I realize the hypocrisy in writing this post.
I am a 30 y/o who reads mostly YA books, and yes, I do dig into the characters. I am imperfect. But I am trying to stop myself – I am trying to be better. Because an accurate teen experience should exist in YA books. It’s something I think about on-and-off, particularly when I find myself feeling like characters are young. And we need to talk about it.
Teens should be allowed to be young. To be immature. To be emotional and dramatic. To be teens.
A lot of YA books have teen characters who act like adults. They rarely go to school because that doesn’t fit into the plot. They all drive, side-step their parents and curfews without consequence, and respond with an excess of maturity to crazy situations. And yes, teens could do all these things. But this shouldn’t necessarily be the norm. It creates unrealistic expectations for the target audience.
And, of course, part of the problem with this is that adults are reading YA novels and calling the MCs childish if they act, well, like kids. Not necessarily little kids, but just having aspects of perceived immaturity. This is a problem perpetuated throughout the entertainment industry, with a heavy side-eye to film and TV where adults almost always play teens. Stranger Things is a standout example of how kids can be kids and teens can be teens and still have a decent story. And adults can still enjoy the story without changing it.
In books, you’ve got CAPSLOCK!Harry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix putting his feelings all over the place. You’ve got the unpredictable, irrational behavior of the characters in Neal Schusterman’s Full Tilt proving that you can still have a great story without upping the maturity of your characters. Jennifer De Leon’s Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is another excellent, diverse example of teens… being teens.
As a reader, I want to be more conscientious about calling out characters in books for being young, and watching more carefully for an environment that behaves more the way it would in the real world – with students actually going to classes and having hopeless crushes and being mad without being perfect. As an adult, I need to understand that YA books are not written for me. There are so many things in YA lit that aren’t in adult lit and need to be, so many reasons to read YA, but at the end of the day, these books are intended for a teen audience and that audience should be able to see themselves in the story.
Lets normalize YA books where YA readers see themselves, instead of adult-behaving characters in adult situations… who just happen to be seniors in high school. And lets normalize reviews that celebrate teens instead of casting them down as immature.
Do you have examples where you feel the characters really acted like teens? Do you feel this is a non-issue? Do you ever find yourself calling a character “immature” and stopping yourself? Let me know in the comments!