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Monologue: “Defining Young Adult Literature”

One question I am often asked is, What is Young Adult Literature?  While most people have a general sense of what this category of books is, they are often looking for a more specific sense of what makes a book for young adults different from a book for children or even for adults.  So to help answer that question in a very small way, let me offer you my definition of young adult literature which is:  Young Adult Literature is a work that represents an entirely adolescent point of view that is mainly marketed to that same audience

But how does that definition help us to identify young adult literature? For me it helps, because that definition carries in it two very important defining features of young adult literature. First, that it tells their story from a teenager’s point of view and it is marketed to teens. For me, books that fall into the young adult category feature not only teen protagonists, but teenage perspectives on the world. So, by this definition, books such as Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street would not be considered young adult. While these books do have teenage protagonists, they are not told from the point of view of a teenager; rather, they are retellings of memories and are rendered by an adult looking back on a life as a teenager. 

As a result, these books feature analysis or insight about events or characters that comes from an adult’s reflections on the past. On the other hand, books that I would consider as young adult, such as Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl and Matt de la Pena’s Mexican Whiteboy, not only have teenage characters but make use of the teenage point of view, embodying typical teenage feelings, language, and ideas. 

In addition to point of view, publishers impact the makeup of a genre. When a publisher publishes a book, it decides which audience that book is best marketed to, and their designation clearly holds a lot of power since publishers target certain librarians, readers, and booksellers to help them promote and market their works. These decisions clearly influence whether or not books make it into teens’ hands. And so, I feel that how the book is marketed should also be considered when classifying books as young adult. It is these two elements, that for me, make up a young adult book. And maybe that little bit of information from Worlds Awaiting can also help you decide just what young adult literature is.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Random House, 2002.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  Vintage, 2009.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. Simon Pulse, 2008.

Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Pena. Delecourte Books For Young Readers, 2008.



At Worlds Awaiting we discuss a wide range of information aimed at supporting adults who want to build literacy skills in their children.   We understand that there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to children’s development, so the information we provide is intended to reach a wide audience. The books and other resources we recommend will also naturally cover a wide range of interests and subject matter that addresses a range of maturity, reading, and comprehension levels.  Since no one understands a child’s needs better than their caretakers, we encourage families to critically select the books and resources that meet their own individual needs and standards.

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