February 1, 2013

Teens Should Read YA, Right?

Fact: I don't like coffee. I just like saying Coffee Clutch in my best and deepest New York accent. Considering I'm a New Yorker, I'm pretty freaking good at it. So I've got my tea and I hope you have your heated beverage of choice, because it's time to gab the day away.

Earlier this week, Jamie over at The Perpetual Page Turner tweeted THIS LINK.

If you didn't miss this article, I think most of you will understand why I think this topic is worthy of a Friday discussion post. But if you did miss it, give a quick read and catch yourself up.

And now that everyone's caught up, let's chat.

I'm pretty sure I have a response for each and everyone of those kids who have something to say about why they don't like to read YA. Or at least a book I think they should read in order to get past their misconceptions.

Because that's what I think it is, really - an upsetting series of misconceptions. So I decided to compile a list of reasons why these teens seem to think there's nothing for them in YA books.

1. Adult books are cleverest.
Teens think they're being clever by reading adult books. Maybe they are. But there are so many clever things to learn from YA books. Even in books like Ditched by Robin Mellom, a book about being left behind at the prom, there were a couple of moments when I stopped and thought about my life and my choices (past and present) ala Sassy Gay Friend. Dash & Lily had me thinking about the nature of lasting love. My Life Next Door got me to consider right and wrong and the hardships choosing the right thing may bring. Each of these three books might be dismissed as fluffy and not worth reading, but there's still something in there that's very, very clever. Maybe the Earth hasn't been shattered by the lessons learned in those books, but I haven't even brought up the big guns, like The Fault in Our Stars.

2. YA isn't just Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club.
It's also not just Harry Potter or Twilight. There's SO MUCH MORE to this lovely genre. Basically, everything you can find in the fiction section (fantasy, chick lit, steampunk, historical, sci-fi...) can also be found in the YA section but featuring teens. So maybe the genre these books fall into isn't for you, but don't tell me it's because it's YA that these books aren't doing it, because I doubt you read Sophie Kinsella or Nicholas Sparks if you're convinced Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen aren't worth your time.

3. Just because the protagonist is a teen, doesn't mean important things aren't happening.
Yeah, you heard me. Important things happen to teens. Teens have sex, do drugs, commit crimes, have to find a way to save the world, cope with divorce, death and disease. If anything, it's harder being a teen because you have to deal with all these things and deal with puberty as well (UGH, puberty. The worst).

4. There are major themes in YA too.
As mentioned above, important THINGS happen in YA books. But there are also important themes in YA books. Maybe it's not as prominent as in adult books. Maybe YA books are easier to swallow, easier to read. But is that really a bad thing? Sometimes when I tell people I read YA they say: "So you read them because they're not as hard as adult books." To that I say: "Yes and no." I won't deny that I can generally get through a YA book faster than I can an adult book. But I think that's because I like reading about teens more than I like reading about adults, not because the themes in adult books are more serious. YA books are built up from the same story structure as adult books. They're just designed to be more accessible.

5. Dumbed Down Language.
The language in YA books can be just as wonderful as the language in adult books. It's not just Maggie Stiefvater and Markus Zusak. Lauren DeStefano also writes beautifully. I adore Leigh Bardugo's writing style. Also, please read a David Levithan or John Green book. I don't know, I feel like I could go on and on about YA authors with lovely, lyrical voices, so I don't know why some teens think YA books read like instruction manuals. But I think the proof that YA books can be just as well written as adult books lies with JK Rowling. She's written both YA books and an adult book and her writing style is still her writing style. Someone could have read me the first page of The Casual Vacancy without me knowing what it was and I would have said it sounded an awful lot like good ol' JK.

6. Knock-Off Books
This comment in the cited article makes me angry. Wanna know something funny? Most books can be considered "knock-offs" on a really basic level. All books have themes. It's really about what the author does with these themes that make books stand out. So maybe a bunch of contemporary novels are about how the girl gets the guy, but it wouldn't have been published if there wasn't something MORE. And if you don't believe me, go Google Joseph Campbell and read up on what he has to say about the function & evolution of myth. I studied this guy in college, so that should be intellectual enough for these teens.

There are a lot of other misconceptions I can think of, but I don't want to carry on too long. I will say this: I don't think teens aren't reading YA because they're ignorant or honestly think all YA books are about gossip (unless they're really stuck up and elitist and haven't read a YA book since the last one that was assigned to them in school). I think it's because a lot of the times they don't want to learn lessons from characters who are their own age.

I mean, I actually enjoy the occasional authority figure in my life. Every so often my friends will give me advice regarding a personal problem or something of the like and I won't listen, but then I'll go to an authority figure (parent, teacher, older colleague...), they'll tell me the same thing and I'll listen them, even though I'm not hearing anything new. So even though a lot of teens deny needing parents to tell them what to do, I think we all, deep down, crave it and maybe some kids don't like to read YA because they don't need a teen advising them, but an adult/adult fiction book to do so (obviously teens aren't who are mostly publishing YA books today, but the voice of a teen is enough).

And now I turn to you, great and wise Interwebz. What say ye about these alleged misconceptions and my potentially incorrect hypothesis about teens and YA? Feel free to get your rant on below, I'd love to hear from you!


  1. When I was a teenager, I read very few YA novels. I was surrounded by other teenagers every day, and I didn't necessarily want to be around them in my reading. I never really felt like I fitted in with most of my peers, and I didn't want that to carry over to my reading. Aside from Harry Potter, I think I stopped reading YA around the age of thirteen or fourteen, and didn't really pick it back up again until I was twenty, and I read The Hunger Games.

    At that time, adult books just appealed to me more. I wanted to be surrounded by a different generation. And, during that time in my life, I was going through some really tough things with my family, and you're right: tough things do happen to young adults, I was living it, which is why I didn't want to read about those same things. So, I definitely get why some teens don't want to read YA. Most of my "young adult" years were spent reading the classics and Gothic tales, and I think I'm a better reader for it.

    HOWEVER, I do agree that some of the examples you cite are not "good" reasons to not read YA. As I think my (increasingly long) review has pointed out so far, I do think there are compelling reasons why some teens might not read YA, but I think the "dumbed down" language is the worst. The majority of the most beautiful novels I have read have been YA novels, NOT adult. I find, on average, that the language used in YA novels is more beautiful, more filled with imagery, than the adult novels I've been reading lately. There are dozens and dozens of popular YA authors who have the ability to string syllables into words and words into sentences that just captivate me and never really let me go. I agree with your other points too, but this is the one that really gets me, because there are SO MANY good YA writers!

    I think your idea about teens not wanting to hear advice from people their own ages has merit; I know I definitely, as stated above, did NOT read YA when I was a teenager simply because I didn't want to be surrounded by more teenagers than I already was.

    1. It's kind of cool that your story backs up my theory. And thanks for sharing, Stormy! It's sometimes hard for me to remember my reading history. I won't say I was always such an avid reader, but I am now (and clearly so are you!), and I think that's what's really important. :)

  2. I'm glad that those teens wanted to read intellectual books, but I can't agree more that they also sound incredibly prejudiced. You gave such great examples: adult novels aren't all highly intellectual reads (hi Nicholas Sparks) and YA novels aren't all like Twilight. I think what these people fear is fantasy, sci-fi, dystopia, and that they somehow think that's all there is to YA. But hi, there is such a thing as contemporary and realistic fiction. I think they should read The Book Thief and Code Name Verity (which I actually haven't read yet myself) and Looking for Alaska and even Just One Day and SO MUCH MORE. But yes, if all they know is Twilight, then I get why they feel this way. Just, for people who are looking for intellectual reads, I think their response is a bit... stupid.

    And that's all :D

    1. Their response IS a bit stupid. And narrow minded. It's so silly. I just want to sit them down and lecture them to death. Or until they agree to pick up a YA book and ENJOY IT. I'm very good at guilting people into things.

  3. Honestly, there's nothing wrong with reading YA. There's seriously SO MUCH material out there, with many themes covered and different writing styles employed. It's a personal choice, of course, whether or not to read YA, but I really think that it deserves an actual chance before anyone openly dismisses the genre.

    This could, however, be a phase too. I read a lot of romances + adult fiction when I was younger, and I eventually returned to my YA roots.

    1. I sometimes feel like YA explores more than adult fiction does. There are so many genres and cross genres and this that and the other. It's just insane. No one should dismiss something they haven't REALLY explored.


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