What age range is YA?

Thoughtful Ramblings” is a feature where we discuss bookish subjects. These posts are just our own thoughts about certain topics that may get us hot under the collar and we need a good rant or just things we want to share with fellow bloggers and readers.

What Age is YA?

After having read Kresley Cole’s Poison Princess, I found myself totally confused regarding the whole young adult (YA) genre, and really struggled when it came to reviewing it.

I started talking to a few of the girls about it (aka fellow reviewers), and found out some interesting information, which made things even harder if I am honest. You see, the issue I was having was at what point (age) do you become a young adult? What age are YA books aimed at? Is the content of a YA book suitable for all young adults, and how do you safeguard against buying your own young adult at home a completely inappropriate book, despite it being in the YA genre.

If you look on Wiki for a definition of Young Adult, this is what you get:

Young-adult fiction or young adult literature (often abbreviated as YA), also juvenile fiction, is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Authors and readers of young adult (YA) novels often define the genre as literature as traditionally written for ages ranging from twelve years up to the age of eighteen, while some publishers may market young adult literature to as low as age ten or as high as age twenty-five. The terms young-adult novel, juvenile novel, young-adult book, etc. refer to the works in the YA category.

I have just googled what age a YA is aimed at, and it came up with a Guardian article stating that “New Adult” fiction is aimed at 14 – 35 year old, and I am sure that I read somewhere on Goodreads that YA is aimed at 14-21 year olds (although I cant for the life of me find it now).  Surely , when you take the extremes of these age brackets, 10 – 35, it is a somewhat ridiculous group  to try and cram a book into.

My understanding of a Young Adult would be a person who has reached the early stages of adulthood, but in looking for a defined age of adulthood you come across lots of ages! There is the age of consent, the age where you are criminally responsible, the age where you are still covered under the child protection guidance. These are all different! So, I think a reasonable age would be 15, which is pretty much somewhere in the middle of all of the legal ages.

I have reviewed a few YA books over the past 6 months, but some seem that bit more adult than others. By adult, I dont mean the sexual nature of the book, as that seems to be fairly safe ground in the genre… lusting after your girl or fella, but not actually doing anything more physical than a smooch, and perhaps some wandering hands. Typical teen angst sort of thing. It’s more the scary side of it that seems to vary greatly. In Poison Princess there is flaying of skin, eyeballs out on cheeks, beheadings, and other things of a grim nature. Definitely not what I would deem suitable for a 14 year old, let alone a 10 year old. I managed to ask Ms Cole, the author of Poison Princess, who she thought would be reading her book, who she had aimed it towards, and she said that although she hadn’t had a particular age in mind (in terms of the YA genre) she wouldn’t recommend it for very young teens.

So my question is, how do you manage to buy your average 13 year old something that is into the realm of fantasy without scaring the doowhats out of them, whilst you are mooching around your local bookstore?

I understand that there is no such a thing really as an average teenager these days. Some are more sensitive than others, but how do you safeguard against allowing your child to read something you feel would be unsuitable without vetting everything first? Most people buy new books by looking at the blurb, the front cover and making a spur of the moment decision. It’s not based on an hour’s research on the net, and in my opinion, nor should it be, otherwise you would miss out on discovering new authors. But surely there must be a way to make it a little clearer which end of the age scale the book would be best suited to.

I think Young Adult is a somewhat misleading genre title, and there should be a clearer definition. I know it would possibly mean yet another genre for us to take into account but surely you can’t lump 12 – 18 year olds into the same group. Perhaps a YA15+ or similar would help us differentiate whilst trying to chose for children. Or do you have a different suggestion?

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Books are an addiction and Vickie has recently found herself hooked on the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genre. [Vickie no longer reviews for BCC]


Laura February 1, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Doowhats made me laugh lol!
Totally agree 12-18 is such a wide spectrum of development it would be impossible to write a book that can target that whole age range.
I personally think YA (in my head anyway) is kind of 15/16+ but I have read books Dark Tides spring to mind that would work well for 13+. As you say it’s such a minefield, and it must be very difficult for parents to know what is appropriate for they teen to read.
Some has sexual content, some don’t and many are pretty violent!
But I personally think for most of the YA I’ve read that 15/16+ cover it.


Vickie February 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I think 15/16+ is a good bracket too Laura. It’s just so scary that for a parent who isn’t a reader, if they were to look up the genre and see 10 or 13 and then go out to their local store and buy something from the young adult section, and it turn out to be a total uh oh!!
You know me and my funny words 😀


Laura February 1, 2013 at 7:28 pm

I think it just shows as a parent you need to be super vigilant in everything! Agree it’s worrying that parents of younger teens would think some of these books are ok.


Louise February 1, 2013 at 7:28 pm


I thought I’d link you to this, which I think explains the NA genre well. I don’t look at YA in terms of age bracket, but more about what’s going on in the book with the characters and the stage of life they’re at. For example, the first couple of Harry Potter books I would say are a middle grade book, then the series rises to a YA book., however I wouldn’t have any issues giving my 10yr old the whole series to read.

Also, children see the world differently to us, they hear things at school and see things on tv, war and death, they are taught about sex and drugs at 11 in their schools..heck, when I took my child to nursery at 4.5 there was children in his nursery class playing xbox games with an 18 rating (those black op killing things, which I am totally against at that age) so I don’t think it’s such a big issue now, as children are subjected to harrowing events in their daily lives.. I wouldn’t allow my children to read erotica, such as Fifty Shades, Crossfire, Original Sinners etc til they’re 16+ I would be fine with them reading NA books at 13+..(after I’d read them through myself) I remember reading THAT Judy Blume book at around 12. ( I was in middle school)


Vickie February 6, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Thanks for the link Louise, I will take a look at it 😀

I am going to reply to this after Gemmas comment as what I say pretty much goes for both comments :)


Gemma February 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Hmmm. Its a difficult subject and really depends on the individual. I mean look at Shakespeare and some of his subject matters. These books are considered classics and therefor acceptable to be studied in secondary schools. True the langauge is pretty, but when you start delving deeper, then you find all sorts of naughty goings on. I remember studying this when I was 15 going on 16.

I also remember we had to do an essay on a book. I chose “The Handmaids Tale” which is also pretty adult in theme. As far as I can remember, and correct me if I am wrong, there was no such thing as Young Adult books when I was a teenager (God I sound old!) It just went from kids books, teen (which could be classed as young adult, but were no way as gruesome as some are now) to adult.

Though I agree that some books are just too adult, I would hope to be the type of parent where they could come and ask me about anything they read in a book and didn’t understand. To make the books completly forbidden just gives the impression that it is wrong and really it isn’t. I would read the back and try and swot up before they read it, so that if they have any questions, then I could answer them.

It really is up to the parent to determine how mature their children are and if they can handle the subject matter.


Vickie February 6, 2013 at 4:02 pm

my main point is this… as a parent, how do you know if a YA book is suitable for your child without that you read it first?

At the moment this is something of a non issue for me, because my children are no way near old enough to read YA, but as a mother of two it is going to be an issue in the future. When the time comes, I want to know that if I get my child a book to read, I am not going to freak them out. I want to be able to go into a book shop, and pick up a book that marketed for their age range. Films have very understandable age guidance, as do computer games. Parents can and do choose to ignore these if they feel their child is able to watch what is on the screen (drives me mad that half the 8 year old kids I know are already playing CoD, and watching Chucky etc but they’re not my kids). If I were in a video shop looking for a film for my children, I wouldn’t be looking in the 18 section, but perhaps in the 12+ area. I think it should be a little clearer with books is all. Perhaps a 15+ rating sort of thing, so that parents wont pick up a young adult book thinking it suitable for their 13 year old when in fact it isn’t.
We are all now being encouraged to think of our children as little adults, to explain everything to them, and I don’t want that for my children yet.


Gemma February 7, 2013 at 8:39 am

Very good points and I’m sure I read AGES ago that they had floated that plan where there was an age retriction thing on books. It got nixed, that much I do remember due to authors being up in arms.

Its a big mine field, that is true. Thank god for the internet that’s all I can say. And also for your friendly neighbourhood bookshop. i do know that my local waterstones has a small section where it says “not suitable for young readers” and reading the blurbs, i can see why.

I think the biggest hurdle is that inbetween age, where they are not quite teenagers and are no longer kids.

I agree with the whole 8 year olds playing CoD thing. At that age, sonic the hedgehog was the game I was playing.


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