Young Adult Literature – PG or PG13?

I was around 12 when I made the “jump” (as I considered it) from the Juvenile Fiction section of the library to the Young Adult side. Besides a geographical relocation, the biggest impact of the move was that I now had to be extra careful with the books I selected. Compared to Juvenile Fiction (where anything besides a chaste kiss would have been shocking), the Young Adult books I perused seemed chalk full of sex, language, and dark, mature content. Where I once read broadly from all genres and authors, I now tiptoed, jumping from safe series (like the Hardy Boys Classified) to familiar authors (like Jessica Day George). In fact, it wasn’t until college that I fully embraced YA as a genre and felt comfortable trying books at random.  It seems silly now, but at the time this search for “safety” involved quite a bit of soul searching and boundary stretching on my part. 

Part of what got me reading YA broadly was that I moved libraries. The tiny, local library in Dayton, TN didn’t have the resources for a kids’ section and a teens’ section. The result was a sort of hodgepodge of the two, broadly called “Young Adult.” A part of me always felt they got it wrong. Either you have “clean” books, or you don’t. You can’t mix them. 

However, looking at it now, I’ve started to wonder about my definition of “young adult.” I’ve always considered it like a PG13 movie rating. When you enter, you go in with the knowledge that there is “mature content ahead.” Many books I’ve seen placed in YA recently seem to belong to the more innocuous PG rating, however. It is somewhat more mature than a G rating (or traditional Juvenile Fiction), but comparatively clean. Or perhaps they are just coming of age stories a grade schooler wouldn’t find interesting, particularly if it contains older characters or more subtle themes. 

I suppose the YA genre is a mix of PG and PG13, though it still seems like a nuanced jump to me. How would you define YA? Do you have a particular way of categorizing it in your mind?

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