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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Idiotic Adults, and Other Problems with YA Literature

I love Young Adult literature as much as the next person, probably more than most, given my position, but because I spend so much time reading YA, I've come to identify some recurring and troubling problems. The following are, of course, generalities, and the presence of any of these elements in a book doesn't mean that I won't/don't like the story, but they do tend to grate on me. These are also things I've tried to avoid in my own writing, so if you think I am myself an offender, definitely call me out!

1) Idiotic Adults. This one can be found all over. It's present in almost every YA book I read, and it never ceases to bother me. YA books these days tend to have a cast of teenage characters who are inexplicably wiser than any of the adults in the stories. Adults in YA literature are idiots, worthless, and/or wicked. They never have the answers, and they tend to contribute to the problems. Now, I understand that YA authors are trying to reach out to their primary fan base - teenagers - by giving them wish-fulfillment stories in which the teenagers save the day, and I don't have a problem with teenagers saving the day. But I do have a problem with the consistent lack of adult leadership. It sends a message to young people that they don't need adults in their lives, that when they enter adulthood themselves, they'll be relegated to the ranks of stupid and senile, and that wisdom is attained by the age of 17. Not only are all of these things false, but they are potentially damaging to a teenager's psyche and to the families of which they are a part. A wise mentor - at least one - was a staple of older literature for good reason, and I'd like to see it return to modern YA lit. Let's send a message to young people that, yes, they do have great potential, and yes, they can do great things, but they should also follow in the footsteps of wiser adults who have gone before them.

As a side note on this issue, I find it difficult to suspend disbelief when the teenagers save the world/have all the answers sans the expertise of any adults.

2) Age-inappropriate romance. Oh, the throes of teenage romance! Is there anything more dramatic or angst inducing in a young person's life? I fully understand the depth of feeling and emotion that comes with teenage romances, and I do believe that teenagers can fall legitimately in love, but it's rare for a teenage romance to be fully mature - especially after only a few days, which we're constantly asked to accept in YA lit. Teenagers do behave differently in relationships than adults do, and there are some things that come only with age and maturity, but I think many YA authors forget this when writing their romantic pairings. I recently finished a book in which the two main characters are only 15 years old, yet the way the author describes their thought processes toward each other (including sexuality) is more akin to how two 30-year-olds would think about each other. The mental processes of the characters did not match their ages, and that leads me to the next issue...

3) Age-inappropriate characterization. Kids should act and think primarily like kids. And like it or not, teenagers are still kids! When I read a book where the characters are 13, I want them to think and act like 13-year-olds. And this should be different from how 15-year-olds think and act, which should be different from how 17-year-olds act, etc... In fact, each year of a teenager's life bring great changes - intellectually, physically, spiritually, and in maturity - and to not differentiate between the ages is sloppy writing and disingenuous to teenagers themselves. I think a reader ought to be able to accurately guess the ages of the characters without them actually being stated, yet I'm constantly surprised when reading YA. "Wait... this character is only 14? I thought she was 18!" I think sometimes authors just want to publish a YA book, but they don't really want to put the time and effort in to figuring out how teenagers act, think, and speak. So what I find over and over again are stories that contain adults parading around as teenagers.

4) The most specialist girls in the world! I don't have a problem, per se, with the trend toward spunky female protagonists in YA lit, and I can't be too critical of it, as I also have female protagonists, but it is getting a little... overdone. Female YA protagonists are beginning to look like cookie cutters of each other, and it's almost without fail that the stories hinge on these girls being the most specialist girls in the world. But how long will readers buy into this repeating storyline? Spunky teenage girl discovers she's the key to solving all of society's ills while teaming up with tragic, brooding, attractive male counterpart. I tried to avoid this cliche by making Darcy reliant on a cast of characters (and wise, adult mentors!), rather than finding all the answers within herself.

All right, these are just a few of mine, but this blog post is getting long, so I'll leave it at that. Agree with me? Disagree? What are some trends of YA lit that bother you?

1 comment:

  1. I tend to agree with your comments. I think writing YA carries a big responsibility and we can't encourage kids to disrespect adults. For one thing - it's mean. I like my main characters to have positive qualities, like kindness, and set an example. Sassy know-it-all kids just make me cringe reading and I don't like the book.

    Also, very true about acting age appropriate. Few authors have that down...because mainly the author can't imagine what it's like to be that age anymore. The author is mainly concerned about a best seller instead of being true to the character, and authenticity is a key to a best seller imo!