Genres for young adult and young fiction

Genres for young fiction, and in particular young adult (YA) fiction, span most of those covered by adult fiction. What distinguishes them from adult fiction is that the main characters are usually children or teens dealing with teen issues.

Types of genres

Classifying a title into just one genre would sometimes straightjacket it and limit its appeal in many ways, as a title may traverse a range of subjects. However, you may find the following overview of popular children’s and YA fiction genres helpful when making loan requests.

Adventure

Adventure fiction usually involves the main character going on a quest or journey and experiencing extreme conditions. The adventure may or may not involve history but has plenty of action. Some adventure fiction could also involve elements of mystery, dystopia or fantasy. Examples include: Adventure of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and The Travelling Restaurant: Jasper’s voyage in three parts, a novel for children by Barbara Else. David Hill's novels would be good examples of contemporary New Zealand adventure novels.

Chick lit

Penned by women authors, these books can be light and funny and usually deal with relationships, dating, romance and sometimes even more delicate themes such as pregnancy, abortion, weight problems or drug abuse etc. Examples are Ten things we shouldn't have done by Sarah Mlynowski and the series Hello Gorgeous by Taylor Morris.   

Classics

The classics are titles that have established themselves as distinguished examples of penmanship of a particular period in history. Classics are time-honoured, which is why there are 'classic' classics and modern classics. Titles by Charles Dickens or H.G.Wells would be examples of older classics whereas John Marsden's Tomorrow when the war began series would be considered a modern classic.  A New Zealand classic would be Tessa Duder's Alex series.

Contemporary fiction

This is the kind of fiction that stands out, gets mentioned and recommended. Usually set in the recognisable present, contemporary fiction is realistic with contemporary characters, events and dialogue. The curious incident of the dog in the night-time  by Mark Haddon and The life of Pi by Yann Martel fall into this category as would titles by New Zealand authors such as Kate de Goldi, Fleur Beale and Ted Dawe.

Diaries

Narrated in diary format these fiction or non-fiction tales are personal recounts usually played out day by day. The narration could be based around an adventure, an historical event or a personal experience. The My Story series written by various authors brings New Zealand’s past alive, while Diary of a wimpy kid by Jeff Kinney is very popular with young readers.

Dystopian

Dystopian fiction is set is new or alternative worlds, or futuristic societies and is characterised by degradation in values, social hierarchy, terror and oppression. These titles often include elements of science fiction, conflict and romance. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Maze runner series by James Dashner and The divergent trilogy by Veronika Roth are great examples. A New Zealand example would be Mandy Hagar's Blood of the lamb trilogy. Well known dystopian novels from the past include George Orwell's 1984 and Brave new world by Aldous Huxley.

Family and relationships

Books that reflect children and teens (and even adults) having to undergo some kind of inner conflict or interpersonal conflict at some point in their life - including 'coming of age' stories. This may involve relationships, bullying, decision making, identity crisis etc. Bruiser by Neil Shulsterman and Wonder by R.J. Palacio are two titles that resonate with this genre. New Zealand examples include I am not Esther by Fleur Beale, and See ya Simon by David Hill.

Fantasy

Think imaginary lands, myths and magic. Popular examples include Lord of the rings by J R R Tolkien (elves, wizards, goblins) the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling (wizards and witches), and Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series (Greek and Roman gods).

Gay and Lesbian

This genre of literature deals with the struggle for identity, acceptance and relationships of gay and lesbian protagonists. Examples include the short story collection How beautiful the ordinary: twelve stories of identity edited by Michael Cart, and The vast fields of ordinary by Nick Burd.

Graphic Novels

The graphic novel has become increasingly popular among readers from intermediate through to senior secondary and beyond. There has with an explosion in publishing for this genre, in both fiction and non-fiction. Rather than being viewed as a more sophisticated comic book, these are full-length works of literature in their own right. While some titles appeal to reluctant readers, much of the graphic novel genre requires a level of sophistication in reading ability. Neil Gaiman is renowned as an international leader in this field, and Anthony Horowitz's Scorpia series includes several titles published in graphic novel format as well as traditional novels. New Zealand writers include Dylan Horrocks: Hicksville, Chris Slane's Maui series, as well as his artwork for A nice day for a war. The Lemony Snicket books, and some of the Horrible Histories and other similar series often combine graphic elements with regular text chapters.

Find out more about Graphic novels

Horror

This genre of books has been written with the intention to scare the reader with gory details of blood, ghosts, vampires, skeletons, demons and the supernatural world. Examples include the Zom-B City by Darren Shan, Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series (which has a dark thread of humour so crosses genres) and Neil Gaiman's The graveyard book.

Historical fiction

These novels have the story and characters pitched against a significant backdrop of time or history of a place or country. War, social history and political instability often feature, as with The attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshisset and In the shadow of the banyan by Vaddey Ratner set against the Cambodian killing fields. Other notable examples include Parehaka by Witi Ihimaera and Code name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which is set during WWII and was named the Michael L. Printz Honor Book in 2013.

Humorous stories

Stories that cause you to smile or laugh out loud at the quirkiness of their characters. Andy Griffiths brilliant Just series and Swim the Fly by Don Calame are good examples. 

Mystery

These are the Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christies of the collection. Examples of this genre are the Theodore Boone series by John Grisham, H.J. Harper's Bureau of mysteries series, and the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.

New Zealand authors

New Zealand has a growing range of authors who write progressively for children and young adults. The New Zealand Post Book Awards and the LIANZA book awards are endorsements that recognise excellence and their unique styles. Examples: Dear Vincent by Mandy Hager and A winter’s day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik.

Find out more about New Zealand authors from the New Zealand Book Council's Writers Files.

Paranormal

Paranormal or supernatural titles involve creatures such as werewolves, vampires or ghosts. It’s the type of fiction where occurrences cannot be logically explained, such as telekinesis or extrasensory perception. These novels span other genres such as fantasy, mystery, horror and romance. Popular examples are Beautiful creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and the Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater. Older examples might include the Joan Aiken novels, eg The wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Poetry and Novels in verse

Rhyme is found everywhere, in songs, chants, jingles, books or as novels in verse. Poetry covers a vast range of subjects and is often used in schools and homes as read alouds. Examples of novels in verse that tell a story in rhyme include: Toppling by Sally Murphy and Girl named Mister by Nikki Grimes.

Find out more about poetry.

Romance

This genre can stand alone, but romance is often a feature of other genres such as dystopian and supernatural literature. The crazy things girls do for love by Dyan Sheldon is pure romance, Jacqueline Wilson's The 'Girls' series touches on issues many adolescents can identify with, while Stephanie Myers' Twilight series has an appealing combination of the supernatural and romance.

Science Fiction

The Oxford dictionary defines science fiction as: "fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets."

Examples include The cinder, the first of the Lunar chronicles by Marissa Meyer, The Enders saga, by Orson Scott Card and Across the universe by Beth Revis. Books such as the Divergent series by Veronika Roth fall into the science fiction and dystopian genres.

Short stories

Short stories are a delectable anthology of the best of authors and their style. Short stories could be a selection of stories by one author or a collection by various authors. Good examples include Animal tales, a collection of stories by Dick King-Smith, and Under the weather: stories about climate change, edited by Tony Bradman.

Steampunk

Hard to define, but this genre is said to be a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy that includes technology or gadgets from the 19th century. Some describe it as the old aesthetics of the Victorian age mixed with modern technology. For an understanding of this genre try Read Steampunk!: an anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, Gail Carriger's Soulless series and Mortal engines by Philip Reeve.

Find out more about young fiction

Find out more about YA fiction

Find out more about arranging fiction by genre

Image: Book Talk Hangars - Frontview, by Enokson on Flickr