Genre Bending


I have a question.



It’s concerned with genre, and why a particular book is considered to belong to one genre over another. It’s also concerned with what you expect to find, as a reader, in a book which proclaims itself to belong to a particular genre.

As I’ve said before, I love Young Adult books, and also stories written for children. These are the kinds of books I primarily read, and I’d like to think I’m fairly familiar with these genres. In most of the Young Adult books I’ve read recently, though, I’ve noticed a huge focus on complicated love and sexual relationships between characters, and a tendency to make those relationships a central part of the plot. In fact, sometimes these relationships are the plot! I wonder whether I’m behind the times a little in my taste, because those sort of relationships aren’t necessarily something I always look for in books that I would consider ‘Young Adult’. I wonder, too, if that’s because I tend to favour fantasy/SF type books, as opposed to contemporary Young Adult fiction – sometimes I think contemporary Young Adult stories have more of a focus on issues such as sexuality and love, which I suppose makes sense.

Before anyone thinks I’m a prude, I have to make it clear that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with books aimed at young adults dealing with complicated emotions and physical relationships. These themes are extremely important to young readers, and of course the literature should reflect this. Stories dealing with the complexities of love and relationships can be very affecting, emotional and beautiful, and if these issues are important to the characters in a story, then of course they should be included and dealt with. But if a book is written with teenage characters which doesn’t place sexual relationships, or an emotional, conflicted or complex love story, at the heart of the plot, I’m beginning to wonder if it should bear the label ‘Young Adult fiction’ at all. There’s been a lot of talk recently in publishing and writing circles about a new genre called ‘New Adult’, the definition of which I’m a little hazy on. It seems to be a genre encompassing books which are (broadly) about people in their late teens and early twenties, navigating sexual relationships and adult problems (like bills, careers, living away from their parents, and so on) – a sort of stepping stone between Young Adult and general fiction aimed at adults, perhaps. I wonder where the defining line between Young Adult and New Adult lies, and how a story is classified as being one or the other.

I’ve just finished reading a book which is amazingly well written, beautifully plotted, and fantastically enjoyable, but its protagonist is a 17-year-old girl who has had at least one significant relationship in the past, and who, during the course of the book, realises she has a strong physical attraction to an older male character who, for various reasons, she cannot be with. Her sexuality is one of her most important characteristics, and her desire to build a life and a future with the male character is one of the driving forces behind the book. She also feels the need to free her family from a terrible burden, but her connection to the man seems just as important to her, and her feelings for him certainly drive most of the story. The book I’m working on has a 16-year-old protagonist, so she’s only one year younger than the protagonist in the book I’ve just read, but the two stories couldn’t be farther apart in terms of the way the young female protagonists think about themselves, their bodies, feelings and desires. The book I’m working on is one I’d consider to be Young Adult, and the one I’ve read is also Young Adult. However, they are very different indeed. So different, in fact, that I wonder if they should belong to the same genre at all.

I suppose my question is this: if you’re a reader of Young Adult fiction, do you expect to find issues relating to sex and sexuality in the story? If the book lacks these things, do you feel it should more rightly be called a children’s book? Maybe this isn’t even worth worrying about, as I’m going to write the stories I want to write, and I’m going to let the character’s development dictate whether their sexuality should be an important part of their portrayal, but I’m just curious.

I’ve never really been a big fan of romance novels, and I don’t have a huge interest in writing romantic stories. I’m more about the adventure! So, if the genre I love is changing to accommodate more romance and a greater focus on love, I think I’ll be a little bit sad about it. Or, perhaps it’s an indicator that I need to read more widely in the genre – I’m sure this tendency doesn’t apply to every single Young Adult book being published at the moment.

And maybe it’s an indicator that I need to ‘get with the program’, as the young folk say these days!

Anyone have any opinions about genre, genre expectations, and the divisions between children’s, Young Adult, New Adult, and general adult fiction books? I’d love to hear ’em.

My favourite movie lovers!Image:

My favourite teenage lovers!

7 thoughts on “Genre Bending

  1. anna3101

    I will tell you the truth. If it’s a young adult book, I expect a love story there. It may be sexual or platonic or unrequited or only hinted at but I guess I’d be disappointed if there were none at all. But that’s just the way I am – I love romance. I’m fairly sure my boyfriend, for example, would be looking for something completely different in a story 🙂

    And children’s literature is another matter altogether, isn’t it? Can be fun without any relationships or problems. Although no, problems are always there:) Look at young Harry Potter – one cannot say he had a stress-free life, right? 😀

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Well, in my book, there’s a boy… and there’s a girl… and there’s hint of tension there. So, I guess I still fit the definition. 🙂

      It’s not that I mind romance in a young adult novel, it’s just that I’d like to think there’s *more* than that to life. Do you know what I mean? I makes me sad to think that young girls only want to read about relationships, when they could read about ass-kicking heroines instead. Maybe they don’t just want to read about relationships, but it feels like that sometimes. In my book, there’s far more to my female protagonist than the desire to impress a boy – and, I have to add, there’s more to my male ‘lead’ than the desire to woo a girl, too! They both have bigger things going on. And I like it that way.

      And Harry *definitely* didn’t have a stress-free (or romance-free, come to think of it) life.

      1. anna3101

        Hey, but ass-kicking heroines and relationships are not mutually exclusive 🙂 Actually, they go perfectly well together! I don’t mind romance for romance’s sake – from time to time, we all need some brain-killers – but normally I prefer romance and a plot and I always need the heroine to be normal. And my definition of normal is someone who is not a whinging, whiny damsel in distress unable to cope with anything without her alpha male. I hate Twilight and 50 Shades with a passion. My priority nr 1 in life is relationships – with my family, my boyfriend, my friends etc. But I don’t believe that automatically means that other bits of life are not important! What do you think?

      2. anna3101

        Also, I wish there were books that would have the best of both worlds 🙂 You know, something romantic but also something from the other relationship realm, like father-daughter or human-animal or sister-brother or two best-friends. But somehow they don’t live under the same book cover. I don’t know why…

  2. anna3101

    Oh… I forgot to say. Does your book really need to belong to a genre? Maybe you can just let it write itself and then see what you should call it. I bet Shakespeare did not think, “Will Romeo and Juliet be an appropriate story for a play genre or shall I write something else?” 😀 He probably just wrote it, the end. Why should you be any less genius than Shakespeare?

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      😀 I love this.

      I’m going to get a t-shirt made saying ‘I’m just as big a genius as Shakespeare, yo.’

      I see what you mean – and I think that’s what I am doing. I’m just writing my character’s story, letting her development happen naturally. You’re right about the genre – I won’t worry about it. A good book (hopefully, including the one I’m working on!) is a good book, regardless of genre.

      Thank you. 🙂

  3. aanderand

    I never really knew what genre was until I started looking at the craft of writing. To me, a book either appealed to to me or not, and I didn’t worry much about the genre. A story well told will find its reader. Having said that, I wonder about today’s reader and what are they looking for, and is that really what genre is all about, marketing to the masses. I think of the world of books as a pyramid where the vast majority of books at the base, perhaps separated by genre, and the really good books rise to the top and stand the test of time, and no one speaks of genre for them.


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