YA? Why, eh?

I would like to talk about some things I do not understand.

What, exactly, makes a book “young adult”? Just what constitutes “literary fiction,” and what do I call a book that’s not that but not quite anything else? And what are other terms that mean the same thing as “narrative nonfiction,” so that I can find more books like Devil in the White City?

When we started blogging, I finally started tracking things on Goodreads, like Amanda had been telling me to do FORever. Recently, I started trying to add to my currently-reading,  to-read, and  read shelves with more some more detailed shelves.

I can do “fiction” and “non-fiction.” I can do “fantasy” and “historical fiction.”

Beyond that though, I get confused.

In my mind, the difference between a book that is categorized as Young Adult versus a book that is not is the discussion of s-e-x in the book. Right? But that must not be right, because there is some of that in books like The Lumatere Chronicles and His Fair Assassin and all things John Green.

So then I’ve heard that the difference between YA – Young Adult and NA – New Adult is the age of the characters. However, I’m also pretty sure that NA was just made up to write books about college-age kids (books with s-e-x in them)… so that is confusing when there are also books about college-age kids that are YA (and sometimes involving s-e-x.)

Can’t we just call them all, well, books? Or at least use the “genres” instead of age-classifications? Or is there some other telltale giveaway that I’m missing when it comes to age-divisions?

Sigh…and then the genres. I can get behind classifying fiction into different categories, but then I get stuck on “literary fiction.” Ha, according to wikipedia: “Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that are claimed to hold literary merit” – which is basically an “I know it when I see it” definition. And sometimes I know it – but, what does one call a novel that does not fall into a particular genre but uh, does not hold literary merit? What do we call that? Or do we need to call it anything?

I suppose it helps to have genres when trying to find books-like-other-books. And I really like nonfiction books that read like novels – but I’m not always sure what to call them. Creative nonfiction? I heard “nonfiction novel” on an episode of Literary Disco talking about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but I don’t think that term is used much nowadays  (it’s attributed to Truman Capote and In Cold Blood). Perhaps narrative nonfiction is the label-of-choice these days – but are there a bunch of subgenres here too?  I found this list on Goodreads called “memoirs, narrative nonfiction and other (mostly) true things.” Perhaps that’s where I need to start to look for more books.

However, I still have no clue to how organize my own Goodreads shelves.


This is not my bookshelf - borrowed from apartment.therapy @ http://tinyurl.com/7x94c5l. Maybe I should take up organizing by color?

This is not my bookshelf – borrowed from apartment.therapy @ http://tinyurl.com/7x94c5l. Maybe I should take up organizing by color?


  1. You raise some interesting points. I’ve never thought about what makes something YA fiction- I mainly assumed the protagonists were teenagers. I would, however, love a genre for those Devil in the White City-esque books because I would love to read more of those. Have you read In the Garden of Beasts? That one was excellent.

  2. I wish there were classifications based on how you read them. For example, “take time to ponder” for something like The Elegance of the Hedgehog, or “get your brain thinking” for some non-fiction works, “run through with delight” for those books that are entertaining and leave you feeling good. Although don’t think that’s helping your how to classify your goodreads shelves problem…

  3. I’m going to tell you how we see it in the Library-world. YA technically I believe started out as being 12-18, but these days in reality it is 16-25 which is why you see a lot of YA books with more sexual content than you would expect. Therefore they then have (you’re not going to like this) Teen Fiction (more classifications yay) which is more like 12-15 to fill that gap.
    Generally speaking YA (these days) is written to be marketed to people of the 16-25 age group so this is why there is a lot of coming of age stuff and you generally find that the characters involved are around the middle of that age group in order to be relevant to the majority of readers – so they can feel a kinship with the character (or at least they look like they are that age, but are actually immortal – because that makes it ok to have relationships with someone hundreds of years older than you lol). You often find the language used to be on that cusp of teen to adult, this is for the same reason as the age of character.
    Does this help?

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