What Makes a YA Book Young Adult?

Dune by Frank Herbert

NPR recently published their list of 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels as determined by a poll of their readers. A friend posted the link in a book chat Facebook group I belong to. I was curious, so I took a look at the list.

Confession: I don’t read YA books very often.  It’s not because I don’t like it, it’s because I love my adult fiction. If I read a book a day, I would never get through all the adult fiction books I want to read.

The first time I learned of the YA genre was when Stephanie Myer’s Twilight series became popular. Then of course The Hunger Games (of which I wasn’t a big fan). I read the latter because I wanted to see the movie so I read the book first. I prefer a well developed fantasy like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (loved it! Review soon)

When I perused NPR’s YA book list, I was shocked to see that classic sci-fi fantasy books I loved were on it. Titles such as

Sure, I read those books in high school, but never thought of them as young adult fiction. The themes in Dune are very adult. I’ve read it over ten times and each time, I get something new out of it. As a teenager, I missed most of the novel’s nuances.

I asked my librarian friend for her definition of it. The YA genre is new and still evolving. There were no young adult shelves in my library when I was growing up. I frequently brought adult books to the checkout desk, hoping the librarian there wouldn’t “catch” me reading books I wasn’t supposed to. As far as I can tell, the books I mentioned above are now on high school reading lists. Now they’re considered young adult fiction.

So here’s my question for you, my readers. What do you consider a YA book, besides the publisher’s designation of the book as such? Is it due to the main characters’ age? What’s your thoughts on these older, classic sci-fi/dystopian novels being classified on YA?
If you’re a fan of YA books, check out Teen Lit Rocks
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About Thien-Kim

Thien-Kim is Editor of From Left to Write. She sneaks in her reading time late at night after her family is sound asleep. She also writes at I'm Not the Nanny.


  1. Jayla | LadyBlueJay says:

    With a quick glance over this list, I can say that most of the books are of the YA genre. However, the ones you listed do not come across as YA, at all. But when I think about it the books that were on my high school reading list were books like A Brave New World and 1984. Though the main characters in those books were technically young adults, they still had adult themes.

    I think because this genre is so new, it’s hard to pin point an exact description of it.

    • Jayla, I’d be curious of the demographics of those who took the NPR poll for this list. I wonder if it’s the adults who chose the books I mentioned for the YA list or the high schoolers who are reading the books for class.

  2. I feel like the main characters’ ages have a lot to do with what counts as young adult and what doesn’t. If the characters are young adults, the book fits into the category because it is more relatable to the young adult readers.

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