Newsflash: YA books aren’t written for an adult audience.
I know, shocking. Especially because an adult is writing this..
I love reading YA because I feel it’s such a period of hope and possibility for protagonists. I’m also a big fan of not having a bunch of graphic sex scenes, which can be rampant in adult fantasy. Since fantasy is my favorite genre (give me all the dragons and magic) I choose to put up with the love triangles and cheesy crushes over seduction and sweaty bodies. Thanks, no thanks.
This means that I have to be really careful when it comes to talking about and rating YA books.
Too often in the community, I see people complaining about things like childish behaviors, unrealistic romances, and unrelatable protagonists (this is a whole post on its own). Almost always, these people are adults reading YA. In response to this, there are quite a few books that are “considered YA” but feel too old or too mature for the genre. Books like The Night Circus, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and A Court of Thorns and Roses all are all discussed as YA, but they are most certainly not. And in general, protagonists are getting older.
The problem with adults being critical about YA is that they are twisting it away from its intended audience. Young adult fiction is written for readers between the ages of 12 and 18. If people under the age of 18 find these books too complex, unrelatable, or unrealistic, then we have a problem. Many adults are twisting the shape of YA when really, we need to be looking at the New Adult genre and shaping that into something more than erotic romance. Or challenging the adult genre to be more inclusive, imaginative, and just a little magical.
Another problem we face when adults “age up” YA protagonists is that unrealistic expectations are being set for younger readers. From the shapes of their bodies to the number of their love interests to their expectations of success and stardom in their individual environments, all of these things can have a toxic impression. Like the Disney Effect, these unrealistic expectations set up readers for disappointment, disillusionment, and depression based on characters that say they’re 18 but present as 27.
While I continue to read YA books, I need to constantly challenge myself on the way I discuss and rate them, keeping the intended audience in mind. This is easier for me to do with childrens and middle grade books, but I constantly strive to be better in my discussions about YA. While it’s okay to read books out of our age range and to love or hate them, we need to be mindful that adults don’t get the final say on what is good and bad in a YA protagonist, romance, or story.
With all this in mind, I find it hopeful to recall that two decades ago, YA and MG books were all classified as childrens… so there’s hope yet for the target age genres to become more granular and varied. I have hope, so much hope, for the New Adult genre.
Do you ever find yourself being overly critical of books intended for a different audience than you? What do you to to look at the books differently? Would you prefer they be more relatable or do you generally just pick up a different book? Let me know in the comments!