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The Construct of Age in YA

Funny story, this has been bugging me for about six months, but I still haven’t found the words to say it. I also lost all my notes on the matter, but Vicky Who Reads just released a post that inspired me to say what needed to be said for a while.

YA is for teens.

Point blank. But somehow it’s gotten lost along the way. Sure, I’m an adult who reads YA (and this post is said through that lens, so I could be getting it all wrong) but even I have been questioning some of the releases recently that are pegged as YA (Ahem, Sarah J Maas). I didn’t read as a teen, because I didn’t find a character I connected with, and I fear the same fate for so many teenagers now.

Why is YA important? Why does audience matter?

Well, why do you have breakfast in the morning? (I promise I’m not always this snarky, but I’m very passionate about this) To fuel up, to grow, to get nutrients. Can’t the same be said of the stories we read? As a teenager reading is both escapism and a tool, a means to know one is not alone, that there is hope, that life will somehow not be so awkward. That’s the cringe-worthy moments in YA, because guess what? Teens don’t have all the answers, they don’t always make good or wise decisions, they shouldn’t have the world on their shoulders and be perfectly equipped to handle it.

In fact, I would encourage them to mess up, to stumble, to grow from experience; because that makes them wiser, stronger, more adept to handle what life throws their way. And sometimes I feel the YA books get that wrong. Sure, no one wants to read realism about life that is boring or sad or doesn’t have a happy ending, but we do need realistic ideals, realistic portrayals that remind us that life does happen.

Teens need the space to be teens, to make mistakes, to grow and learn, to escape with characters that reflect them. That’s why I feel so passionate when this topic is brought up. People grow and mature at different rates, so it is unfair to only publish older YA (16-17+), I can’t remember the last younger YA book I read — and I am ashamed of that. If you have any recs- please comment. So what can I do? As an adult, and as a blogger? I can think as I read if this is an accurate portrayal of a YA (13-17~) character, does it relate to teens and their experience, or even more pointed— would I give this book to a teen or an adult who reads YA. Like Vicky said- none of us have the answer to fix this, but you can support Teen bloggers and reviewers. That is the most powerful change we can affect.

Next post I want to explore New Adult, because that is the second prong of this debate, and how publishing needs to realize that it IS a viable market because a huge part of the YA audience is aging out (Just look at me for an example, and other 20’s bloggers who still read/love YA) and has nowhere to go. Hence this entire debate about older YA. Special thanks to Vicky for being an incredible person and putting this out there, your voice deserves to be heard.

Until next time,

The Literary Empress


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