From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Young-adult fiction, whether in the form of novels or short stories, has distinct attributes that distinguish it from the other age categories of fiction: adult fiction, middle grade fiction, and children's fiction. The vast majority of YA stories portray an adolescent as the protagonist, rather than an adult or a child. The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character, but beyond that YA stories span the entire spectrum of fiction genres. The settings of YA stories are limited only by the imagination and skill of the author. Themes in YA stories often focus on the challenges of youth, so much so that the entire age category is sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming of age novel . Writing styles of YA stories range widely, from the richness of literary style to the clarity and speed of the unobtrusive. Despite its unique characteristics, YA shares the fundamental elements of fiction with other stories: character, plot, setting, theme, and style.
History of young-adult fiction
The first recognition of young adults as a distinct group was by Sarah Trimmer, who in 1802 described "young adulthood" as lasting from ages 14 to 21. In her self-founded children's literature periodical, The Guardian of Education, Trimmer introduced the terms "Books for Children" (for those under fourteen) and "Books for Young Persons" (for those between fourteen and twenty-one), establishing terms of reference for young adult literature that remain in use today . However, nineteenth-century publishers didn't specifically market to young readers, and adolescent culture didn't exist in a modern sense. Nonetheless, there were books published in the nineteenth century that appealed to young readers
- The Swiss Family Robinson (1812)
- Oliver Twist (1838)
- The Count of Monte Cristo (1844)
- Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857)
- Great Expectations (1860)
- Alice in Wonderland (1865)
- Little Women (1868)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
- Heidi (1880)
- Treasure Island (1883)
- Huckleberry Finn (1884)
- Kidnapped (1886)
- The Jungle Book (1894).
Examples of other novels that predate the young-adult classification, but that are now frequently presented alongside YA novels are Template:Harvard citation:
- Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903)
- Anne of Green Gables (1908)
- The Secret Garden (1909)
- The Yearling (1938)
- My Friend Flicka (1941)
- Johnny Tremain (1943)
- The Outsiders (1967)
In the 1950s, shortly before the advent of modern publishing for the teen market, two novels drew the attention of adolescent readers: The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and Lord of the Flies (1954). Unlike more-recent fiction classified as YA, these two were written with an adult audience in mind. [FitzGerald 2004, p. 62]
The modern classification of young-adult fiction originated during the 1950s and 1960s, especially after the publication of Hinton's "The Outsiders." This book focused on a group of teens not yet represented and instead of having the nostalgic tone that was typical in young adult books written by adults, it displayed a truer, darker side of young adult life because it was written by a young adult.
As publishers began to focus on the emerging adolescent market, booksellers and libraries, in turn, began creating YA sections distinct from either children's literature or novels written for adults. The 1970s to the mid-1980s have been described as the golden age of young-adult fiction - when challenging novels began speaking directly to the interests of the identified adolescent market.
From its very beginning, young-adult fiction has portrayed teens confronting situations and social issues that have pushed the edge of then-acceptable content. Such novels and their content are sometimes referred to as "edgy."
In particular, authors and publishers have repeatedly pushed the boundaries of what was previously considered acceptable regarding human sexuality. Examples include:
- Judy Blume's Forever (1975) (a teen's first sexual encounter and teen pregnancy)
- Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind (1982) (two high-school girls who fall in love)
- Shelley Stoehr's Crosses (1991) (self-mutilation)
- Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (1993) (religion, peer pressure, child abuse, abortion)
- Melvyn Burgess's Junk (US title: Smack (heroin addiction)
- Rob Thomas's Rats Saw God (1996) (drugs, sex)
- David Belbin's Love Lessons (1998) (teacher/student sexual affair)
- Linda Glovach's Beauty Queen (1998) (teenage exotic dancing, threesomes, and heroin addiction)
- Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (1999) (rape)
- Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) (suicide, teenage sexuality, drug use, and abusive relationships)
- Sarah Dessen's Dreamland (2000) (emotionally, mentally, and physically abusive relationships)
- Alex Flinn's Breathing Underwater (2001) (emotionally, mentally, and physically abusive relationships)
- Alex Sanchez's Rainbow Boys (2001) (high school boys exploring gay sex, accepting their sexuality, and falling in love)
- Patricia McCormick's Cut (2001) (self-mutilation)
- Alice Hoffman's Green Angel (2003) (self-mutilation)
- Angela Johnson's The First Part Last (2003) (teen fatherhood)
- Julie Anne Peters' Luna (2004) (a girl whose older brother is transsexual)
- Steve Berman's Vintage, A Ghost Story (2007) (depressed gay boy who deals with suicide and loneliness)
YA novels currently in print include content about peer pressure, illness, divorce, drugs, gangs, crime, violence, sexuality, incest, oral sex, and female/male rape. Critics of such content argue that the novels encourage destructive or immoral behavior. Others argue that fictional portrayal of teens successfully addressing difficult situations and confronting social issues helps readers deal with real-life challenges.
Debate continues regarding the amount and nature of violence and profanity appropriate in young-adult fiction.
Hyphens (young adult vs. young-adult)
Recognition of the noun young adult and its punctuation as an adjectival modifier are inconsistent. Some dictionaries recognize young adult as a noun Template:Harvard citation, while others do not Template:Harvard citation. When recognized (as by Random House), young adult is treated as an open compound noun, with no hyphen.
When the noun young adult is placed before another noun (such as fiction, novel, author), however, the use of a hyphen varies widely. For example, an Internet search (of the Web or of news articles) using the key words young adult fiction shows widespread inconsistency in hyphenation. Although the Chicago Manual of Style falls short of declaring the omission of the hyphen as grammatically incorrect, it clearly addresses the issue in "Compounds and Hyphenation," sections 7.82-7.86: "When such compounds precede a noun, hyphenation usually makes for easier reading. With the exception of proper nouns (such as United States) and compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective, it is never incorrect to hyphenate adjectival compounds before a noun."Template:Harvard citation The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference is a little more forceful on the subject: "The most complicated business conducted by hyphens is uniting words into adjectival compounds that precede nouns. Many writers neglect to hyphenate such compounds, and the result is ramshackle sentences that often frustrate the reader." Template:Harvard citation The Wikipedia Manual of Style also addresses the issue of hyphens for compound adjectives. 
Although none of the sources cited above list young adult as an example, each clearly expresses a preference for hyphenating compound modifiers. With that in mind, young adult is a noun (without a hyphen) as defined by Random House. But when the noun young adult precedes another noun, it becomes a compound modifier and warrants a hyphen, as in young-adult fiction, young-adult author, young-adult novel, and so on. Especially since the sources do not declare the absence of a hyphen as grammatically incorrect, widespread inconsistencies in the punctuation of young adult are likely to continue, either out of ignorance or as conscious choice of style.
Whether any particular work of fiction qualifies as literature can be disputed. In recent years, however, YA fiction has been increasingly treated as an object of serious study by children's literature critics. A growing number of young-adult-fiction awards recognize outstanding works of fiction for adolescents.
The category of YA fiction continues to expand into new forms and genres: e-books, graphic novels, manga, fantasy, mystery fiction, romance novels, even subcategories such as cyberpunk, splatterpunk, techno-thrillers, contemporary Christian fiction.
Boundaries between children's, YA, and adult fiction
The distinctions between children's literature, YA literature, and adult literature are often flexible and loosely defined. At the lower end of the YA age spectrum, fiction targeted to readers age 10 to 12 is referred to as middle grade fiction. Some novels originally marketed to adults have been identified as being of interest and value to adolescents.
- Children's literature
- Children's literature periodicals
- Gay teen fiction
- Lesbian teen fiction
- List of young adult authors
- Young Adult Library Services Association