Tuesday, October 15, 2013

To Shelve or Not to Shelve: Separating Young Adult and Adult Books

Do you want to resolve the stigma against young adult books? Are you tired of people looking askance at you if you're above 18 and flipping through the YA section at your local bookstore?

Well, here's an idea:

Shelve Young Adult and Adult Books Together

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea?


1. The difference between many YA and Adult novels are in name only. There are plenty of novels featuring teens or even children as the main characters that get shelved in Adult fiction, for whatever reason. No one thinks you're weird if you read those as an adult. But put the same book in the YA section of the bookstore and there's something wrong with reading it. I've seen seen plenty of books that I'd consider YA in the adult section. Katie McGarry's books are in the Adult Romance part of my Barnes & Noble. The Brian Jacques children's fantasy series was shelved in Adult Fantasy at my old Barnes & Noble, something I never understood.

2. Exposure. Arguably, books like Twilight, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games have exposed adults to Young Adult literature. That's true obviously, but I think The Fault in Our Stars has exposed adults to YA in a more significant way. It's demonstrated that YA can be of literary quality, something few adults realize. It's shelved in Young Adult at Barnes & Noble, but at many other stores, like Target and even the grocery store, it's alongside adult books. If more Young Adult books were shelved next to "acceptable" adult books, perhaps more people would read them.


1. Ease of Use. I'll admit that I like categorizing books. My hometown library separates adult fiction into five sections: Fiction, Romance, Western, Mystery, and Sci Fi/Fantasy. My current library shelves all adult fiction together. I liked having it separate. Admittedly, I liked that so I could easily steer clear of genres that I didn't enjoy when I was younger, but it did make things easier to find. Plus, you had an idea what you were getting when you grabbed a random book off a shelf. I read YA because I enjoy reading books about teenagers. I don't want to sort through dozens of books about a 40 year old's dysfunctional family to find the kind of books I like.

2. Price. One of the nice things about YA is that it is usually a little cheaper than Adult fiction. In the $18 range instead of the $27 range. This is perhaps demeaning to YA authors and even to YA publishers who deserve to get the same amount of profit as Adult authors/publishers, but it sure is nice for us consumers.

On the whole, I think I want Young Adult books to remain separate from Adult books (and children's books for that matter). Mostly because I'm lazy and want to be able to find my favorite genre easily. But the idea of merging Young Adult and Adult fiction is worth contemplating. It would signify that two genres are really just one. There's not Young Adult vs. Adult Fiction. There's only Fiction. People who choose to read books about teenagers, regardless of their age are no less intelligent, ambitious, or literary than people who choose to read books about grown-ups.


  1. Great post! I completely agree. I read mostly romance including Adult but it like to "browse" in the section that I'm in the mood for that moment. Separation makes that easier :)

  2. To me, I've always related the book categorising to the movie ratings. MG has PG content, YA has M content and Adult has MA15+ content (this varies based on where you live).

    I guess the main reason they're shelved differently is because a parent is generally okay with letting their kids read whatever they like from the MG or YA sections whereas Adult content would need to be checked first.

    Then again, they get it wrong all the time. Richelle Mead's newest Adult novel was shelved in the YA section and that has some serious umm... content.

  3. I hear you Alison. At the library where I work our YA and Adult collections are shelved separately, but I have started (about 2 yrs ago actually) to display new YA titles,in with the new, adult .books. We saw our YA numbers increase dramatically at my branch when I did that. A lot of people pick them up not knowing what they are getting, then they come back and ask for more. I happily show them the YA section and see them there frequently. Now I'm waiting to see if it makes a difference at my new branch..

  4. We call it teen fiction at my library and I think that is a more appropriate name for it (in libraries at least) because it is less confusing.

    I think it is hard enough that the teen section represents the reading interests of those who are 12/13 all the way to 18 and those on the younger end of the spectrum may not be mature enough to handle the content that those who are 16 or 17 could handle.

    At my library we sometimes have a copy of a teen book in the adult section as well or in the J section, like the Harry Potter books. There are a few books for adults that are in the teen section too like The Lord of the Rings. As a general rule however we do shelve things according to age appropriateness. A bookstore may be more free to experiment with intershelving but again there would be difficulties because teen or "young adult" fiction encompasses a wide variety of ages and maturity levels.

    If we were to make it less embarrassing for adults to read teen fiction how would it help young teens? I don't think it would help those whom the books are targeted towards. I think it is better that Percy Jackson and Harry Potter do not share shelf space with A Game of Thrones. Teens who are ready to read fiction for adults can go to that section and check out those books which is what I did when I was a teen reading John Grisham or Michael Crichton.

    Instead of reshelving to make it more comfortable for adults to be seen reading teen books maybe we should just not be ashamed to tell people that we read teen fiction and educate them on the quality teen fiction that is available. I think it is becoming more acceptable to read teen fiction but then again I am surrounded by people who love reading and have a more positive attitude towards reading teen fiction. We have a lot of adult patrons who read teen fiction and I've even purchased large print copies of The Hunger Games series to meet that demand.

    Your idea isn't a bad one but I think it would be to the detriment of the teens themselves. Instead perhaps it would be better to shelve some of the teen fiction with that huge crossover appeal like The Hunger Games in both sections.

    I do like the way the British and Canadian publishers of the Harry Potter books issued more adult friendly covers for the books. I think that idea might be worth looking into for other series with similar crossover potential and popularity.

  5. I'm not sure I'd want the books to be shelved together, simply because I like the differentiation between the two. I think that a lot of teen books have crossover appeal, but I don't think a lot of adult books will fit well in the teen mold, you know?

  6. I think there are really are two issues here: the reader feeling guilty over what they are reading and promoting YA books. At my library, we don't separate our books within genres because we are tight in space. We have a separate section for Childrens, YA, and Adult. I think we can make more people aware of YA books that they might enjoy just like how curlypow above explained. Once a month a do a list for our library's TAB group of adult books that have teen appeal and do one for YA books too. We've seen a rise in circulation for both.

  7. Are we talking about shelving books at a library or our personal shelves? In a library, I think dividing them up by genre is helpful for ease of use, but on my own personal shelves I have everything together. Mostly because I'm too lazy to separate them all out, though I do make sure to keep series together so I don't have to hunt them down:)

  8. Hmm, I get what your saying. I would say that New adult should have its own shelf. There are lots of NA books that have explicit scenes and well, putting that in the teen section is not so good.

  9. I would agree with you. I used to work at Barnes and Noble when I was younger and one thing I noticed was that teens tended to squat in that section. The isles were always clogged with kids just sitting there reading. Being separate it made for a happy store. The teens weren't clogging the adult fiction section making them upset because they couldn't get to the books they wanted and the teens got to loiter. Everyone wins, on the flip side my wife is a big fan of YA. I do feel like I am being judged when I go to the library and look through the YA section for books my wife has asked me to pick up.

    Great post, I have never given this issue much thought.

  10. There are reasons I order most of my books online...but, actually, I don't care if I'm seen in the YA section. Usually, they just think I'm someone's mother but I love YA so whatever!

  11. I love to read YA and I am an adult but I think they should be shelved separately. I have seen them mixed all together in store and online. I don't want to find a steamy scene when I assume I am reading YA.

  12. I'm for separation. I'm okay with NA being added to adult fiction, but I want teen to stand alone. I also want juvenile to stand apart from teen. There is something so neat about having a hankering for a certain genre and then finding yourself with a wall of choices.

  13. As an reader I'd be interested to see this because so many books have crossover appeal. I do notice that when I use the Overdrive at my library and click on "Fiction" the YA is usally mixed in with the adult.

    Maybe they should put Adult books and YA books closer together in stores, and associate YA more with Adult than Children's books.

  14. I'm with you, I like things separate and largely it's for ease of use. Even with my adult fiction I like when it's at least somewhat separated by genre just so I'm able to browse and pick randomly in certain areas.
    I think the line between YA and adult is often quite blurred. There are many adult books that would be fine for YA readers just like us adults like to YA books, it just all depends on the person. The one concern would be content and really, there's no way to really categorize by content because we all have different opinions on what's appropriate and what's not.

    I hadn't thought of the price aspect, but you're right, the YA hardcovers are cheaper. It seems like when I buy adult books it's usually mass market paperbacks, which are cheaper than YA books, which they don't do mass market paperbacks (thought occasionally they have less expensive paperbacks which are nearly as cheap).
    Excellent discussion!

  15. I think they should be seperate,this makes it easier for everyone to find their favorite genres. On the other side you are right, there won't be many cross over readers.

    Also, I like it separated by subgenre too!

    Oh and yes, I'd want a New Adult shelf too - it has nothing to do with the sex, but more to do with the level of maturity and age of the protagonists. Some could be more upper YA and some could be shelfed as Adult, so give them their own one:)

  16. In our library, we have our Teen books (which are aimed at 16 and up) in a separate section, but right along the wall by our Fiction books. We did this on purpose so that teen readers could transition to fiction easily. And, any people browsing in fiction can easily pull a Teen book, if they want.

    I just wanted to comment on what you said about genres - "But the idea of merging Young Adult and Adult fiction is worth contemplating. It would signify that two genres are really just one. There's not Young Adult vs. Adult Fiction. There's only Fiction." YES. Fiction, no matter what the age, is fiction - and fiction is the genre. Young adult books are not a separate genre; they just usually have protagonists who are young adults. There are sci-fi, and fantasy, and mystery, and romance books (all of which are genres) for both adults and young adults. So, nicely put --- it doesn't matter the age, because fiction is fiction. :)

  17. I feel a little conflicted on this. I know as a teen I loved that I had a section to myself. (Although it was A LOT smaller back then.) I remember thinking it would be hard to be an adult, because with so many books in so many different places how could you possibly find what your looking for. Plus while I love reading YA fantasy or dystopian, I can't think of an adult version I've read.

    I think the bigger question for me, especially lately, is where to shelf NA books. I feel like it's out of place with all the normal fiction, but I guess that's what it fits best?

  18. I'm for separation. I think a lot of teens like having their own area in the library and wouldn't like it getting mixed with the adult section. It also makes it easier as a librarian (and I imagine, parent) to be able to point a teen in the direction of the YA section and tell them to go wild and not have to worry much about whether or not the book is appropriate for them. Same with having MG books in their own section (and then you also know with these that the reading level is accessible for them).

    And, like you said, it makes it easier to browse within a section I know I'll like most things in it without having to filter through all the "poignant and literary look at strained family dynamics" and "depressed 30-somethings struggling with life's disappointments amidst white-hot-sexcapades!" just to find what I want. I even get annoyed when libraries don't put those little genre stickers on the spines (it's so helpful to be able to scan the shelves and look for the unicorn/wizard stickers and ignore the Western boot stickers).

    I get the point you're making about the stigma though. It was so frustrating to have an adult patron looking for a book only to snub their nose at a book I KNOW they'd love, but it happens to have the YA sticker on the spine. It can be a hard sell, and likewise I always feel a little worried that some adult like that is going to see *me* looking for a YA book for myself and get all judgey.

    But I guess in the end, people are going to judge. Whether it's judging against romance readers, genre readers, or YA readers, judgments will be thrown and books will be snubbed. Their loss.


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