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The 7 Characteristics of The Best Young Adult Literature

Updated on December 22, 2015
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Rosie was an elementary school teacher for 13 years, teaching grades 3-5. She is now a Library Media Specialist in an elementary school.


It's About Me

The common practice of writing in first person in young adult novels is not surprising. Teens want to read books with characters they can identify with and what better way to do that than to actually feel like you are seeing things from their perspective. Not only does it help the reader to connect with the characters, it also makes the story seem more real and close up.

In the very popular book and now a series, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Roth does this seamlessly. Action-packed and brutally vivid, teens feel that they are right there with Beatrice as she continuously thrown into unfathomable situations. The reader can’t help but root for her and imagine being in her shoes. From living with total strangers, having to fight and losing her loved ones, this young adult novel reels the reader in and doesn’t let go.

No Adults Allowed

In most popular young adult novels, the parents are out of the picture early on in the book. And this is exactly what teens want. They want to be independent and free. They want to prove they can do it all by themselves. The author gives them exactly what they want and shows them a young person that can succeed against all odds. Lois Lowry does an excellent job of this in The Giver. A young boy, Jonas, is given a special job of “Receiver of Memories” and is trained to perform this job away from home and away from his family. He eventually learns that the life he lives is void of choice. Everything is dictated in order to keep people “safe”. Jonas eventually feels that life isn’t worth living without the ability to makes one’s own choices and decides to leave his home to search for a better way of life.

Everything Will be Alright

Although not all of them are optimistic, most young adult novels do end on a positive note. A common trend now for young adult authors, is to begin a novel with a tragedy and then provide the reader with a strong character that gradually overcomes and endures. Even war novels, such as Avi’s The Fighting Ground, leave the reader on a high note. Action-packed, full of tough situations and even sometimes saturated with sad parts, this novel comes full circle, where at the end, the main character Jonathon, has changed. He now knows about war and is glad to be home, spared and alive.

Shhh! It's a Surprise

Today’s young adult novels are filled with the components of secrecy, surprise, tension, narrative hooks and are usually fast-paced. The Maze Runner by James Dashner, is the perfect example of all of these. My own teenage son read the entire series without any encouragement and was very excited to tell me what he had learned after each reading. He was intrigued by the secrecy and surprise; it kept him coming back to find out more. The main character, Thomas, wakes up in an elevator, remembering nothing but his own name and eventually learns he is with about 60 teen boys who have been forced to survive in a completely enclosed environment with a new boy arriving every 30 days.

Dark Witty Writing

Kate Klise is an excellent author to use as an example of genre variety in young adult fiction; she is known as an author with many genres. Klise is most famous for her intelligent word play, dark humor and themes that involve death. Having lost her own father at a very young age, Klise knows firsthand what it is like for a child to lose a parent. She writes about topics we don’t often see in young adult literature, and puts an intelligent twist on each story. Grounded begins abruptly when 12 year-old Daralynn loses his father and siblings in a plane crash. Then her mother gets a job at a funeral parlor and Daralynn comes up with the idea of a “living funeral”.

Ethnicities Galore

Today’s young adult literature represents a huge variety of ethnicities, sometimes undefined. The Cay by Theodore Taylor, gives the reader a window into the past when the Germans attack an oil refinery on Aruba. Taking the reader back to the year 1942 on the Dutch island of Curacao, Taylor sets the stage for racial tension between a young boy who becomes blinded and an old black West Indian. An unlikely friendship forms between the two and together they survive while learning that the color of their skin has little importance in their friendship.

I Want More

Series books have become increasingly popular among young adult readers. I love this, because it encourages teens to want to read more and to pursue more reading experiences. Each chapter leaves its reader with a hard-to-put-down ending, making readers anxious to read more. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, is a popular anti-hero that teens love. Artemis is a twelve year old criminal mastermind and genious who lost his father and plots to be wealthy through evil catastrophic schemes. Although ruthless at times, Artemis has a sensitive side too. There are a whopping eleven books in the Artemis Fowl series. Interestingly, this series has now been presented as graphic novels as well, gaining even more popularity.


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    • acmalkutakh profile image

      Anna Cornelia 3 years ago from US

      I love YA. I only read this genre for years, figuring it was the best written stuff on the shelves- writers couldn't escape into sex or gratuitous violence when in a pinch. I have finally expanded my reading to adult books, but I still love a good YA. .. though series often turn me off and I am not into vampires.

      Loved the first Hunger Games, but the next two were mediocre, etc. The Harry Potter series went up and down for me- unlike Tolkien, Rowling had to summarize previous books, which slowed things down. But I loved loved loved the final book- brilliant really, and so spiritual.

      I read the most books in my school at age 11- 208 or so during the school year. Haven't stopped since. I adored all my English and writing teachers. Thanks for your service!

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 3 years ago from Virginia

      Thank Amanda108! I love young adult literature. It is fast-paced and exciting to read, often hard to put down.

    • Amanda108 profile image

      Amanda 3 years ago from Michigan, United States

      Though I'm not the target age group for them, I still quite enjoy young adult literature. These were all very interesting points about what defines books as YA and makes them successful.