Why are YA novels immediately recognizable as YA novels?
#1  haertig 06-02-2019, 04:07 PM
What makes YA (Young Adult) novels immediately recognizable?

I don't mind reading them - I'm reading one now. But I was just pondering, what is it that defines these novels? When you start reading, within the first paragraph, you can usually tell it is YA. Why is that? Is it the wording? The tone? The characters? I can't put my finger on it. All's I can say is that when you start reading one, you definitely know you are reading one, right from the very beginning.

It's kind of like in decades past, if you turned on the TV and happened across a soap opera, you immediately knew it was a soap opera and not some other drama program. Something about the set lighting, the way the characters interacted - something that you "just knew", but couldn't necessarily describe.

I feel the same way about YA novels. You "just know", but I can't tell you why you just know. Has anyone been able to put a finger on it?

#2  maddz 06-02-2019, 06:23 PM
Like you, I can spot a YA book a mile off. To my mind, it's the writing - the language is straightforward, and the characters are simplistic, sometimes to the point of caricature. The storyline tends to be very black and white, too.

When done well, YA is a perfectly good read, and I read it with enjoyment. But when it's not done well, then it comes across as derivative and seem patronising.

However, I've been a voracious reader all my life, and when I fitted that age bracket, I'd graduated to the adults section of our branch library. There wasn't that distinction 40 years ago; once you outgrew children's books, you moved to the adults section. The librarian would keep an eye on your selections, and sometimes they'd say to bring your mother in before they'd let you borrow a particular title, but in general you were left to your own devices.

#3  lumpynose 06-02-2019, 08:34 PM
One that I didn't realize was a YA novel is The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner ( ) a top-notch series for me. I've also started reading the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix, Sabriel is the first one, and it's not so obviously YA either. But the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series I would say fits your description, but they have a lot of humor in them which makes them ok. The other giveaway is the age of the central characters, and that there's nothing about sex, at best light romance.

But I agree with maddz that it depends on the author. A similar situation with me is how mystery novels rarely make me interested in the central character; they're typically 2-dimensional and there simply for the story. There are a few mystery writers who do a decent job of character development; Donna Leon being one, and Andrea Camilleri being another. I'm currently reading the 2nd mystery book by Chris Ould, the first one was decent.

#4  lumpynose 06-02-2019, 08:39 PM
Quote haertig
It's kind of like in decades past, if you turned on the TV and happened across a soap opera, you immediately knew it was a soap opera and not some other drama program. Something about the set lighting, ...
It was the lighting more than anything. It took me ages to realize what was wrong; it was because they were taped with video cameras and back then the video cameras had really high/bad contrast. I don't know anything about how TV was made but apparently the regular shows were filmed and then when broadcast they projected the movie onto some sort of image receiver, but that's a guess.

#5  binaryhermit 06-03-2019, 12:17 AM
I'm gonna go for the Miller test here, "I know it when I see it"

#6  meeera 06-03-2019, 08:05 AM
Some are obviously being marketed as YA from the cover, some are clear from the first pages, some not at all, and there is a huge amount of crossover.

#7  pwalker8 06-03-2019, 09:40 AM
There are levels in YA. Some are oriented towards the younger group (say 11-14) and others are oriented towards to older teens. For example, I think the Hunger Games books were more oriented towards the older teens. I've seen some YA that I would classify as light romance novels, that I suspect are oriented towards older teenage girls.

I think that some of what makes YA, is a combination of vocabulary and most things are a bit more straight forward and direct. You don't see the narration jump around quite as much. Things aren't as subtle in a large part because kids don't tend to pick up subtlety nearly as well as adults do.

#8  Tarana 06-03-2019, 10:33 AM
I'm not a big fan of YA, so I'd like to know too. I've made the mistake of buying it and then not finishing. I think Pwalker hits on it - the YA geared towards older teens I appear to enjoy a lot. Younger not so much.

#9  Pajamaman 06-03-2019, 11:14 AM
Ready Player One is classed as YA. To me, it would pass as adult no problem.

#10  haertig 06-03-2019, 02:53 PM
Thanks for the replies.

I think many of the responses may have hit on it: "more direct and straightforward". In the YA book I'm reading now, the characters step into an alternate Earth that advanced in parallel to our Earth, but without man's presence.

The writing says things like (paraphrased) "there was a herd of buffalo in the distance", as opposed to describing the scene and letting the reader apply their knowledge, learning and experience and deduce that they are buffalo without being explicitly told from the get-go. In other words, the story is spoon fed to you, without requiring much analysis or thinking on your part.

That's a good theory for identifying a YA book. It fits the one I'm currently reading. Plus, the main characters are indeed teenagers - recent high school grads. I don't have any real problem being spoon-fed (as long as the spoon isn't too large!), and these YA novels can be read quickly for Saturday afternoon enjoyment, without having to worry if your mind wandered off and you missed some subtle point that was important. I'm thinking "quick read" may describe these books because one, they are usually short, but also two, it doesn't take much mental energy to read them - you're almost skimming and speed reading without realizing it.

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