How Young is a Young Adult?

space cadet The science fiction novels I read as a teen weren’t written for that age group. The themes were adult, as were the character dynamics and main issues. There just weren’t enough young adult books to keep me satisfied – at least any that spoke to the issues that were important to me at the time.

Availability was a big factor too. With no internet and only two channels on the tube, I didn’t see much of Star Trek or Doctor Who until they were well into reruns. Before Anne McCaffrey came along with The White Dragon, most of my exposure to science fiction came by way of Heinlein, Bradbury and Asimov. And while their stories were fascinating and took me to worlds and futures I had never dreamed of, I couldn’t always identify with the adult characters. Their politics, motivations and philosophies weren’t exactly relevant to my teenaged brain.

So when I was outlining a science fiction novel for young adults, I went online to find out what they’re reading in the 21st century. My first question: just how young is a young adult? The age spread isn’t exactly clear. Some sources claim that a young adult is someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen; others state fourteen to twenty-one and one even stretches it to twenty-five.

Have_Space_suitThe boundaries have thinned between the teen and the adult novel, and the young adult fiction of today is more mature, savvy and self-aware. There’s a tremendous hunger – and market – for young adult books, though science fiction is still sadly lacking in that section of the bookstore and library, unless you count the interest in dystopian novels.

The shelves and stacks for young adult books have slowly expanded at my local library, and though the variety and quantity are impressive, they’re still lumped together in alphabetical order, regardless of genre. I can search by genre on the library’s website, but typing “young adult science fiction” brings up far more fantasy than science titles.

There are still very few space-bound teenaged protagonists. But have we got vampires for you! The paranormal is still sexier than science fiction, so we have far more supernaturals than space cadets roaming the popular teen literary scene.
Where’s the story of the neglected son of a generation-ship captain who dreams of being a pilot? Or the inter-species star-crossed teenaged lovers? Or the exchange student program with the Mars colony in 2025? That might change with the fresh Trek movies and the upcoming Ender’s Game. We can only hope.

starman jonesIn Bright Light, my third novel, I’m sending a teenaged boy and his dog into space. Riley Mason and Kitt are abducted by aliens during a brutal assault and spend two years finding their way back to earth. My challenge is to address the issues that would be relevant to a specific age range while managing to entertain and beguile all young adults, from the youngest end of that literary age spectrum to the oldest. And maybe even beyond.

I’m as familiar with Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen as anyone else. Did J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins aim to appeal to such a wide audience? I doubt Orson Scott Card meant for Ender’s Game to interest only nine-year-old boys, or that Anne McCaffrey worried about alienating her adult readers by giving a leading role to a child, teenager or young adult in any of her Pernese stories. Likely their goals were to write a good, entertaining book, and to let readers decide for themselves.

“You know how writers are… they create themselves as they create their work. Or perhaps they create their work in order to create themselves.”
― Orson Scott Card

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3 thoughts on "How Young is a Young Adult?"

  1. Marilynn Byerly says:

    The Andre Norton science fiction novels were sold as Young Adult. I didn’t realize how many she wrote until Baen started reprinting them.

    As to current Young Adult science fiction, yes, it is being written, but like every mix of science fiction and a specific reading audience like science fiction romance, it doesn’t have the popularity of the paranormal mix.

    If you’d like to see what is being written right now, I suggest the RTBOOKCLUB website’s review search engine.

    Here’s a direct link:

    http://www.rtbookreviews.com/rt-search/results?node-type=rtbookreview&keywords=&pub_month=&pub_year=&genre=6&type=311&sub-type=&x=85&y=6

    If that doesn’t work, go to rtbookreview.com and click on the advanced search engine and pick young adult, then science fiction, for a list of book reviews.

    1. Thanks for the link, Marilynn! My reading list just got longer 🙂

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