What's the difference between juvenile literature and traditional fiction? I swear that some books I read could be either.
Juvenile literature, more commonly divided into the two categories of children's literature and young adult literature, is primarily defined as "material written or produced for the information or entertainment of children and young adults." (Library of Congress)
Most often juvenile literature is characterized by a younger protagonist (under the age of 18), simpler vocabulary, shorter chapters, fewer plot lines, lower word count, and lighter subject matter. Picture books, beginning chapter books and middle grade books are usually easy to identify as juvenile fiction, even if adults like to read them. For example, the early Harry Potter books are clearly intended for middle grade readers, although many adults enjoy them too. The same can be said for Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz series, Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series, James Dashner's 13th Reality series, and J. Scott Savage's Farworld series.
The line between the YA classification and traditional "adult" fiction is a little fuzzier. A YA book may have a young protagonist dealing with mature subject matter. Many YA publishers these days seem to feel that it is not only acceptable, but required to have protags over the age of 16 involved in intimate physical relationships. Clearly written for youth, the subject matter is too adult for us to feel comfortable letting our teens read them. For example, many of the current paranormal fantasies that are popular now have teens behaving in ways we're teaching our children is improper and immoral. Therefore, while the world defines these books as YA, we often define them as adult.
On the other hand, you have YA books that are clearly for teens, but adults love them as well, such as the later Harry Potter books, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series and Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series (although some readers may put them up in the previous category).
The publisher determines whether a book falls in the juvenile or general fiction category, but most often, if the character is 18 or younger, it gets the juvenile classification.