When Books Are Really Good, Despite Being Written For Teens

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You mean...teen books...can be...well WRITTEN?!



As someone who began reading adult books at an early age, I'm no stranger to the idea of reading across the board of genres, regardless of the age group that they are being marketed to. And when I see a well-meaning  person who isn't as avid of a reader describe a Young Adult book as being "so good it could have been an Adult," I often give them the benefit of the doubt. People who aren't super interested in publishing are usually not going to be as hyper aware of the aspect that a lower age group for the target audience does not, in fact, equal lower quality literature, and hey--at the end of the day, they are reading as well as taking part in the number one marketing process that is word of mouth.

That being said, I won't lie: the "it reads like an Adult!" compliment isn't quite as easy for me to digest when I see it being used in the midst of the YA community online. From what I can tell, the biggest reasons it is used is to describe either especially sophisticated language, complicated plots and/or subplots, or characters with a surprising amount of maturity and/or intelligence. When, silly me: I thought that the difference between YA and Adult are the ages of the protagonist and the type of conflicts that are plaguing them (in a purely age-based sense, rather than the level or intensity of emotion involved.)

Part of me wonders if it comes from a place of feeling the need to apologize for really truly loving a piece of teen fiction. Sort of like, "It wasn't written for me, but it could have been with how much unexpected ass it kicked!" While also seeming well meaning, the problem there is that you are implying that qualities such as aforementioned sophisticated language, complicated plots, and mature or intelligent characters are not something that YA is known for possessing in noticeable quantities. When really, your impression is simply based on how wide your own reading boundaries are, as well as how willing you are to take a step back and realize that those writing qualities are both very present and somewhat rare in all genres--Children's, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult. 

I feel like people very often assume that the Sparkly Vampire Effect is what's to 'blame' for the very poorly written articles about YA in the media, and how it is perceived industrially from the outside, but I disagree with that notion. You cannot blame one or two books on such a serious disservice to our genre, simply because of massive popularity and the inevitable waves of haters that will come with it. Plus, blaming something that is essentially a thing of the past does absolutely nothing to move the genre forward, in fact, it does quite the opposite. 

So what can we do? I'm not entirely sure. I didn't mean to approach this as if I have this big important plan for the genre or the industry to turn things around and demand the respect that the genre truly deserves, but more to maybe open a discussion on speculation as to why it's so easy to fall back on what is, essentially, a pretty misleading statement about publishing as a whole, in Young Adult and beyond. 

Maybe we can challenge ourselves to accept, and point out to fellow readers, just how rich the teen fiction world is of especially sophisticated language, complicated plots and/or subplots, and very mature and/or intelligent characters. Maybe we can stop being embarrassed for simply reading....because, seriously, that's what it feels like sometimes. Pop culture be damned, people are reading what they want to read, just like they always have and will continue to do. 

Or maybe, if we really really like a book that we didn't expect to like, we can take a moment to think about exactly what we liked it when describing it to a friend as opposed to shrugging, "It was really good.. for a teen book."






7 comments:

  1. I've blogged about this issue a few times. I think people look down on children's literature because they look down on children. Because children/teenagers are so young, they haven't fully matured and often lack that trait that adults have that tells them when to use logic over emotion. That's why so many little kids blurt out stuff that no adult would say in polite conversation, and why so many teenagers do stupid stuff that gets them hurt or even killed. Instead of seeing this as a natural part of development, people think that kids are stupid or beneath them; therefore, so are children's books. Unfortunately, there are always going to be people who think that, but there are plenty of YA books coming out that are very well done, so maybe more people will be open to them as time goes by.

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    1. But this is also a problem. Not ALL kids/teenagers do stupid things, and don't think before they speak. I think it's a common misconception that adults automatically become more mature because they are adults. One thing that bothers me about some YA books is that the author undermines their MC's intelligence. Sure there are teens out there who do stupid things, and sure kids can blurt out things before thinking it through but the truth of the matter is adults do these things too. Adults are not smart or mature because of their age. They're mature because of their experiences. And in this day and age teens/kids go through a lot more than teens from yesterday had to go through. I think the time people start to realize that, then they'll start to take YA more seriously. Also, when more YA writers (because there are already quite a few that write smart teen characters) start to realize that not all of their characters have to be of the brash and leap-before-you-look variety, then things will get better. Maybe I'm just biased because I'm a teen but...yeah.

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    2. Loving this discussion. Raven I totally agree on the 'adults do these things too' front, it's something that is often overlooked, and when combined with the general problem of people treating teenagers like they're idiots, makes for one helluva problematic dynamic that absolutely translates into YA books being written.

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  2. Maybe I should start complimenting adult books that keep me up late at night and make me feel every raw emotion and yearning the MC goes through. "It was really good...for an adult book." ;)

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  3. YA books good? I don't unders why so many people think that's so surprising. Teens are very critical, especially when they sense hypocrisy.

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  4. Amen. That's all I've got to say.

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  5. Thanks for saying this. I find that a lot of people who don't have respect for YA literature believe books for teens and kids have to be dumbed down, deliberately simplified, or full of petty issues that they believe fascinate younger people. In other words, people who are not in touch with reality.

    YA readers are thoughtful and can be pretty deep. They're also usually enthusiastic and passionate about their favorite stories. There is no reason that books written for YA fans (regardless of whether they're young adults themselves) should be perceived as less than.

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