Since I was a young girl, I’ve been reading young adult (YA) fiction, with young characters who have magical powers, destined to save the world. Lately, however, these characters have felt immature to me. Their thoughts and actions seem self-centered and inconsiderate. I find myself screaming at the characters to just communicate!
However, I haven’t been able to find a way to fully break into adult literature. As two vastly different genres of fiction, I decided the best place to start would be to pinpoint those differences.
How are they different?
The main difference between young adult fiction and adult literature is voice. As pointed out by literary agent, Natalie M. Lakosil the voices of YA fiction are ego-centric. The characters show readers the world through their eyes.
This quality is why YA fiction is so relatable. It puts the reader in the shoes of the character, so the reader can feel exactly what the character is feeling. Adult literature is more distant. Readers can see what the characters are doing and feeling, but they don’t feel it themselves.
This distance makes adult literature more complex. By not putting the reader directly in the characters shoes, adult literature leaves room for the reader to interpret emotions and lessons for themselves. YA characters usually have to tackle one emotion or lesson, whereas adult characters may tackle many subtle emotional obstacles.
The obstacles YA characters tackle are directly stated. They may have to maneuver a prophecy or deal with forbidden love, but the themes of adult literature are not always so clear. They may become convoluted by other aspects of adult life like marriage or family.
The content of YA fiction also contrast the content of adult fiction. YA fiction centers around young adults, usually 15-18, who are still trying to figure out who they are and how the world works. The main characters of adult fiction are usually (not surprisingly) adults, who have more experience in tackling difficult decisions and know the consequences of their actions.
Another aspect of adult literature to consider is how it tackles mature content. Sexual and violent scenes tend to be more graphic than those in YA fiction.
Finally, the resolutions in adult literature are often more open-ended. YA fiction has a clear winner – usually the good guy(s). Whereas, in adult literature, it is not so clear cut as good guy vs bad guy. The characters just return to their day to day responsibilities and the world goes on.
Where to start?
Now that we know the differences, where do those of us trying to transition start? I’ve read that some start with a specific genre in YA fiction that they like, and find similar ones in adult literature.
Others suggest looking for similar qualities in the books you read, the movies you watch and the TV shows you enjoy and applying those to adult literature.
For example, personally, I have always leaned towards elements of surrealism in my entertainment choices. Books and TV shows about dragons, magic, angels and demons. I could never really get into the YA books about everyday teenage life. I already knew what that was like – I wanted to escape from that.
So, in my process, I searched for adult literature with similar qualities and found magical realism. Magical realism contains qualities of the surreal, which I looked for in YA fiction, but they aren’t as explicit. The surreal qualities are subtly implied, which gives the stories a mystic undertone without being fantastical. This allows for difficult issues and lessons to be tackled in a less-direct way.
The most recent piece of magical realism that I read was about a young girl who grew up in the swamps of Louisiana. She describes her sister as having a ghost as a boyfriend. She talks about her sister wandering off into the swamp in the middle of the night to meet him. Now, the sister does not actually have a ghost boyfriend. This is just the way the child perceives the difficulties her sister is facing. This could be mental illness or some other issue – it is not explicitly stated.
I’m ready to move into reading stories with more mature content such as this. The magical elements serve as a security blanket as I make this transition. It is content that I am familiar and comfortable with, which makes the transition easier.
This is what I suggest to others looking to make the same transition. Start with content you know, whether that be magic/fantasy, historical fiction or mystery. Once you have made a successful transition in that genre and are accustomed to the differences between YA and adult fiction, then you can start exploring new genres within adult fiction.
Another issue with this transition is knowing where to look for new books. Most of us know how to navigate the YA shelves, be it in the library or at the bookstore. But, navigating the shelves of adult literature has been a daunting aspect for myself.
Once you’ve decided on some genres you may like to start with, go to the librarian and ask them to show you where to find them. Also ask if they have any suggestions on authors or titles within that genre.
Other great resources are lists of award winners. There are many awards that are dictated by genre and they contain the best of the best within that genre. Some examples are the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which is for American fiction authors, the Agatha Awards for mysteries, and the Nebula Award for Best Novel given for science fiction and fantasy novels.
This transition can be scary and daunting, like many aspects of growing up. And if you’re not ready to make it, or don’t want to, then it is fine to keep reading YA fiction. However, it can also be an exciting new way to broaden your horizons and learn from different perspectives.