Here’s my A to Z of young adult. For some of the more popular letters (I’m not looking at you, X!), it was hard to choose only one option. Still, I’ve given it a red hot go. If you have other suggestions, why not leave them in the comments? 🙂
Adaptations. Twilight, The Hunger Games, City of Bones — popular young adult series (serieses?) and stand alone books like The Fault in Our Stars are often turned into movies, admittedly with varying levels of success and sometimes to the great anguish of fans.
BFF. If she’s female, the BFF of the usually female main character is stereotypically confident, cheerful and quirky. She provides a foil and some normality for the main character as she goes through whatever it is she’s going through. (If he’s male, the BFF is usually in unrequited love with the main character and is part of the love triangle. Poor guy.)
Contemporary. Contemporary young adult can range from quirky and fun to heartwrenchingly sad, from gritty to thought-provoking. Just like adult contemporary does, funnily enough!
Dystopian. Dystopian had a massive surge in popularity with the success of books like The Hunger Games and Divergent. But it’s (apparently) a little on the nose with publishers at the moment because the market has been flooded … just like some post-apocalyptic, melty-icecaps world.
Ebooks. Ebooks tend not to be as popular with teenagers as they are with adults — partly due to the difference in disposable income, I suspect — but they are still a huge factor in book sales worldwide.
F-bomb. Like sex and drugs, swearing in young adult is often a source of controversy. Still, if you’re reading a gritty contemporary YA, odds are you’ll come across some #*$%ing swears.
Genre. This may make me sound pedantic, but young adult isn’t a genre. It’s an age bracket. The genres can be anything you’d find in adult fiction … except for outright erotica, I guess!
Harry Potter. One of the most influential young adult series of all time, Harry Potter encouraged an entire generation to love reading, with its well-rounded characters, its adventure and its heart.
I. First person perspective is the most common in young adult, as it really lets us get inside the main character’s (or characters’) head and understand how they are feeling and what they are thinking. It’s generally the most immersive perspective available. Combine it with present tense and you’re good to go!
John Green. Mega-popular young adult writer John Green — author of smash hit The Fault in Our Stars — is half of the team of brothers who spawned (ew) the Nerdfighters. (Note: I could have also put J. K. Rowling here, but I figure I already gave her H!)
Kissing. Because young adult is all about firsts, kissing is a regular feature. Mwah!
Lord of the Rings. Really this should be The Hobbit, as that is the young adult book in the series, but H was already taken by Harry. This is a classic boys’ adventure tale and is still a sentimental favourite of mine, although when it comes to female characters it’s a product of its time.
Mean girls. Because the Hobbit and Harry were fighting over H, I figured high school didn’t stand a chance! Still, mean girls are pretty much standard in stories set in high schools, along with jocks and nerdy kids. (I’ll let you guess which one I was.)
Outsiders. So much of being a teenager is figuring out your place in the world — where you are and where you want to be. That often results in a feeling of isolation. Outsiders are therefore common in YA, be they nerds, bad boys or monsters.
Questions. Part of figuring out your place in the world is asking questions of it, taking it apart, figuring out how it works. In some YA books, the main character’s questions end up challenging their very society.
Retellings. From Cinder to Splintered, retellings — of fairytales and classics — are huge in young adult. Finding a story that has a new take on a classic (such as Cinder, the cyborg who loses her foot) always gives me a huge buzz.
Sex. As with kissing, the exploration of sex and the issues around it (such as consent, protection and pregnancy) is an occasionally controversial part of young adult.
Triangle. Since Twilight made them popular, love triangles are almost unavoidable in young adult fiction — so much so that when a book doesn’t contain a love triangle, a lot of reviews find that noteworthy in and of itself. Still, a love triangle well done can be a lot of fun for the reader. Who will she choose, and why? Can’t she have both??
Unrequited love. More often than not, this trope involves the male best friend loving the female main character, whose heart belongs to the new boy in town. The other option is the main character pining for someone who is ultimately no good for them.
Vampires. Whether they sparkle, brood or both, there’s no denying that vampires are often at home in young adult fiction. With their hot cars and their cold, cold skin.
#WeNeedDiverseBooks. This is a grassroots campaign that aims to increase the diversity of main characters in children’s fiction, including YA. Whether that be more books about gay, lesbian, trans or bi characters; more people of colour; or more characters with a disability, it’s important for teens of all stripes to be able to see themselves represented in the books they read.
X Factor. Ok, I’m cheating a bit here, but do you know how hard it is to find books that begin with X? Still, the X factor is something writers and publishers are constantly looking for, trying to figure out what that next big YA hit will be. (If you have any ideas, let me know so I can write it! 😉 )
Youth. At the risk of stating the obvious, young adult books feature characters who are … young. Their hips don’t ache and their metabolisms still work. They get to experience the joy of first love, the messy awkwardness of first sex, the boundless potential of their future. For adult readers, there’s something both nostalgic and exhilirating about emerging yourself in that time once before. Woo! *gesticulates wildly with walking stick*
Z for Zachariah. Originally published almost forty years ago, this is one of the earlier young adult dystopian novels. There’s a movie adaptation coming out this year too. (Although my recollection of the book is that there are only two characters, and the movie has three … so it can have a love triangle? What’s up with that?!)
Cassandra Page has a young adult urban fantasy trilogy that fits into at least *counts* seven of the above categories.