Explaining YA to the Non-Bookish

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Some time last year, I was talking with my boyfriend about the many YA books being turned into movies (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Mockingjay, etc.) and he made fun of me for calling young adult "YA." He knows what the young adult genre is, but he didn't think it made sense for me to abbreviate it because "nobody but you would call it that."

Having been part of the book blogging community for a little while now, "YA" is written EVERYWHERE. More times than "young adult," I'd think! But to people who don't read at all (like my boyfriend—although I did get him to read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire!) I understand why it could be kind of confusing.

While I was waiting to get a new phone at the Apple store, the guy who helped me out asked about the type of books I like to read after I told him I like reading. Remembering the conversation with my boyfriend, I said "mostly young adult fiction" (in case he wasn't a reader) and his response was "oh, like the ones with vampires?" I was SO confused. Luckily, my brother (who was with me) knew he was talking about Twilight.

It's kind of strange knowing that the first thing people think of when they hear "young adult" could be Twilight. It's a bit sad too, because Twilight has given YA a bad reputation (I've only read the first book so I don't have much of an opinion about the series/movies) so I brought up The Hunger Games because I figured it was one he would most likely know.

Talking about YA with people who don't read isn't a problem to me—the only issue I have is coming up with examples. Without YA book-to-movie adaptations, I have no idea what I'd say.

So how do you explain what "YA" is to people who aren't familiar with bookish terms?
Would you rather just say "young adult" and avoid confusion?
If you mention popular YA books to describe the genre, which ones do you use?


  1. I think it's also worth noting that Twilight came out in 2005. So when they connect "YA" and "Twilight", they are living TEN YEARS in the past. Yeah, it was a big series, but Stephenie Meyer is no longer the face of YA. But, like you said, it's rather infamous and has given things a bad reputation. But seriously. YA is so much more than Twilight (or John Green or Rainbow Rowell). I mean, if you're going to criticize an entire category of books, at least know what's happening within that category, you know?

    Anyhoo. Back to the topic at hand. I do usually say "young adult" in conversation with anyone who isn't a book blogger. I think all the shorthand bloggers have (TBR, DNF, YA, etc.) can kind of alienate outsiders or the uninitiated. I actually had an entire class about this sort of jargon and how it helps in the forming of cliques and subcommunities. SO. I try to be as inclusive as possible so everyone understands what I'm saying and meaning. (Even if they think that "young adult" means "Twilight" still.)

  2. YA can be hard to define to non-readers! It's surprising even that the Apple store guy thought of Twilight when he heard the term. I think if I were asked by a non reader about the genre I would explain that YA usually has teenage main characters and how I enjoy reading stories with that level of drama and introspection that comes from being a 'young adult'. The Hunger Games seems like the best YA series to mention though, also because it's a series that these non-readers might really enjoy, so I can push them to try and read it!

  3. Definitely an interesting question! I think nowadays people associate YA with whichever book is currently being made into a movie, like Divergent or The Fault in Our Stars or The Maze Runner. Which is sad because people should know YA books without it having to be made into a movie!

  4. I feel as if Stephenie Meyer no longer exists in YA, hahaha. And YES, YA is so much more than John Green and Rainbow Rowell. I'm glad that they have shone a brighter light on the YA genre, but I wish more authors were recognized. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Renae!

  5. I'm still really surprised he said Twilight instead of The Hunger Games. I normally just explain YA as "books involving high schoolers," but I think it's really more than that!

  6. Because there are so many YA movies coming out, people are become more and more aware of the YA genre. It would be nice to have more YA books recognized, but it's difficult in a world where most people don't read :/