Viewpoint: I Don’t Like YA, Please Don’t Hurt Me


I’m going to come right out and say it – I’m not a fan of Young Adult (YA) literature. That’s not to say that I don’t read it at all – I do; or that I hate every YA book ever written – I don’t. However, I find that overall, YA isn’t my bag. Am I just too old to relate? 
You see, I view all novels through my world weary, cynical adult eyes and I find that a lot of YA books are too perfect, too cute, too schmaltzy for my tastes (looking at you, John Green). From what I remember, teenagers do not talk like that. There’s far more swearing, boasting, lewd references and aggression than is ever portrayed. A lot of the YA books that I’ve read have teenagers talking like characters from Dawson’s Creek whereas I remember boys only being able to communicate in grunts, mumbles and the occasional “my mate wants to go out with you, yeah?”. 

Maybe it’s because I’m British and a lot of the YA I’ve read is written by Americans. My senior (high) school was all girls and was light years away from anything I’ve ever read about. We were all rolled up skirts, smoking on the school bus, mascara clad brats who obsessed over our weight, our favourite boy band member and who might be a lesbian (which was total social suicide). I’d like to think that the morals of teenagers (not to mention societal attitudes) have improved somewhat but that still leaves me with a feeling of disconnect. Where are the boys driving their girlfriends round too fast in shit cars with terrible music blasting out? Where’s the terrible snogging and awkward groping? Why isn’t anyone drunk? 

It seems like I’m in the minority. A five minute bit of “research” (googling) brought me to a survey which found that the largest age range of YA readers (28%) was between 30-44 years old. I’m 35. So what is it I’m not getting?

I tend to find that many YA stories lack the complexities of adult fiction. Sure, lots of the characters have issues -sometimes huge, life changing issues – but often they’re dealt with in a very black and white fashion. Many characters tend to be stereotypes (One of Us is Lying) and are either good, bad or misunderstood with little scope for moral ambiguity. And oh God, the morals. Just for once, I want to see a character do something ethically questionable and get away with it – without the author shoving their political/ideological viewpoint forwards to explain why THIS IS WRONG (Beartown anyone?) Isn’t it better to allow teenagers – not to mention all the other readers – the space to make their own minds up?

In defense of the genre, I will say that I enjoy the diversity that many YA authors include in their stories. The sheer scope of experiences covered – everything from disability to gender expression to racism – is often talked about in a way that you just don’t get in adult fiction books. Many of the novels are own voices, meaning that the author has personal experience of the topic that they’re writing about which again is great. However, as much as I’ve seen complex issues done well (Juno Dawson with Clean) there are some topics that get oversimplified to the point of being totally unrealistic or even end up becoming glamorized (Thirteen Reasons Why) which I think is frankly dangerous. 

I’m not claiming to be an expert on YA and I’m sure there’s lots of good examples within the genre of well written, interesting, thoughtful novels (The Hate U Give looks pretty good, as does Dumplin’) but so far I’ve really struggled to find them. I find it hard to relate to a high school experience that was so different to my own, I don’t like the trope-heavy writing (oh look, more insta-love) and I can make my own mind up about right and wrong without having it spelled out to me. If you like YA – whatever age you are – then that’s great for you but it’s just not for me. 

So, what do you think? Am I bring overly critical? Have I missed any nuanced, brilliantly written YA novels? Let me know in the comments!


44 thoughts on “Viewpoint: I Don’t Like YA, Please Don’t Hurt Me

    1. Haha, you’ve managed to pick on two of my favourites there although I totally get what you mean about getting frustrated with Harry (personally, I wanted to punch Ron in the face too)!

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  1. Interesting point about authors shoving their own beliefs down our throats; I didn’t really pick up on it so much since I tend to agree with their morals, I guess? YA is still one of my favourite book genres, but I can definitely see why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea πŸ˜ŠπŸ’š

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  2. Honestly, yes! I completley agree with almost all of what you’re saying! I find that YA can easily trivialise or romanticise issues which completely demeans the actual lived experiences of people with either, mental health issues or other! I remember reading a Jennifer Niven book and literally gagging with how annoying and disconnected the characters and the storyline was to actual reality! Great post, I really enjoyed it!!! xx

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  3. Everyone should read what they love and shouldn’t have to defend that. Having said that, your arguments are spot on. I think most readers of YA like the nostalgia of the setting or feelings (that first crush). I do tend to like the British YA better than the American.

    If you like dark complex characters you might want to try Gilded Cage by Vic James. It’s a dystopian YA, but lots of grey morality.

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  4. I don’t like most YA romances or contemporaries. Although Julie Murphy (Dumplin’ was great) would be an exception. I do love the YA fantasies/sci-fi but I honestly just age all the characters up in my mind anyway. Maybe its the escapism factor for me? High school troubles nope. Magic assassin nun teenagers count me in! Anyway I don’t think its worth harming anyone πŸ™‚

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  5. I think this is all totally fair. I’m reading more and more YA recently where I think “this is too young”… then do a double take where I think “no, wait, maybe I’m just too old” (I know, the horror πŸ˜‰ ) That said I do like schmaltz and there’s still plenty about the genre to entice me, which is why I keep going back to it. Although *gosh yes* to your point about John Green- teens don’t talk like that (in fact, NO ADULT who is not completely pretentious, ergo any one I’d hang out with, talks like that!)
    hehe it’s funny how you mention the differences between American and British teens in books- cos I completely relate to what you’re saying, and yet that difference is part of the appeal for me. What can I say, I’m obsessed with the American High School experience- it like looking into a kind of mirror world where everything’s sort of off-kilter and doesn’t make sense (and I’m quite sure it’s not real but I can’t look away πŸ˜‰ )
    I do think there are certain sub genres of YA (mostly the thriller/mystery side) that really lack the complexity, like One of Us is Lying and I’m often disappointed with those. And yeah a lot of the time YA could do with more ambiguity- good point. Also there are a lot of cartoonish characters in YA (I noticed this is STAGS in particular recently).
    But I do love the diversity of issues YA addresses (also excited to see you cite Clean as a good example- cos I saw the author talk recently and definitely want to read it). Yeah I do agree about the point with bad rep- but I think that can exist in adult fiction as well (the bigger problem I guess is that it’s targeted at kids- although that’s a whole other issue of how they’re marketed/who’s reading them).
    I think YA is imperfect like a lot of other genres- it definitely has its pros and cons- but more importantly, I think everyone is entitled to read whatever they want, regardless of what’s popular. I think there’s a certain amount of pressure to be on board with YA nowadays- especially cos there’s a lot of pushback against people who don’t think adults should read it- but I think it’s the same issue on both sides: people should read whatever they like and there’s no harm in people having different opinions!
    Anyway, I thought this was a great post! And as a self-professed YA lover it’s a little bit surprising even to me how much I agreed with this!

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    1. Haha that’s a horrible feeling! Wait until you hit 30 πŸ˜‚.

      That’s a good point about no-one (adult or teen) talking like that IRL. I’d had a thought that maybe because most YA is written by people in their 30’s (huge assumption there, correct me if I’m wrong) that they just made the younger characters sound too adult but actually it might just be bad writing.

      I get what you mean about seeing the High School experience of other cultures (I’m a bit obsessed with Japan and the Far East) but I’m so used to seeing America it kind of doesn’t hold any intrigue for me. I guess that’s just personal preference though.

      Yes, I do love the diversity within YA and I really enjoyed Clean (total aside: did you see Juno Dawson as part of the London Literature Festival? I’m trying to convince my friend who’s involved in the Coventry City of Culture project to do something similar) – in fact, I’ve read a couple of her books and they’ve all been good.

      Totally agree that people should read what they want! There seems to be a weird pressure for book bloggers to read YA because it’s so popular and that generates traffic but that’s a whole other issue!

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  6. Hello Lucinda, I’m arriving to this post from @The_WriteReads shout out today. I understand your view point. I’m an older reader who dips into this genre.
    I’m also from England, so I get your yearning for a story that reflects your teenage years. With a little digging through my own GR list, I’ve found a few books that you might like to check out:

    The Misper by Bea Davenport (UK setting, YA thriller)
    Lucky Star by Holly Curtis (set in 1980s Portsmouth on a council estate, coming of age, YA)
    The Children Of Albion by Jill Turner (In a hard-hitting post-millennial England, it features children needing an escape from the brutal reality of their inner-city upbringing)
    Love Punked by Nia Lucas (set in 1990s Uk, an emotional drama featuring teenager Erin Roberts and her friends)
    Feel Me Fall by James Morris (ya mystery/ thriller, set in the Amazon with teenagers during a plane crash)
    Steal Me by India R Adams (Na/ upper ya. It is set in America but India writes about teeneagers with serious emotional issues and does them extremely well.)

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  7. You hit literally every point I’ve never been able to put words to. Every time I read YA, I’m overcome with “I’m too old for this shit” and I end up not enjoying it (this is not a problem I have with middle grade fiction). Also THANK YOUUUU for mentioning Beartown because YES! We all know the thing is wrong, but sometimes, people get away with doing bad things, and that’s important to recognise.

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  8. Very interesting blog post. A few years ago I used to read quite a bit more of YA but I’ve definitely been reading less and less as time goes on. I’m glad to have found your blog…the joys of twitter!

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  9. I’ve only read a few YA novels and i liked them but it’s not my go to genre. I do with they’d been around during my late teens though. I’m a bit similar with fantasy novels although I promised mkyself this year I’d occasionaly deviate from thrillers, crime and romance to try something new and to be fair, I have given it a go. I think it’s important to be respected for the books you enjoy and for your reading choices.

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  10. I get this, yeah. I do read YA fantasy sometimes, but I’m very picky with it and seem to prefer older stuff. I find that a lot of newer books are very tropey (ugh, agreed on the instalove, also love triangles, the secretly superspecial protagonist…so many more…) and not in a way I like.

    Nothing whatsoever against it, just not for me.

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  11. I like some of the YA books out there. I think too much of it seems to be carbon copies of books that came before, but you get that in the adult fiction, too. My high school experience atually didn’t have much of the smoking, cursing, and hot & heavy groping yours did. Sure, there were a few kids who hung out in front of the school smoking during lunch break, there was the occasional profanity slipping into conversations, bullying was an issue (though in my time it hadn’t made the leap into the virtual world of social media (the internet was still more than fifteen years away, and social media unimaginable), and and sex was clearly on everyone’s hormone saturated mindβ€”but despite talking a good game, everyone really knew everyone else was still a raging virgin. As you pointed out, the ability to emotionally connect with a book is going to be tied to how well you can relate to the experiences of the characters. To me, the smoking, swearing fast car driving wild kids always seemed like an unrealistic clichΓ©.

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    1. I agree – I find it very hard to relate to a lot of YA characters. Our experiences of school sound very different, we had an awful lot of teenage pregnancy plus social problems, drugs etc. and I never see that reflected in YA literature.

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  12. I love YA and will always love YA but I completely agree with you. I do sometimes feel like I’m too old for YA (I’m 24), and the lack of British YA books does bother me because the American ones are not always representative of the experiences I had as a teenager, like, for instance, you mentioned about school. But I love the representation of disability, of mental health, of sexuality etc. and those are some of the reasons that I still continue to read it. Although, you’re totally spot on about a lot of these books dealing with wider issues in a black and white fashion and clinging to stereotypes. Sometimes, when a YA author writes dialogue, you can instantly tell that they don’t understand teenagers and they’re only writing this book as a YA because they know that’s what sells.

    It’s just a shame that there isn’t a middle – between YA and adult fiction. There’s definitely a gap in the market, and I feel that perhaps fewer people would read YA, especially people in their 20s-30s, if there were more books that resonated with them. Instead, I feel like some of us still read YA because of those experiences that we can relate to that we cannot find in adult fiction.

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    1. I completely agree! Isn’t it weird how the representation in YA fiction (especially ownvoices) is so broad but you just don’t see it in adult fiction? I feel like YA is such a new genre there’s been fewer rules about what gets published, whereas adult fiction is still mostly straight, white, able bodied people (with obvious exceptions).

      I’ve seen a few posts recently about making NA fiction more easily defined – there’s definitely a gap in the market. I think you’re spot on in what you’ve said and I’d definitely like to explore that genre further 😊

      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment!

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  13. I think the issue with YA for me is in simple YA. I love the cheesy high school tv shows and movies (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before), but hate the idea of sitting down and reading it. I read the Mates, Dates and the Angus, Thongs series when I was a teen and LOVED their relatability, but now find them a happy memory and enjoy reading fiction with more complex characters (mostly serial killers). But if I read YA it has to be crossed with another genre to keep me completely interested The Survival Game (YA, dystopian, political) was insanely good and complex in many ways. I agree that standard YA fiction cannot realistically have these over intelligent complex characters because they’re not in the situations that permit it. I’ve gone on long enough and now want to write my own blog post about this! Thanks for inspiring these thoughts in me.

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    1. Haha! I agree – I get on far better with SFF YA than just contemporary. I think I’m just too old – YA was definitely not a thing when I was growing up!

      I’d love to read your blog post about this! 😊

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  14. Everyone has their own reading preference which isn’t a bad thing! I read YA but mostly Fantasy because I love how diverse it is. I want to give SciFi a try as well eventually! Whie I do read contemporaries, I find that I prefer those with a much heavier theme.

    Truth be told, I’m a classics girl at heart πŸ™‚ I enjoyed this post! πŸ’–πŸ’–

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  15. I read it and love it, although mostly fantasy YA (or even middle grade). Just finished The Magic Thief (Sarah Prineas) which could even be middle grade. The only contemporary YA read I can think of that I have enjoyed lately is The Tell Tale Con — funny, great little read. There’s high school and some angst for sure, but not your usual walk down a school corridor. Loved The Hobbit, which I think is considered YA (also fantasy). Tamora Pierce writes some good fantasy YA too. Nice Dragons Finish Last was a very good YA read (and obviously fantasy). I did read and like the first three or so Harry Potter. I’d say the first Harry Potter could even be billed as middle grade, although it was much longer than most books in that category. Maybe you’d like darker YA: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Or The Call by Peadar O’Guilin. If you like soap opera vamp YA Rachel Caine has the Morganville Vampire series and I think it’s quite good for being in that kind of clique setting. But in the end, you should read what you enjoy. However it’s billed!
    Maria
    http://www.BearMountainBooks.com

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