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!