Writing a Coming of Age Novel

coming of age, novel, young adultMany coming of age novels span across target segments by appealing to both the teen fiction (10-15) and young adult (16-25) audience because the characters are usually close to the same age as the reader. Instinctually, people will connect to others better (even if its a fictional character) when they are of similar age. My novel, The Soul Smith, is a coming of age novel, but the protagonist is 19 and turns 20 during the course of the story (as opposed to the more popular age range of 15 or 16). Setting my character at this age means that the teen fiction target segment might potentially be alienated as a result. But is that truly the case?

I chose to make my main character 19 for two reasons. 1) I wanted his society to determine adulthood by a different age than our own. Their society deems those that turn 20 to now be an adult. 2) I knew my story would have a love scene (nothing graphic), and that the female would be slightly younger than the male. Since our society deems 18 year olds to be adults, I wanted the characters in the love scene to at least meet our society’s standards so that no one would balk when they read the scene. Otherwise, how would the masses have reacted if I wrote the scene with a 16 year old and a 15 year old? I can only believe that it wouldn’t have been well received.

In addition, I’ve had a literary agency suggest that because my protagonist is 20, that it should be more of an adult fantasy. Then the reviewer from the agency even added that alternatively, I could make him younger. To me, it’s strange that the age of the main character is the single determining factor for how the book is marketed/categorized. In my mind, regardless of his age (which is just a number), my character still goes through all the frustrations of being treated like a child, just the same as any other coming-of-age novel. You would think that the teen fiction and young adult segments could relate to the character’s experiences regardless of the age.

What are your thoughts? Would you read a novel with a character that turns 20?

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