“This feels like YA (Young Adult)” is a common comment I see in reviews for adult novels with adult protagonists. Curious about what exactly that means, I asked you guys:
This post is a summary of the responses. Please keep in mind that this post summarises people’s subjective opinions. There’s also (obviously) nothing wrong with a novel “feeling like YA” if that’s the intention. YA is a valid and thriving genre.
This post is a compilation of answers from an open survey. It's not meant to disparage YA, or adult novels that match the descriptions below. I know I shouldn't need to give so many disclaimers, but this is the internet - better safe than sorry.
First Person + Present Tense
I suppose this answer came up so much because a lot of colossally successful YA novels (The Hunger Games comes to mind) are written this way, some readers associate it with YA.
I found this really surprising because a lot of adult novels are written this way (Fight Club and The Handmaid's Tale, for example) which don't read as YA (in my opinion at least).
Gen Z References
A huge number of responses mentioned the use of “gen z references”, and pop culture references. This could include certain vocab (like "cheugy") or references to things like Tiktok, or shows that teens like.
Books with character art or cartoons on the cover. I was debating whether to include this one because it doesn’t speak to the actual writing of the book, but it came up a fair bit so I thought I'd be fair and include it.
Emotions are always simply stated instead of also demonstrated in the character’s body language (you know I’m going to mention the free cheat sheet), word choices, and interiority.
These books, according to respondents, tend to have less explicit sexual or violent content. On top of that, they tend to avoid darker or heavier subject matter, or don’t engage deeply with them.
Super Fast Pace
“Very fast pace” came up a fair bit, with two respondents using the specific word “bouncy”.
When writers spend a lot of time explaining concepts or spelling them out to readers.
Many adult novels use simpler language for various reasons (perhaps it fits the voice of the protagonist better, for example). Understandably, most YA novels use language that’s more accessible to younger audiences.
Stuff like this is so subjective, but a lot of respondents said “simplistic” or “overly accessible” language gave them YA vibes.
“Overpowered female main character” came up a few times along with “secret heir” and “love triangle”.
Characters, especially the protagonist, have “immature reactions” for an adult character. This is so incredibly subjective.
This is specific to speculative fiction. It’s when characters swap profanity with things like “rust and ruin!”. It’s a cute bit of worldbuilding. I understand why it’d give YA vibes, as YA books tend to be cleaner.
Lots of adult novels naturally avoid swearing. My guess is that these replacement swears read as YA because it's less natural and more self-censoring.