I am very very very passionate about YA books.
You probably are too, since you’re reading my blog and it’s basically an ode to YA and my adoration for it. (Actually my blog is an ode to CAKE, but sometimes I talk about books too, just to even things up.) Today I want to talk about who YA is actually for. Because I am 22. I am not a teenager. And yet YA books 100% appeal to me and I basically want to stuff them all in my mouth immediately with zero regrets.
I read this article posted on The Guardian titled “Most YA Fiction is Grown Up Fiction In Disguise“. Now this is a topic WE HAVE DEFINITELY BEEN OVER BEFORE IN THE BLOGOSPHERE! Multiple times. Shaming adults for reading YA and saying teens aren’t intelligent enough for adult books is pretty obviously dumb. But this article gave me like 9 EMOTIONS AND NONE OF THEM WERE HAPPY so I wanted to talk about it. (Plus I never do response posts!! I think this is a first?!) I want to discuss misconceptions about YA and I want to point out all the problematic statements in the article.
THEN WE CAN ALL EAT CALMING CAKE AND CHAMOMILE TEA AND GO BACK TO READING WHATEVER THE HECK WE WANT.
Now obviously everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The author of the article is. I am. GOOD TIMES.
The basic thoughts of the article is that YA is not for teens anymore and this is a massive diabolical issue with society.
Do we…laugh??? Is that the way to handle this??? It really bothers me that some people think that the “age recommendations” on books must be law. If adults shouldn’t read YA, then maybe teens shouldn’t read Middle Grade? Adults probably should not read picture-books to their children? Please stop that 12-year-old from reading classics because those are adult books. What’s next? BANNING BOOKS??? When you start telling people what they should and should not be reading — you are saying that we do not have rights to choose our own reading material. THIS IS SO VERY WRONG.
So I’m just going to go through and list all the problematic statements in this article.
“Figures from Nielsen show that 80% of YA literature is read by people over 25. It’s a pretty astonishing and, to me, disturbing statistic. It strongly suggests that something has gone horribly wrong in publishing. (And, possibly, with those readers…)”
I clicked over to the article he’s referencing and do you know what it actually says? “Nielsen’s figures show that 80% of all the YA books that are selling are being bought by adults.“ BOUGHT and READ are two hugely different words! Because you know what? Teens don’t usually have a lot of money. Their parents buy them books. #astounding And teens go to libraries. Because the books are FREE and the options are ENDLESS.
I only got into YA when I was 16 (because prior to that I’d just been reading a lot of MG historical-fiction because that’s what was available in my house…and it was good quality literature and amazing!) And you know what else? 100% of my YA diet came came from LIBRARIES.
And can we take a moment to notice how the article writer says “something has gone horribly wrong…with those readers”?? How can you judge someone for reading? How can you say that you know what they should be reading and if they don’t, then there’s something wrong with them? SPOILER ALERT: There is something wrong with a person who wants to tell others what to read.
There is honestly NOT ENOUGH CAKE IN THE WORLD TO HANDLE THIS ARTICLE.
“many children stop reading when they reach the teenage years – especially boys. Could this be because the books that should belong to them, inhabiting their hearts and brains, are actually (consciously or subconsciously) directed at older readers?”
Oh dear. This is so absurd.
Actual Reasons Kids Stop Reading:
- School devours their life and they have NO TIME FOR READING.
- Their parents weren’t readers so their house is not full of books so they didn’t grow up with a bookworm mentality.
- They develop other interests and hobbies which, again, take up their time.
- They don’t find joy in reading because reading is difficult for some people.
- They never found the kind of books they enjoy. (When I was a teen, I leant my non-reading-friend an action/survival book and they LOVED IT despite hating all other books. Sometimes people don’t know what they want to read and have no idea where to find their niche.)
- Their friends don’t read so they feel silly for reading. (This is VERY real. My friends used to laugh at me for reading and I didn’t read as much between the ages of 14 to 16 because of this.)
- Boys are TRAINED NOT TO READ by this culture of “oh boys don’t want to read that book; it’s too girly”. Boys are conditioned to only pick up masculine looking books. Boys are not given books about girl protagonists because “that’s too girly”. I think society is very much to blame for this. My 5-year-old nephew will just as happily read a pink book about ballerinas as a blue book about trucks. Why? Because NO ONE TELLS HIM WHAT TO READ.
“I’d contend that at least some of these books appeal to me, as an adult, because they are not teenage books at all. They are adult fiction. The themes, the style, often even the characters belong in the world of adult literature.”
It is condescending and insulting to assume that teenagers don’t want to read about real-world issues. BECAUSE THEY DO. Remember how I said I was 16 when I got into YA? Why was that? BECAUSE I WANTED TO LEARN ABOUT THE WORLD. I grew up quite sheltered and, as a teen, I wanted to know all the things. I distinctly remember feeling like that as I devoured as many YA books as I could fit in my library bag. I remember reading Sold by Patricia McCormick when I was 16 and being ABSOLUTELY AGHAST because I didn’t even know the sex trade existed. Yes that book is about the sex trade. Should teens be reading it? Should teens KNOW what kind of world we live in?
Yes. Heck yes. OH LET ME YELL ALL THE YESES.
You are a teen for about 8 years of your life. Then you are an adult. Then you have the opportunity to change the world. (Although you can totally change the world when you’re a teen. Get started early. Rule all the things, I say.) Education is super important. How can we expect the world to change and develop if we want teenagers to know NOTHING about the world?? And it is ACTUALLY VERY EXCITING AND GOOD to be “educated” in the form of a story. It stays with you! It affects you! It makes you think!
People have told stories for thousands of years to share knowledge. Stories make us care.
Also ANOTHER THING THAT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: YA books are relatable to adults because we have all been teenagers. Sometimes it’s hard to envision life in 10+ years time. But remembering 10+ years ago? Easier. And homey! And while, as adults, we sometimes have collected more life experience and know ourselves better…we still have a lot of the same fears and struggles that teens have. BECAUSE TEENS (GASP) ARE HUMANS TOO AND HUMANS OFTEN STRUGGLE WITH THE SAME THINGS THEIR WHOLE LIVES.
“And much YA is a lazy, disheartening mush of false problems, fake solutions, idealised romance, second-rate fantasy, tired dystopias. Easy to read; easy to forget.”
Quotes like this just show that the author of this article doesn’t even read YA. Because when are generalised statements EVER correct? Not ever, my friend. And also, FYI, dystopians are rarely published anymore. I think the last time this guy read a YA book was in 2013.
Let’s have a QUICKIE LOOK at some popular YA books and see if they have “false problems” and “fake solutions”.
- THE FAULT IN OUR STARS: The problem = battling terminal cancer. (That sounds pretty real to me.) The solution = making relationships and taking risks like pursuing the dream of meeting a favourite author despite declining health. (Doesn’t seem fake either, to be honest.)
- THE HUNGER GAMES: The problem = a girl wishes to save her sister from murder. (This premise is very real in some countries.) The solution = trades places with sister. (The most noble loving sacrifice there is.)
- PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF: The problem = boy is accused of stealing something he didn’t steal. (And this happens like, a lot.) The solution = attempts to catch the real thief and clear his name. (Sounds super logical to me.)
- THE RAVEN BOYS: The problem = several teens want to lead meaningful lives but have no idea how to, or who they should be. (Um, do we not all face this?) The solution = the find a network of likeminded people who will support them as they look for their identities and destinies. (If finding friends to help you through life is a “fake” solution than humanity is doomed.)
“Many writers hate the idea that they are writing “for” a particular audience. They like the idea that their books are somehow universal. They also subscribe to the idea that a work of art is a solitary, internal process, like laying an egg. The egg they produce is a reflection of their own, adult tastes.”
Seriously where is this information coming from? I invite you to open ANY YA BOOK EVER and look at the acknowledgments. Every single one will mention people in the back they wish to thank. A ton of them have phrases like “I couldn’t have have done this without so-and-so”. I always read acknowledgements because I’M A NERD AND THEY’RE SUPER COOL. And I’ve never come across one where the author claimed writing is a solo-job.
But yes, it’s so true that authors like the idea that their books are “somehow universal”. Why? Because many wonderful authors subscribe to the idea that THERE IS NO AGE LIMIT FOR GOOD LITERATURE.
There is this quote I adore by C.S. Lewis:
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ~ C.S. Lewis
“And that means focusing on the readers – the teenage readers that YA fiction doesn’t serve – finding a language to engage and entertain them, a literature that talks about their lives, their hopes, their fears and their dreams.”
Teenagers are not stupid. Teenagers do not need things to be watered down. Teenagers do not need things to be carefully explained so they “get it”.
And you know what else? Teenagers are very aware that they’re growing up. LIKE THAT’S TERRIFYING, DUDE. As a 16-year-old I felt woefully underprepared for adulthood but at the same time scared of it? YA was awesome because it gave me characters who I could relate to who were facing HUGE issues and yet tackling them successfully.
Why do I (a 22-year-old adult) read YA?
- Adulting is scary and confusing and who else thinks that way? Oh yeah…TEENAGERS. I relate so much to their struggles.
- I like books with concise plots and quirky characters and fun writing. YA fills a lot of these needs! Plus oftentimes adult books are, quite frankly, ginormous and that’s terrifying.
- I adore engaging writing.
- I LOVE HOW FEELS-STABBY YA IS.
- Teens in books are passionate about changing things. They’re not too tired yet of the world. I LOVE THIS.
- YA books are my passion and I don’t see why age has anything to do with that.
Do YA books sometimes feature very mature characters?
They do, it’s true. Sometimes I look at a character and think they’re not really being a teen. Other times I’ve said in a review that a book wasn’t very YA. SO SOMETIMES I DO THINK YA IS GETTING VERY MATURE. Is this a problem though? Nope. Most people would rather read about characters who are too mature instead of immature. (Do you know how annoying immature people are? ARGH. You’d rather stick yourself in the eye with a pineapple frond then be around them.) I think YA needs to be aware it’s writing about teenagers, of course! But we ALSO need to be aware that EVERYONE IS VERY DIFFERENT AND REACTS DIFFERENTLY. My sister and I were at completely different maturity levels at the age of 16.
People need to staaaaahp thinking that there is only ONE WAY to write a human.
No one should ever tell people what to read.
Nope. Just…do not do it, Marge. You are immediately on the path to book banning culture. Teenagers are not stupid alien creatures who need the world sugar-coated. Adults are not stupid alien creatures who shouldn’t enjoy certain types of books.
Books are for everyone.
Adults read YA because we enjoy it. We feel at home reading it. And we don’t even need reasons. Plus I would like to also point out that the words “young adult” are not synonymous with “teenager”. I am 22. I think I’m a young adult. AGE IS RELATIVE ANYWAY.
YA is exciting and addictive and passionate and very very honest and changes lives — of teens and adults. And if we’re reading anything, we are expanding our brains, so WHAT EXACTLY IS THE PROBLEM HERE?
Who are YA books for? Anyone who wants to read them.