Is YA For Me?


I've seen a lot of different conversations taking place on Twitter that all come back to a central theme. The YA space is controlled by adults. For the most part, they are the ones with the purchasing power, they have jobs in the industry, they are in a better position to amplify their voices about how they feel about different books and the category as a whole. I've been thinking about these conversations as a whole, and it really does come back to the intended audience not owning the space and what that means for the category and the conversations around it.
As a teen who's heavily involved in the YA community, I sometimes feel awkward reading all the different, slightly varied takes from adults. Some make blanket statements for themselves and some work with teens and try to be a conduit to add them to the conversation. Very rarely do I come across a real teen who gets an amplified voice in the conversation (definitely go check out Vicky Who Reads on Twitter because, as a teen like me, she tends to have some of the best takes on what's going on in YA). I find this problematic especially during conversations about what books teens should read or especially what characters "don't act like teens".
Honestly, what sparked me writing this post was a long thread about how so many YA characters "don't sound like real teens". While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, this was an adult far removed from their teen years saying this. As time goes by, I feel like our brains simplify and distill experiences, feelings, and memories to things that are smaller, less vibrant than they once were. You can remember certain things, but you can never get back the all encompassing experience of being an age or at a certain time in your life. And I think this is where the problem arrises. It's easy to chart a "teen" pattern of behavior in your head. We're reckless and outspoken and we make bad choices because we're still trying to figure things out. But I don't super identify with any of those things. Yes, I make mistakes and I'm constantly learning, but I also juggle an insane course load of classes that I have to coordinate myself, the blog, and having a bit of a personal life. My life is pretty together. I've always had a vocabulary that is far from what most people think of as "teenage" because I've had a book constantly in my hand since I was in the third grade. I've never been to a real party, and I don't have a ton of friends. There will be teens who identify with everything I am and teens who will be everything I'm not and everything else in between because teens do not have one pattern or one vocabulary or a common understanding of the world. Because teens are people. So I get a little upset when I see blanket criticisms that YA characters don't sound like teens anymore because adults are the primary readers.
I agree that YA itself has a pattern. There's an expected style of writing, an idea of the pacing and type of story and, well, the voice that makes agents say, "You know, you should think about writing YA." There's a continuity that we all expect, and I've definitely found books where I say, "Huh, this sounds like literary adult fiction." If there's an honest reason why, beyond their character and how well they fit the '80s teen monolith, I think that those stories need to be mentioned and questioned, but, as YA has expanded to include a diversity of stories in a million different ways, adults should pause and wonder if it just didn't match their teen experience or their expectation of the teen experience. Let teen readers make the final call because even if the character doesn't resonate with them, it might remind them of a friend or a classmate. If they feel the authenticity, that's all that really matters.
I write this not to complain about adults being in the YA space or having their own feelings about it. They're important voices to have in the conversation, they bring new points of view, and they honestly keep it profitable, but I do have a word of caution. Making these statements and judgements can make teens feel like they're excluded from a book or space they might have otherwise fallen in love with. I personally experienced this when I read all the John Green books the summer after I started the blog. If you scroll through enough review pages you'll see plenty of people, mostly adults, on Amazon bashing the book because "nobody talks like that", or, worse, "no teen talks like that." While I'd read plenty of other books that resonated with me, John's were the first books that made me set down the book to have a moment of awed reflection, "They talk like me." I could hear my voice in theirs. This was especially true for John's least loved book, An Abundance of Katherines. And, ya, I can see why lots of people don't find it relatable or would make the assumption that there isn't a teen like that, but those words alienate the teens who do find it and love it. The teens who already know that they don't fit neatly into society's perfect little mold.
So, I guess, what I'm saying is to be careful with your snap judgments and blanket statements. YA is a wide world full of innumerable voices that each speak to the teen somebody was and a teen that's holding the book now. Even if the characters don't meet your expectations, you don't have to take away their "teen-ness" because they're too mature or thoughtful; self aware or well spoken. Just chalk it up to you not being the one the book was made for. I'm sure, if you're still dedicated to YA there are other books that spoke to the you of now and the you of then.

As a little closing post, I want to better define the way that I use adult. I mean the people who have books for them again. Right now, there's a major hole in the books market when it comes to New Adults and teens that are suddenly also adults. YA is the closest thing they have to books that honor their experiences, and they're still close enough to their teen years to have close memories to what that's like. I plan to write a post on this soon too!
Also, I talk a lot about John Green in this post not because I'm super promoting John Green but because it's an easy way to make a point because the notoriety of his books have brought a lot of different people to make judgements on his characters and his teens. There are tons of other books by lesser known or newer authors that resonated with me in the same way that I want to boost, so I'll be putting out a list soon to accompany this post!

Mentioned in this Post...
Other Editorials: Here
An Abundance of Kathherines: Review Here
Looking For Alaska: Review Here
Turtles All The Way Down: Review Here
Paper Towns: Review Here
The Fault In Our Stars: Review Here

Links Of Interest:
Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book?: Review Here
Happy Second Birthday: Here
Five Feet Apart Movie Review: Review Here
Five Feet Apart: Review Here


Comments

  1. Great post and a lot of good thoughts. I can understand the struggle you must feel because the YA genre has been dominated by adults lately. But I still consider myself a "young adult" at 25 years old, and maybe I shouldn't, but in terms of where my life is at, it fits for me. I don't have children, a house or any of the stuff that a lot of 25 year olds have of my parents had at my age. I relate a lot better with the YA genre, but with adults dominating it I feel that there is a huge gap between older teens and middle grade representation. I love Vicky Who Reads, she is such a powerful voice in the teen community. Great post, a lot to think about.

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    Replies
    1. I completely agree! I plan on writing more about the gap between YA and adult. I’d love to hear your prospective to add to the post. Please DM me on Twitter (@readwriteandme) Instagram (@readingwritingandme) or email me readingwritingandme@gmail.com

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  2. This is an amazing discussion post! �� I'm not a teen anymore but I still read and buy a lot of YA. I was "too mature" for my age as a teen and as such can't identify with reckless, party-going types even though several of my friends had that kind of an experience. I do agree that as adults we should be amplifying teen voices instead of pretending we know what's best for them. There seems to be a publishing black hole between MG and YA as eelw as YA and adult currently. As someone who reads across many age ranges, I really wish the industry worked harder to close those gaps instead of shoving something with very obvious adult characters (characters who have adult struggles/are at an older stage of life rather than anything to do with voice) into YA for profit.

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  3. Thank you! I agree. While I've never even been to a party, I think that even if I can't relate to the plot of some YA, there is a lot of honest emotional truth there. And yes! There should be a bridge between YA and NG as well as YA into adult. I don't get why all these age groups are like islands!

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