The Many Ways YA Books & The Community Isolates Teens

I think (I know) some people will probably disagree with me on this, but a fundamental assumption made in this post is that first and foremost, YA’s audience are teens ages 13-18.

This isn’t supposed to be a “adults can’t read YA!!!” post, nor is it supposed to argue who YA is for. I’m telling you straight out that I think YA is first & foremost for teens, and if you can’t at least understand (not necessarily agree, but understand) this assumption for the rest of this post, then it’s probably best to stop reading while you’re ahead.

Because I’m not here to talk about who YA is for–I believe it’s for teens. I’m here to talk about how given the fact that it’s for teens, the YA book community can still . . . have a lack of thought towards teenagers.

Honestly, I’ve been nervous to write this whole post, but it’s been stewing in my mind for a long time, so thank you Jen @bookavid for giving me that written-out push to write this (and before I stop being a teen!)

There are a lot of ways I’ve seen teens voices get overlooked, and before we even start, one of the first things I want every teen reading this post is to go nominate your favorite 2018 YA books in the YALSA Public Nomination Form! This is for TEENS ONLY. And you can nominate as many as you want. So go forth, my fellow peers!

Now, for the juicy part & the tea. I’ve basically split this whole post into “Money Problems” and “Character Problems” and although they overlap, they’re separated pretty well.

So without further ado, let’s get into it!

Money Problems

Did you know that teens are dependents?

I know, shocking, right? Most of us don’t have much or any personal money. And what personal money we do have is for gas or for college or for getting by. And of course, money problems are true for anyone who isn’t rich, but it’s especially prevalent because it basically affects almost every teen out there as they don’t have an income that leads to much spending money.

Publishing is a business, obviously. And a lot of it is run by the numbers–what people are buying. And therefore, people who buy books have a voice on what gets published. 

And people who don’t buy books, like teens, don’t have as strong of a voice.

Because we’re not buying 4 special editions of a book. We’re checking books out from the library. We’re borrowing from friends. We’re sitting in a bookstore for 3 hours reading something, but very rarely buying.

So, because our lack of lots of funds to buy books and therefore influence the market, stories that might not appeal or relate to teens as much (addressed more in “Character Problems”) are more often published because that’s what sells.

And there’s no obvious solution for this, besides getting publishing to listen to teens (like through the YALSA nominations!).

We can’t preorder to show support for books we think we’ll relate to. (I don’t know a single friend who has preordered a book. I have never preordered one either.)

We can’t leave Amazon reviews. Because not only is there a spending limit, most parents are unwilling to let their teen use their account to post a review, when they could just . . . not post it.

We can’t do some of the biggest actions that go towards supporting a book and showing what we teens are excited for.

Which is also why, authors, you should keep in mind that the audience you wrote a book for–teens–can’t do a lot of the things you ask, even though we really want to support you.

We can’t get you that 50 Amazon reviews, as much as we would love to. We can’t preorder your book, usually. We can’t do this, and sometimes when you ask this repeatedly of us, it makes us feel bad that we’re dependent on others and can’t shower you with love. (So we always appreciate it when you make it known that you don’t expect this of us.)

We can, however, check things out from the library or send a postcard (if we live in the US). Anyone who has included library requests (or postcard sends) in their preorder info is a true queen. I appreciate you.

(EDIT: To clarify for all those that ask, postcard sends are when preorder campaigns, usually run by publishers–Penguin Teen oftentimes, and sometimes Fierce Reads–let you send in a postcard & they’ll send you the preorder swag without you buying the book!)

Understand that the audience of YA novels–teens–are dependents and we can’t do a lot of things. We can’t show our voice through our money, because we don’t really have money. And this is why it’s especially important for everyone–specifically authors and publishers–to listen to teen feedback on what we want to read in a book.

Which brings us to . . .

Character Problems

Adults’ money speaks, and adults oftentimes support YA novels with older characters.

Actually–scratch that. Characters who are in their teen years, but basically act like adults.

I find this is both because adult publishing doesn’t want YA-style stories–character relationships and lots of entertainment value. But adults do want to read these types of books, and they show it by influencing the YA category.

So, we end up with lots of upper YA books featuring young adult characters that are acting older and older, but they’re still the same age.

And this doesn’t mean YA readers can’t enjoy adult characters or adult novels or novels with characters that act like adults. But it does mean that these books are taking up the space of books that should be representing teens and the teenage experiences–not a YA style story representing an adult experience.

I’m prepared to be dragged for this, but Six of Crows. I loved reading Six of Crows because it was interesting and dark and a delicious read. But do I feel like the SoC characters act like teens? HA–no.

Do I think they represent teenage feelings? Not really. The feel like college students or adults, and although it’s cool to read, I don’t feel represented by Six of Crows.

Obviously this is a problem more prevalent in fantasy (as there’s more wiggle room for older characters), but a lot of books are being published where the teens just . . . don’t act like teenagers.

And these books are taking up space–on bestsellers lists, on bookstores shelves, on library shelves–that could be filled with books that better portray the teenage experiences.

This still doesn’t mean these are bad books, it’s just that they’re not really books that represent teens.

We can see how the YA book community still likes to talk about adult books a bunch–Victoria Schwab books or The Queens of Innis Lear or The Poppy War or adult romances. Did you know I thought Red, White, and Royal BlueThe Kiss Quotient, and Ayesha at Last were all YA? But they’re not. They’re all adult. They’ve just been promoted so much in YA spheres that I assumed.

And that’s the thing–teens end up thinking these are teen books, but they’re not. They’re not going to represent us teens as much as they would adults. And although we can enjoy them, they’re still not really our books.

And a good solution would be to bring back New Adult without as much smut! But we all know publishing gave up on that. So back to the drawing board.

(Also, side note, it helps your book if you keep things current! No one uses numbers to text–like “B4 U go can U pick up the grapes? THX LOL” and most college apps are online, now.)

One last repercussion I want to talk about is how the prevalence of “adult YA” is close to eradicating lower YA. I talk about this sometimes, but I struggled a lot with transitioning from middle grade to YA.

I went through 2+ years where I didn’t read anything for pleasure, because I couldn’t find a YA book that appealed to me. I am always overjoyed, even as an older teen, when I find a lower YA book because I know it’s something I would have loved when I was 12-14.

We need lower YA and YA/MG mixes. Because without them, the world is losing so many readers in the span of a few years, just because all the books in the YA category are intimidating and seemingly for adults.

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In the end, I don’t have a good solution.

But I do know that we should all boost teen voices–and not just on the internet. Go ask teens in your life what they like to read. Try and support books that teens have said they loved, so they might get more books like it. Buy books that teens want to read for the teens in your life–not books you want to read.

You might think a trope is overdone, but it could be new and fresh and amazing for them, so don’t forget that.

And authors especially, don’t forget to try and include teens when you talk on social media–don’t forget that you’re not just working for your career, there’s also a teen who is going to pick up your book and we don’t want to leave them out.

You can host giveaways exclusively for teens! You can send review copies–to teens! There are so many ways to make sure teen voices–voices who YA is supposed to be for–are heard, so try, for the teens in this community.

much love, vicky

Let me know your thoughts on this! & what ways do you think we can support teen voices in the community?

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144 thoughts on “The Many Ways YA Books & The Community Isolates Teens

  1. I have to agree with you on this. I am a teen who reads quite a bit, and I have found over and over that what your pointed out is true. I have yet to read a YA book published in the last few years that has teen characters that act like teen characters. It is obvious when an author makes an effort at a true teen character, but their attempts always fall quite short. It is a rare luxury to be able to relate to the characters in a book I’m reading and often times, that turns me off of a book, regardless of the quality of the other aspects of that book. Thank you for putting in to words so well what I am sure a lot of teen readers are feeling/have felt about YA books.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this post. I read a lot of YA lit, but sometimes the characters and their situations feel more like it should be NA (the experiences) — I thought it was just me. As an author, I can now use your suggestions to make my characters better and engage more with my readers. As for showering your favourite authors with love: Goodreads is an excellent option to share your reviews.

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  3. Wow! This is so relevant to the conversations I’ve been having in so many bookish groups lately. It’s so obvious we need a New Adult section! It’s sad that books that are so obviously being written for adults are being marketed at teens. The water is muddy and needs a better filter.

    I completely agree with you about SOC. I started reading it and though I knew it was a YA book, I was convinced the characters were adults. Until it was said that Kaz was 17. I almost put the book down. It was so disingenuous. He did NOT act like a teen, at all! I didn’t stop. Instead, I decided to ignore the age the author gave them and see them as adults.

    FYI, I’m 36 and one of those adults the publishers are selling to. I love books written in the YA style but with more mature content. But they should not be shelved as YA and marketed specifically to teens. They need their own section. Thank you for speaking up about this. It’s a conversation worth having!

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  4. I totally agree with this. I remember when I was transitioning from MG to YA, *everything* in the YA section was far too adult for me. I wouldn’t read any of it. The result was that I read MG novels intended for 12-14 yo until I was about 17 because they were the only books I was comfortable reading content-wise; about then I discovered classics like Austen and that was the only way I advanced to books intended for older audiences. And this was about ten years ago now, and my understanding is YA books have only gotten more and more mature, which is sad.
    I would love to see more books targeting the 12-14 and 14-16 age ranges, because you’re absolutely right, that’s the age where a lot of readers lose interest in books (especially boys!) and if we’re going to lose readers, it shouldn’t be due to a lack of material!

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    1. Ahhh! I just put a recommendation post up, if you’d like to check it out, and I also have something in the works with a really cool org about sharing some of my most relatable reads!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was a teen book blogger (currently age 21) and pro-teen anti age-discrimination blogger until I retired that blog at age twenty. I often felt that the YA book community wasn’t YA-centric. Goodreads and Amazon are so full of adult voices. My biggest pet peeve is when YA high schools don’t feel anything like my own high school, especially with popularity. My graduating class was 625 people, how do characters at YA high schools even know enough people to know who’s popular and who isn’t? I didn’t know who my school’s quarterback was until my senior year of high school. And adult reviewers too often disrespect teenagers by calling them “angsty” for having emotions and complaining about legitimate problems and conflict.

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  6. Yes! As a teen reader, I completely agree. It’s hard being a younger teen — too old for MG, yet somehow too young for YA due to the older and more mature characters. There’s definitely an untapped market there.

    Some others ways I’ve found to support authors for free/without an Amazon account: follow/like/comment on their social media, leave reviews on Goodreads, recommend their books to friends who want recommendations, and search for their email list to join (then actually open and click all their emails! Those are important statistics!). Also, just sending authors emails about how much you love their books! Especially with less famous authors, I’ve noticed that they find it very encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! As an about-to-be-published YA author, this has made me think. I want to be in touch with teen readers for sure and am hoping to learn from all of you. We need to have formats to dialogue with one another (no, not in too-few Twitter words) so that excellence in teen lit–and reader expectations–can be met. #TheGirlWithChameleonEyes #March2019

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