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Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers.  I really love this series because I get a chance to learn from so many wonderful writers like my friend Craig Lew. You can find him on his websites (http://www.craiglew.com) or drop him an email at ([email protected]). 


What Exactly Is YA?

by Craig Lew


YA is not shorthand for “Yes” or an abbreviation for “Yet Another.” YA is not “Yahoo Answers” or the Japanese word for “Arrow.” Well, it is but that’s not what I’m talking about today.

Some say, YA or Young Adult Literature is a story of teen angst, coming of age and first love generally written in first person, but to be honest, I was not sure. So I asked a bunch of much smarter than me authors, “What is YA?”

Gloria Skurzynski (Virtual War, Devastation, Afterwar, The Clones):

“…young adult fiction is for 12 to 18-year-olds. Supposedly. But YA fiction has grown increasingly popular with (mainly women) readers from the late teens to mid-30s. Examples: the Twilight Saga, and my daughter Alane Ferguson’s forensic mystery series, perhaps because in both these series the female protagonists have matured from high-school girls into actual adults.”

Amy Allgeyer Cook (Smelvin and Goulash Boy, Iron Bodkin):

“I define YA as a book that is too mature in theme, language or content for the average twelve year-old to process. Disclaimer: kids vary.”

Sarah McGuire (Turbo Monkeys):

“YA is about thresholds- and those events that define the adult a child is going to become.”

Kristin Elizabeth Clark (Freak Boy):

“I would define YA as a genre of fiction intended for an audience between the ages of twelve and eighteen or so (though I think twelve is actually kind of on the young side). It’s marked by protagonists who tend to be between those ages – and regardless of the outward trappings of the story, whether it’s fantasy, paranormal, or contemporary, there tends to be a thread of growth for the main character in terms of human development. I’d say most leave off with the sense of life yet to be lived – and if there’s no clear, happy ending we usually see the protagonist “on the road to O.K.,” as my editor, Joy Peskin, says.”

Suzanne Morgan Williams (Bull Rider):

“YA needs to be honest and irreverent – to challenge the reader to see the world in new ways while reflecting a teen reader’s emotional experience.”

Terri Farley (Baby Teeth, Seven Tears into the Sea, Phantom Stallion):

“I think the strongest YA novels focus on that time when kids are separating from parents and peers to learn how they can live within & without the dominant society.”

I think YA is the lumpy stuff in the lava lamp…sort of warm, glowy and ever changing. It mesmerizes you to no end and yet is impossible to define because it seems to never stop changing.

Have I totally confused you? Yes? Then my work is done.




Biography: Craig Lew’s storytelling career began even before he had learned to write. As a child, he would steal his father’s tape recorder and make different voices for each character recording tales about strange planets or scary creatures. His favorite story openings at that time were, “Once upon a junk yard heap…” or “It was a dark and stormy night.”

An entertainment Industry consultant, Craig has worked with Dreamworks SKG, PBS, KCET, Deluxe Labs, ITC, Nortel Networks and The New Getty Center.

Craig produced the Sci Fi comedy movie, “Rock Jocks” about a group of dysfunctional government employees responsible for shooting down asteroids that would destroy Earth.

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