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The Rise of YA Fiction and Why It's so Important

Books & Writing

August 19, 2023

YA (Young Adult) fiction refers to books written for adolescents aged twelve to eighteen. However, the genre is also commonly read by those older than this age bracket. YA books tend to surround teenage characters and deal with themes relating — although not limited — to coming-of-age, identity and relationships, both platonic and romantic. As a result of these commonly explored themes, YA fiction is often associated with tropes such as found family and love triangles.

The term YA is still relatively new and only started to be widely used in the last fifty years or so. Although the nineteenth century produced a few books aimed at adolescents, for example, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, YA fiction did not establish itself as an entity in its own right until around the mid-twentieth century, when the popular reception of books such as J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders made publishers realise that books aimed at and centred around teenagers were capable of selling well.

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Since then, YA fiction has only increased in popularity. Over the last few decades, numerous YA books have received critical acclaim and widespread fame, including A Wrinkle in Time and The Fault in Our Stars, both of which won multiple awards and achieved as much success as many bestselling adult books receive.

The early 2000s saw a boom in YA fiction, with book series like The Hunger Games and Divergent selling millions of copies worldwide and being adapted into films. The Hunger Games became the twenty-first highest-grossing film franchise of all time, grossing over two billion dollars. Such extreme success has led to a realisation amongst publishers: YA fiction is capable of being a gold mine.

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But why is the rise in YA fiction so important?

  • YA fiction provides representation — teenagers can read about characters going through similar struggles and issues to themselves. This, in turn, may make them feel less self-conscious about their own problems and improve their self-esteem. For example, the graphic novel Heartstopper centres around characters learning about their identity and sexuality. Readers may find such an exploration comforting if they are going through a similar journey themselves.

  • Increases reading amongst teenagers — youths are more likely to read if there are books aimed at them, instead of having to settle with reading about young children and adults. This is important, as numerous studies have shown just how beneficial reading is for individuals' health. For many, part of the nostalgia for the Harry Potter book series is the fact that they grew up with the characters and connected with them.

  • Expands minds — reading about different types of people to one's self fosters empathy and reduces ignorance. Additionally, genres such as historical fiction can be educational, and teach youths about different time periods and people in an enjoyable way. For example, Zoulfa Katouh's novel As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow provides valuable insight into the Syrian Revolution.

  • Makes reading more pleasurable — while reading children's books can be nostalgic and adult books provide an ambitious challenge for adolescents, for most, reading about characters similar to themselves provides the most enjoyment and intrigue. This can be seen by the popular reception to YA fantasy series such as Red Queen and Graceling, as the fantasy genre in particular has long been heavily dominated by adult fiction.

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Where is YA fiction heading in the modern era?

A common modern-day fear is that social media and technology are pulling young adults away from traditional pastimes such as reading. However, the opposite argument could also be made: social media platforms provide a valuable space where youths can congregate to discuss and bond over the books that they read. Crucially, this transforms reading from a solitary activity to a group one.

BookTok is an online community centred around all things books. Its emergence on TikTok demonstrates social media's power to promote books and popularize reading. Creators — also known as booktokers — create content surrounding books, including recommendation videos, reviews and book hauls. It is not uncommon for such creators to have followers in the hundreds of thousands and millions of views.

While BookTok is not limited to simply YA book recommendations, they are certainly amongst the most popular books discussed. It is difficult to scroll through BookTok without passing at least one video raving about Leah Bardugo's Six of Crows or Holly Jackson's A Good Girl's Guide to Murder. More than one YA book written years ago has blown up out of the blue on TikTok, much to the puzzlement of authors and publishers alike. This demonstrates how powerful a tool social media is for amplifying YA fiction and authors in the modern world.

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Today, most bookshops you enter will have a YA section brimming with books in a variety of genres that feature young adult protagonists. Such books are a great way of hooking youths into reading as well as easing them into adulthood, as adolescents can read about characters dealing with struggles relevant to themselves. WordsRated reports that young adult books have been the fastest-growing category in the last five years, with print unit sales increasing by 48.2% since 2018.

All in all, the future of YA seems bright.

Areesha Ahmed
10k+ pageviews

Writer since Feb, 2023 · 17 published articles

Areesha is a student from London. She enjoys watching horror films and drinking tea. When she is not reading books, she is buying them.