You’ve probably heard the term teen/teenager and young adult used interchangeably. When we hear the word teenager we immediately think of kids in high school, maybe upper middle school with visions of Grease and High School Musical dancing in our heads. So, is there a difference between the term teenager and young adult? In the library world, yes!
The American Library Association defines young adults as youth ages 12-18. That’s a pretty big age range when you think about developmental, social, and emotional stages. I don’t know very many 12-year-olds at the same stage in life as 18-year-olds. Now let’s take that idea even further. Modern research has shown that our frontal lobe, the part of our brain in charge of our impulse control, is not fully developed until we’re about 25 years old, maybe even 30. (I highly recommend watching the “Ted Talk: The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain” by Sarah-Jane Blakemore for more information, it’s really good.) Add this concept to the ‘new adult’ social group that has emerged and young adults really range from about 12-25. Wow, talk about an even bigger age gap.
This means that young adult library services, particularly the young adult book collection, must serve this entire group and a book that a 25-year-old selects is not the same book that a 12-year-old would read. In reality, there are three groups that make up young adult literature: middle grade, teenager, and new adult. Since books for all three age groups are shelved in the same section you can find books that might feel too young or too mature. That’s because they are! It’s all about finding the appropriate book for you!
So just because something is labeled young adult it doesn’t mean that only youth ages 12-25 can read them. It’s all about where you are in life and your preferences. So, whether you’re 11, 16, 30, or 99 there is something in the young adult section for you. Don’t be afraid to browse the titles and pick something out. One of my favorite series (“The Lunar Chronicles” by Marissa Meyer) is a young adult series but would appeal to anyone from middle grade to the oldest adult. Not sure where to start, ask your librarian! We’re happy to help find the perfect Young Adult book for you!