerdom is somewhat new. And to be fair,
teenagers weren’t a designated demographic
in most respects until around World War II,
due in part to advances in psychology,
sociological changes, like the abolishment
of child labor, and even technological
advances like the car making it easy to sneak
out of your parents’ house. But suddenly, teens are here. And with them come
a plethora of shiny, new things marketed to
them, clothes, music, films, radio programs, and
of course, the novel. In 1942, Maureen Daly,
herself only 17 years old, publishes the
“Seventeenth Summer,” which some have called the
first young adult novel. “Seventeenth Summer” featured
plot points and themes particularly to teens, under
age drinking, driving, dating, and the, of course,
eternally popular angst. But it wasn’t the
great literary critics of the time who defined this
new category of fiction. It was librarians, in
particular, librarians from the New York
Public Library. Starting in 1906, Anne Carroll
Moore built a, sort of, League of Extraordinary
Librarians, women who were interested
not only in keeping this nascent adolescent
audience in libraries but also finding out
what made them tick. Another young librarian brought
on by more, Mabel Williams began working with her
peers to find books in both the children’s
and adult sections that might be of interest to teens. And in 1929, the first
annual NYPL books for young people list was
sent to schools and libraries across the country. In 1944, another NYPL
librarian, Margaret Scoggin, changed the name of her
library journal column from “Books for
Older Boys and Girls” to “Books for Young Adults.” And the genre was
christened with a name that has lasted to this day. While the YA genre had already
been laying down its roots for decades at this
point, most YA fiction tended to feature the
same generic plot points. Girl dates boy. Maybe they have a
fight or something. But then they resolve it. The end. But in the 60s,
young people started to see more thoughtful
contemplations of what it is just to be a teenager. Hugely noteworthy
from this era is S.E. Hinton’s, “The
Outsiders,” published in 1967. At first, a novel that failed
on the adult paperback market, the publisher noticed it was
mostly being purchased by teens and then re-marketed it to them. And YA allowed itself to
explore deeper subjects, ushering in novels like
“Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” and
“The Chocolate War.” During the 80s and
90s however, YA started skewing towards
serialized fiction, or from the likes of R.L.
Stine, school centric fiction like “Sweet Valley High”
and “The Baby-Sitters Club” and genre fiction like K.A.
Applegate’s “Animorphs Series.” So while young adult fiction
was plenty lucrative, it wasn’t really respected
by people outside of its targeted readership. It was low art for kids. KID: Yippee! NARRATOR: But then everything
changed with a boy wizard. In 1997, publisher Bloomsbury
takes a leap of faith and publishes “Harry Potter
and the Philosopher’s Stone.” In spite of being genre
fiction, “Harry Potter” manages to resound not
only with the YA audience, but it also leaks into
a large adult market. Harry Potter as a
character also grows up with his readers, starting out
11 years old and ending at 17. And the tone of the
series matures as well. So this new post
“Harry Potter” YA is nearly as long and sometimes
longer, sometimes way longer, as adult fiction and on
the same reading level as commercial adult fiction. “Harry Potter”
also opens the door for a wide variety of darker,
genre-based YA novels that can appeal to an
audience beyond teens and possibly get optioned for
a multi-million dollar movie franchises. With “Twilight,” for
instance, came a boom in the YA subgenre of
paranormal romance. And boy, that sure was a
thing that came and went. “The Hunger Games” popularized
the subgenre of YA dystopia. And that, also, was a thing that
came and went really quickly. And now, well, genre fiction
is still popular in YA. But the trend has cycled
back to discussing relevant social issues
and the world as it is. John Green’s, “The
Fault In Our Stars” was a massive hit that
dealt with kids who fall in love while dying of cancer. And one of the most popular
YA books of the last year was Angie Thomas’s,
“The Hate You Give,” which was partially inspired
by the Black Lives Matter movement. And also it was really great. By the way, you should read it. So it’s a bit reductive to
be dismissive of Young Adult. First of all, it’s not
just a niche genre. YA is remarkable
for its wide appeal. 55% of YA books
purchased in 2012 were bought by adults
between 18 and 44 years old. It’s also remarkable to see
the emergence of a genre pioneered by women, authors
like Maureen Daly, J.K. Rowling, and Angie
Thomas, and librarians like Mabel Williams
and Margaret Scoggin. Not only does YA shape
younger audiences as readers, it is a genre that
helps give its audience a lexicon for
understanding that there is a complex world between
childhood and adulthood. So what does your
favorite YA book? Are there any books you love
that maybe you didn’t realize were categorized as YA? Leave a comment below. “The Great American
Read” is a new series on PBS about why
we love to read, leading up to a nationwide vote
on America’s favorite novel. Who decides America’s
favorite novel, you ask? Well, that would be you. So head to
pbs.org/greatamericanread to vote on your favorite book. Check the link in the
description for more details. [MUSIC PLAYING]

100 Replies to “The Evolution of YA: Young Adult Fiction, Explained (Feat. Lindsay Ellis) | It’s Lit!”

  1. I think of Ender's Game as a YA novel, or at least it was marketed as such when I was in school. It kinda of did the growing with the protagonist thing Harry Potter did.

  2. I'm still apprehensive on congratulating YA for increase in reading and if it is what kids are reading that's not really a positive. Just from my own experience adults my age still hold Harry Potter in high regard when if you look back on it as an adult it's not a great series but because we read it as a kid it latches onto that sweet spot of the brain that clouds your objectivity

  3. I read A Court of Thorns and Roses and Cruel Beauty recently and was kind of stunned by how terrible the writing was just, style-wise? Because I don't know if this is a new trend or if I just missed it as a teenager. I didn't read many of the newer books except Hunger Games, which I considered 'alright, but the writing is way too basic.' I'd been spoiled by stuff like Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, or Dragon Keeper, Tamora Pierce. (And older classics like Jane Eyre)
    So can anyone tell me if this really shitty writing is just more popular now, or if I'm just more aware of it? Because it seems to me a few years ago writing in YA books was a bit better?

    Is this me getting old and grumpy (noooo I don't wanna be like the baby boomers) or is it that the industry has changed? Rewarding quantity more? Because there ARE plenty of new YA books that are great, they're just not as marketed.
    It's also worth noting I hang around the scifi/fantasy section pretty much exclusively and it's possible it's just going through a dead phase.

  4. The Percy Jackson books were the ones that really got me into reading when I was in fourth grade… I would pick up any book and read endlessly, and it piqued my interest in mythology and the classics. I know a whole lot of people can say the same, so thanks Rick Riordan โค

  5. 18-44 year olds is a really large gap in lifestyle and likes and dislikes, as anyone in their early twenties can still easily fall into the YA group as they are still growing up either socially or mentally, while most older adults have pretty much settled down.

  6. The fault in our stars.
    turtles all the way down.
    The hunger Games
    The harry Potter series.
    Divergent.
    Maze runner
    Twilight.
    Many more… arghhh

  7. Yay Librarians!!!!
    I really loved Sweet Valley and Babysitters
    Club when I was younger and I really love HP and Hunger Games now. Honestly I've read most of the books discussed in the video. My bookshelf is full of YA novels along with those glorious midgrade books (and lots of romance too. like some really trashy ones). YA is one of my favourite genres and I aspire to be a YA author one day.

  8. As a kid, I read Walter Dean Myers and Sharon Draper. I loved how their characters, settings, and plot points felt realistic. Also, the Bluford series was pretty great too.

  9. My personal favorite YA book must be 'Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda' (also known as 'Love, Simon' ) I love it sm

  10. My all-time favourite YA novel is "The Westing Game". I actually had no clue it was considered to be a YA novel when I first read it and only discovered that it was intended for a younger audience when I went to buy a copy for my mother (who loved too). It's a smartly written book and one of the better vintage mystery stories I've read in a while.

  11. Vampire Academy was my young adult series. Read the whole series and started reading her Alchemist series after VA which follows a side character.

  12. The Lightning Thief series. Loved it since I was a kid and still love it. Also didn't realize there was a sequel series… And a sequel… SEQUEL series… Gotta get to those at some point.

    But fuck those garbage movies forever. They could have been on the level Harry Potter got, but nooooo. They had to be hip and more modernized than the already pretty modern books and take away any character the characters had to make them token teen, token girl, token black friend, token teacher, token dad, token bad guy, ET FUCKING CETERA.

  13. The Lunar Chronicles, because I guess, I just really like the twist on classical stories in more modern renditions. It's hella entertaining!

  14. The warrior heir, the wizard heir and the dragon heir, a trilogy of young adult novels written by CHIMA when I was in high school was my answer to a) avoiding Harry potter when my entire family was obsessed and I had outgrown it by the time I was 14 and b) avoiding Twilight while basically everyone else was obsessed with that. The Heir series has notes of magic, a tiny bit of teen romance and a taste of urban fantasy. But the writing style made it feel less focused on teen drama and growing up magical and more about going on an adventure and discovering a world that is vastly different from the every day. Similar to Harry Potter in that sense except with the added 'hunger games' aesthetic of higher stakes before hunger games was ever actually published. Fast paced read, Canadian based (nice change) with a medieval prophecy to keep it original, I'm 27 years old and those 3 books still sit on my personal book shelf of favorites ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. When you remember you hated reading as a kid so you were forced into reading classical literature because parents, and inevitably ran head first into adult romance. The only book with teenagers/children I can look back and say "yah. I liked that one" was Lord of the Flies.

  16. I don't know if it counts as ya but I really like Simon vs the homo-sapiens agenda the movie based off of it is called love Simon.

  17. I loved Lemony Snicket, Percy Jackson and Harry Potter when I was younger, but I read them all when I was in Primary school, (aged about 8-12). I didn't know they were YA

  18. The Hunger Games was the first book that made me become interested in books and then after it became a movie I got into films as well. So I have a lot to thank for The Hunger Games trilogy.

  19. I think I mostly read this genre before I was 14, whether or not that's incongruous. One favourite was When Dogs Cry by Marcus Zusak.

  20. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, for his children, and then Lords of the Rings for his teenagers. Can we imagine that today it would be seen as YA literature?

  21. In my high school Graphic Design class I redesigned the cover for "Seventeenth Summer" and it's in my school library still!

  22. I loved the Little House on the Prairie series and Narnia when I was a kid, but one of my favorites is Coraline. That book creeped me out in the best way as an adult when I read it.

  23. I really enjoyed Fight Club as a teen. While it isn't categorised as YA, at least to my knowledge, I'd argue it fits the criteria very well, especially if we're talking about angst, teenage urge to rebel and feeling overwhelmed with world we don't really understand yet we're getting more submerged in day by day. It provides contemplation about priority in life – screw those phony adults and their phony materialism – while painting issues simplistic enough to feel empowered and in the right. Sprinkle some power fantasy on top of that, don't forget some romance and you got a whole package. Cherry on top? Ending that paints all of that in cautionary colors, for rebelion and contesting social contract can easily get out of hand and lead to unforseen consequences. Wholesomeness.
    But you don't need to lead a revolution at all, you've lived vicariously through the protagonist. Protagonists. Protagonist.
    All and all, perfect YA light novela.

  24. Like good video and all, but I thought you might've said something about catcher in the rye. Like wasn't that a very influential young adult book. I don't know I thought it was.

  25. Other than Harry Potter I love the Dorothy Must Die series. It's the most twisted extention/alteration of the Wizard of Oz series I've ever read

  26. The Vampire Acadamy was done dirty in the movie. The movie was a chick flick that cut everything of substance I felt. Same with the Duff

  27. Love this video! I remember all the YA fiction I read while younger, and I still read them now! Walk two moons, Judy Blume books, etc etc ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. My YA's Favorites so far (all better than the twilight books in my opinion)…but i also like twilight:
    Anne of green Gables,
    Howl's moving castle ,
    Persepolis (graphic novel, one of the best),
    the Hunger Games,
    Little Women,
    Fallen ,
    Vampire Academy,
    The Lunar chronicles
    the Mortal Instruments,
    The Worst Witch,
    All-American girl (Meg Cabot).

    and don't judge them by the movies. the books are so much better. same for twilight – i liked the books but not the movies.

  29. This video conflates Young Adult with Middle Grade. The latter is books written for ages 8-12, while YA is generally aimed at a high school audience. Harry Potter, Baby-Sitters Club, and Goosebumps are MG. Twilight, Divergent, and the Hunger Games are YA.

  30. "Bought by 18 to 44 year olds" seems like a suspect way to state that statistic. Were they buying them to read, or giving them to their kids?

  31. While I'm glad that John Green got a shout-out, I personally feel like I couldn't connect very well to The Fault In Our Stars, even with my own Thyroid marching towards cancer. To me, the Green books that got me through my teen years were Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, with An Abundance of Katherines (one of Green's weaker books) making an occasional appearance. Maybe it's because I'm tramping a perpetual journey, or looking for my great perhaps as I find myself and learn to accept myself, that I can't even find the bandwidth to handle contemplating if my body does finally make good on it's threats and take a turn for the worse, so maybe I just can't handle Fault In Our Stars out of fear for the potential lack of a future, and that the perpetual journey I tramp will be cut significantly short.

    Anyway, I loved the content, Lindsay, and for those looking for YA books, I loved most of John Green's works, and last night, I finished a wonderful story called We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. I haven't picked tonight's read just yet.

  32. I feel like many people severely underestimate this genre. It's an easy target because it's simple and because it's popular. But this is the genre that introduces youth to reading the most. This is the genre most of us started out with. People will complain that today's youth doesn't read and when they actually see that they do read, they thoughtlessly trash their taste.

  33. Finally, someone says it! If not for J.K Rowling most of the young adult book series that came after, wouldn't even be published.

  34. As a teen, I LOVED Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus and the Kane Chronicles. Before that, I quite enjoyed Animorphs and Tracy Beaker, and in childhood I think I read a fair bit of Roald Dahl and Jeremy Strong, but I don't remember having a favourite author.

    Other books I liked:
    The Giver by Lois Lowry, but I don't know if that counts as YA. It's a dystopian novel which I think is quite different from The Hunger Games.
    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I don't think is YA?
    The Number Devil by Markus Zusak is also quite a fun children's (?) book.
    The White Princess by Philippa Gregory
    The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann
    The Airman, Artemis Fowl (series) by Eoin Colfer
    The Mysterious Benedict Society (series) by Trenton Lee Stewart

    As a child and teen, I read a lot but as a 20 year old, I'm not sure what to read anymore because children's books and YA novels seem immature, but adult fiction just feels too adult and too sexy. Anyone have any good recommendations?

    I read 3 of the Harry Potter books in one summer in the US (I was visiting my cousins), but really never got into it. I tried to pick it back up when I got back to school by borrowing it from the library, but the storyline is just so convoluted that I'd forgotten what had happened.

  35. The outsiders is one of the greatest YA books Iโ€™ve ever read. Iโ€™d definitely say in the top 10.

  36. does that study in the beginning include teenagers in the under 30 group? If so, almost all of the under 18 group HAVE to read at least one book a year for school. Kind of ruins the results if half the demographic is forced participate when the over 30 group does not have the same requirements. If the question was "have you read a book in the last year of your own free will" or something like that the results were be more impactful.

    edit: "50% of YA books bought by people aged 18-44" That is a MASSIVE demographic whose end points share almost nothing in common generationally. The yougner demographic could only realistically be considered 12-17, any younger and they would lack the money or ability to read these books, which is less than a fifth of the amount of people. Then, even if you combined all people over 44, those people obviously don't read YA novels en masse. So if those two groups make up the other 50% then clearly YA books mainly appeal to those who are actually young adults. What percent of the market is 12-25 year olds I wonder? 75% or more?

  37. My favorite YA authors will always be Sarah J Maas, Holly Black (who's reach and influence spans back for years), and Leigh Bardugo. All use the fantasy aspects of their writing to not only pull from actual different myths and legends across the world to feel like a more expanded world (with Black going so deep as to basically just slap you with Celtic fae lore) but also touch on deep subjects. None of their characters are ever blameless and not every book ends happily. It's up to the reader to interrupt just where the line should be drawn for what makes a character good and who is in the right- especially in war.

  38. Talks about YA, doesnt mention the fact that the vast, vast, vast majority of successful YA right now is fantasy. Mentions Angie Thomas but doesnt mention Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J Maas.

    Cmon now

  39. Inheritance is longer than the order of the Phoenix! Ha! And can you tell me where the word counts are taken from?

  40. I read a lot asa child and young adult, and still do into adulthood. Back then, mostly Stephan King, but as for YA-type stuff I liked William Sleator's The Duplicate, Singularity, or especially, The Boy Who Reversed Himself. Some other one's too, but Sleator's work stuck out as memorable to me.

  41. I'd have to say my favorite YA series is The Queen's Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. It really doesn't get enough love.

  42. A feature about YA literature that fails to mention either Tolkien (Genre Series prototype) or The Catcher in the Rye (and if there's a single book that deals in Teen Angst before Sallinger, I don't know it!
    Plus, you also ignored the Sword and Sorcery boom in the 70s to 90s which emerged out of Role Playing games!

  43. I always thought Harry Potter was YA. Searching for it at the bookstore I was surprised to find it in the kids section.

  44. John Green did not invent the YA subcategory of teens who are dying of things. That was a major part of the 80s-90s serials.

  45. I really liked A Wrinkle in Time & A Wind in the Door when I was a kid (rest of the series is meh.) I was already really into science but they inspired me further to study physics at Uni. After learning real physics though, I don't like them.

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