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Literary Fiction Genres

Young Adult Subgenres

Fiction Genre Definitions


Young Adult Subgenres


(Definitions and Examples - All)

This genre has grown tremendously in popularity, to the point where the Harry Potter books have been credited with reviving literacy in the younger generation. Decades ago, such books were carefully (some would say puritanically) vetted for tone and subject matter, but these days almost anything goes. Still, these books are expected to contain some positive life lesson.


Amateur Sleuth stories are defined by their name. The young protagonist(s) investigate crimes, sometimes bending the rules, even taking a few serious risks. The long-running "Nancy Drew" and "Hardy Boys" franchises established this subgenre in the popular culture. Donald Sobol's "Encyclopedia Brown" novels were quite popular. (Often there's a bumbling adult foil.) Graham McNamee's novel Acceleration is a recent example.

Christian (Jewish)
This subgenre's books contain explicit references to the Christian faith, and in many the young protagonist faces challenges to his or her deepest beliefs. Many of these stories are published by Christian imprints, and are intended to bolster faith in a secular world, if not to reach out to nonbelievers. The Miracle Girls, a novel by Dayton and Vanderbilt, has a diverse California cast.
A smaller number of YA novels feature Jewish protagonists. One More River, by Lynne Reid Banks, is a fine example.

Fantasy (comedic, scary)
This is probably the most popular YA subgenre. Young people are not often enamoured of the mundane workaday world, and their vivid imaginations readily take to the fantastic elements in these stories. J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" franchise (at once derivitive and well-crafted) towers over this category, challenged by Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series, and more recently by Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" trilogy and movies. (Note that, strictly speaking, "Games" is postapocalyptic science fiction, as is Veronica Roth's "Divergent" franchise.)
The "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books, by Daniel Handler a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, contain much humor, if dry and subtle.
Numerous horror stories are written for young people, sometimes as a 'behave or else' sort of life lesson. Darren Shan's "Cirque Du Freak" series is a potent example, and Selina Rosen's anthology Stories That Won't Make Your Parents Hurl another.

Gay Teen (lesbian)
These tales portray younger folks dealing with their sexual orientation. In this subgenre they eventually find acceptance, for themselves and from at least some of their loved ones. David Levithan has written several such books, including the aptly named Boy Meets Boy. (Stories in this subgenre don't shy away from harsh realities such as HIV infection.)
Lesbian YA books are perhaps less common, and focus on the concerns of young women. Sara Ryan's novel Empress of the World is a fine example.
(This subgenre is, no surprise, pretty controversial. As in: does it influence or even 'recruit' confused and impressionable youngsters -- and/or -- affirm kids who are 'different,' and steer them away from alienation if not suicide?)

Historical tales, for a young person, aren't necessarily set centuries ago. Margaret Sidney's "Five Little Peppers" series, published beginning in 1881, is a stark yet heartfelt depiction of life in an earlier America. Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist (and several others) aren't regarded as YA novels, yet center on young protagonists.

Other is a catch-all descriptive category, as there is such a variety of YA stories. Between small publishers and quirky authors, there's no good way to classify them all. Dav Pilkey's popular "Captain Underpants" series is one example. Amber Kizer's novel One Butt Cheek at a Time pushes the 'hormone-soaked teenage life' envelope further than ever. (The major YA publishers, Scholastic being the genre's 800 pound gorilla, issue a large number of titles and subjects.)

Realistic Life YA stories focus on just that, with common challenges but nothing arcane or bizarre. (Not that ordinary days in our modern world can't take some surprising turns!) Perhaps the most famous novel in this subgenre is J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Liz Rosenberg's 17: A Novel in Prose Poems is another fine example.

Science Fiction YA tales overlap with that genre, and focus its vast ideas on younger folks. Robert Heinlein's dozen 'juvenile' novels, such as Rocket Ship Galileo, have introduced two generations to the wonders of the universe. David Brin's novel Sky Horizon launched a new series, and Suzanne Collins's excellent (and popular enough to mention twice!) The Hunger Games another.


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