1. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    YA books

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Rei, Sep 1, 2008.

    In one of the other threads, someone made a comment on YA fiction that got me thinking:

    I write stories for teenagers, so my initial reaction is, "So if it's for teens, it can't be as good?" I hear comments like that all the time.
    Most teenagers, unless they have dyslexia or another issue that has delayed their ability to learn to read, have no problems reading adult books. The thing of it is, what is relevant to teenagers and what interests them is very different from what interests adults, so the books that would most interest teenagers are not the same ones that would interest most adults. There are also so many books for adults that are not "literary."

    Charles de Lint made an interesting observation when he was asked to put together a short story collegction to be marketed to teenagers. He wasn't sure what to do at first because he had never specifically written anything for a teenage audience before. On the other hand, he had lots of stories with teenagers as the main character. That got me thinking about the real difference between books for adults and teenagers. Unless you're writing for kids who are having trouble reading, the only difference that really matters is the age of the characters and the relevant issues.

    What are your thoughts on books for teenagers?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I think teenagers are definitely capable of reading at an adult level. I'm guessing most authors make YA novels have a teenage MC so that it's easier for the reader to relate. That may be one thing separating YA and adult novels. Another thing is subject matter. Adult books may have more violence, more explicit scenes than a YA novel.

    On the topic of "literary": I believe really good literature does not have a specific target audience. There are novels where the characters are teenagers, and yet that book would be hard for the average adult. Similarly, there are novels with adult MCs which can easily be read and understood by YAs and are considered literary.
     
  3. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my opinion, it should be the only thing that separates them. Teenagers like stories that are easily relateable. But the point isn't really about the age of the character, it's the quality of the writing. I admit this is an educated guess from what I have read, but it seems like some authors (or publishers) feel that they have to completely change their approach or lower the level of skill they use just because the audience is younger.

    As for having explicite scenes or violence, check out Judy Bloom's novel Forever or the book Generals Die in Bed. That second one was written by a soldier who fought in WW1 when he was eighteen. That was back before publishers marketed books specifically to teens, as far as I am aware, but the last time it was reprinted, it was by a publisher that has never published adult novels.
     
  4. Palimpsest
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    Palimpsest Senior Member

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    I think if you start out with the idea that it's going to be "for" a certain group of people, it's as limiting as writing for a genre-- they'll expect you to keep to a formula, and those who don't like that formula really won't like that formula.

    Just write the story, and figure out how to sell it after.

    This coming from someone who hasn't actually sold anything, but, hey, Rowling supposedly "didn't even realize that she was writing fantasy until after her first book was published" and she lives in a castle. Then again the cover art was changed to accommodate both children and adults-- so maybe the parallel between age and genre fall apart there, with ageism winning.

    Would anyone dare to say that The Catcher in the Rye wasn't bad until it became popular among teens?

    It might really be the style, the concerns, and characters allocated to that blocked-out "level"... but I must consider that it might also be snobbery:

    "Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being an adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
    -- C.S. Lewis

    ... couldn't describe it much better than he did.
     
  5. ciavyn
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    ciavyn Senior Member

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    Rei - I did not word that very well, and I apologize. I am not suggesting that teenagers cannot read adult books. I was an avid reader as a pre-teen and teenager - even more so now as an adult. And I read from all genres, all age levels (I have two children). However, here is what I've noticed about some of the teenage literature written today: it seems to be dumbed down a bit. Now, I read (or avoid reading) just as much women's fiction that follows the same dumbed-down formula, so it is certainly not limited to YA literature. And I cannot speak to older YA books, as I have not read them. I would argue that many of the books on the shelf that I read the first few pages and think, where the heck was the editor?! That is how I feel towards Meyer's writing, and honestly, towards the better portion of Rowlings writings, though I am definitely a fan of both for their storytelling.

    I did not mean to malign YA books as a genre, as I frequently browse that shelf for good reading. I feel like the standards have been lowered, when it comes to certain genres, though I can't figure out why. You'd think in a society that is so big on literacy that challenging young readers with good writing would be the goal.
     
  6. Palimpsest
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    Palimpsest Senior Member

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    Anyone read anything by Megan McCafferty? :D *prods blog*
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Palimpsest, I should have said, If publishers say its for. Though there are authors who do have that problem, too.

    I think it's the way we're focused on literacy that is the problem. We're noticing learning disabilities more because we understand them now and more kids are staying in school longer. It's all about getting people up to an acceptible level so that they can get a job rather than enjoying reading in the way that people like us do. There are publishers out there who that have series specifically for teenagers who don't read very well. Even then, some of the ones who don't seem to forget that most teenagers don't have that problem.

    That's what I love about Charles de Lint. He writes in a way that is very literary but is also very accessible. He has characters who are as young as fourteen or as old as forty. It's his agent and editors who decide how it should be marketed, but he's also been picked up by an imprint of Penguin that reprints books that they think fit just as much in the adult section as they do in the youth sections.
     
  8. Palimpsest
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    Palimpsest Senior Member

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    Hmm... Charles de Lint. Will remember that.
     
  9. Kylie
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    Kylie Contributing Member

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    I'm a teenager and as a reader of both YA and adult novels :), I think that the biggest difference is the MC's age. In YA novels, the MC is usually a teenager. In adult novels, the MC is usually an adult. (And in Children's books, the MC is usually a child.) People like reading books that relate to them. If I was 7 years old, would I want to read a story about a 72 year old grandma who is enjoying retirement? Of course not!

    A lot of adult books are not any harder to read than YA books are. I think people say:
    Because they aren't interested in books that don't relate to them. Or they don't like teenagers and dislike anything that has anything to do with teenagers.
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    A MC of the same age as the reader doesn't necessarily mean it's a YA book or a children's book. I think the subject matter and theme are also very important in determining what type of book it is. The MC of To Kill A Mockingbird is a young girl, but I doubt a young girl would be able to get the full meaning out of the theme. I think themes are more important in separating YA and adult novels than the MC. But, I would say the age of the MC is second.
     
  11. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've never read To Kill a Mocking Bird, but I am a teaching assistant and I can tell you that kids understand a lot more than we give them credit for. Its not like we're talking about little kids right now, anyway. We're talking about high school students.
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, but my point was that the MC in TKAM is a young girl around 6 or 7 years old. No 6 or 7 year old is going to understand racism perfectly when they read TKAM.
     
  13. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    They certainly can understand it if you use the right language. But again, we're talking about teenagers, not elementary school kids.
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Rei, I think you misunderstood me. I was talking about age similarities between the MC and the reader. You were saying that the only thing that separates YA from adult books is the age of the MC. I disagreed, saying that themes are more important in the distinction between YA and adult novels.
     
  15. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I get what you were talking about. But again, we're talking about teenagers, not six-year-olds. There's also a difference between "The age of the mc says who it's for" and "The main character should be about the same age as the audience"
     
  16. ciavyn
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    ciavyn Senior Member

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    Rei - I took your advice and borrowed both a Charles de Lint and a Nancy Springer Book (The Blue Girl & I am Mordred, respectively). I also had borrowed a couple of other paranormal fiction from the YA section. My general observations are that while de Lint and Springer do write at a higher level of reading, the other paranormal fiction that I borrowed (I can't think of the names - one was something like, Atwater-Rhodes) felt like I was reading the Sweet Valley High series. I do think you can find similar annoyances in so-called adult books, but it seems that I still find them more in YA books. I suppose it is because they think young people are less demanding? More likely to spend money before reading the first page? I don't know.

    My other observation: Even with de Lint's writing, there is a significant difference when you have a teen MC, which I think often also makes it more relatable to teens and less so for adults. The brain in our teenage years has not developed all its parts, if you will, and, (I read this study) in young men, they have not developed fully the parts of the brain that control impulsive behavior. So as I am reading some (note: some) of the YA books, I find myself shaking my head at the craziness of their behavior. I also noticed that the plots of several (again, can't remember the author) were incredibly farfetched, with no real rhyme or reason to it. They pushed the line of fantasy to idiocy, in my opinion. That does not, however, need to have anything to do with the writing.

    So just thought I would share my recent personal forray into this topic. Thank you for the food for thought.

    Aside: I really enjoy Charles de Lint's style. Thanks for the suggestion. I'm not a fan of medieval literature, so I'm not much into the Nancy Springer book I got. But she definitely had a different style, much more "literary" ;) than the other books I got to compare it to.
     
  17. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    I have a big problem with YA books.
    I don't relate to any of the characters YA books provide.
    And from what I read of YA books I feel like it is dumb down. I think that YA books are perfect for any teenage my age because most students aren't interested in reading.
    In my school half of the students don't want to read.
    They only read when they have to.
    And with this information I think YA books are overrated, to easy to read, and I can't relate to any of the characters.
     
  18. Crazy Ivan
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    Crazy Ivan Contributing Member

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    With this information, I think you're reading the wrong books.
     
  19. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    I read books that only appeal to me.
    Sadly all the characters in YA books are female.
    I have never been able to relate to female characters.
    A lot of them are either the type who don't like to get along, the outcast, or some stupid normal girl.
    I read the back and when it says "she" has to save the world. I'm ultimately disgusted and turned off by the book.
     
  20. aphonos
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    aphonos Member

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    So basically what you are saying is you don't like female protagonists, then? There are a lot of YA books with male protagonists out there. I'm not saying they are all good; I'm just saying that a personal dislike of female protagonists is not a valid reason to condemn an entire genre.

    Now I ramble from the POV of someone who worked in a big box bookstore for a few years, so feel free to skip the flood of verbiage that follows this sentence.


    I myself am conflicted regarding the YA "genre." On the whole, I don't like that it exists in the first place; some very good books get stuck there because of the age of the protagonist. The Monster Blood Tattoo series by D. M. Cornish comes to mind, as does Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Charles De Lint gets stuck in there from time to time (The Blue Girl specifically) and so did China MiƩville's Un Lun Dun. Many of the titles there straddle the line between "adult" sci-fi/literature/romance and children's lit; it seems to be a marketing decision. (Not to mention the classics that are repackaged and relabeled as "YA lit.")

    Making that decision is both good and bad. It's useful because it serves as a bridge between Harry Potter-level books and "adult" fiction; it keeps kids interested as they mature. When I worked at a bookstore I also found it a lot easier to recommend books that I personally knew were good for when confused parents asked for "good books" for their high school sons and daughters. I was able to take them to the YA section and pull out three or four books quickly, as well as point to other authors, and the parents were less intimidated. Most parents generally believe YA books are 1). appropriate, and 2). better able to "connect" to their children. Unfortunately, these same parents would refuse recommendations of similar books from the adult section of the store (I attempted to recommend Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams for older fans of the Warriors series, but more often than not the parents were against it because of the section it was shelved in).

    I've also run into situations where I was introduced to a book at an "adult" reading level, only to discover that it's been reclassified as "young adult." This is almost always because of the age of the protagonist. The biggest (recent) example? Phillip Pullman's Golden Compass trilogy. I first encountered it in the adult SF/F section of a library, and I felt that was an appropriate classification. According to Wikipedia, though, it was marketed as a YA book. This I could also see, due to the age of the protagonist. The bookstore I worked in sold it in three different sections - adult SF/F, YA, and "Independent Reader," which is where Rowling, Riordan, and McHale lurk. (It probably doesn't help that I read the UK version, though; apparently Lyra's sexuality isn't really quite so obvious in the US version? Not that it's relevant.)

    I've lost track of where I was going, but allow me to reiterate my original point - in my experience, the YA genre is sort of a catch-all based on accessibility and profit. There are some gems, and there's some bad stuff, and then there's some awesomely bad stuff that brings the lulz hardcore.
     
  21. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even though I am an official nerdfighter, I will not diss you for this comment. :p

    Looking over the library books I've borrowed in the last year and enjoyed, here are the ones in which a guy was the main character:

    An Abundance of Katherines / Looking for Alaska - John Green :cool:
    Candy - Kevin Brooks
    Slam - Nick Hornby
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

    Oh, and I can't forget Ender Wiggin from Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

    ----

    And about the topic of YA novels, I think the main difference is the MC, but as a consequence of the MC, the theme ends up being teen-related; so that might really be what is turning off some adults to YA fiction.
     
  22. aphonos
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    aphonos Member

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    Oh, and Chbosky! I forgot about him. He's also one of those dual-section authors (though at my store he was considered more fiction/lit than YA).
     
  23. ciavyn
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    ciavyn Senior Member

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    Leaka - I have noticed that as well. Most books are written towards female readers (or at least it seems that way). I have a hard time finding books for my 11 year old boy.
     
  24. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    I don't just dis it because it has a girl protagonist, the books aren't for me at all.
    I can read them in a day and I don't feel like I am being challenged.
    I find them to quick, a little boring because either their are no plot twist, there is a plot twist and you expected it to be that way and so its an obvious twist, or the twist is so weak you wonder why it was even put into the book.

    I also don't like them because the characters make you want to hit you head. You constantly have to ask them why are you doing it that way, why didn't you do the smarter way, why are you going that way, why does anyone have to help you they don't need to help you, and so on and so on.

    I find that a lot of the characters are dumb and you constantly have to yell at the character, the plot twist are so obvious, and they aren't challenging me.
     
  25. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    The books I listed with male protagonists are almost all contemporary realism, and I agree that they're easy to read and they're short enough that you can complete them in a few hours. Maybe the issue is primarily that you don't like realism stuff.

    How about YA stuff that's fantasy? Harry Potter, Golden Compass, Life of Pi...

    Or YA stuff that's more general fiction like I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith?

    Have you read any of those books? You might not be able to totally relate to the MCs, but they're clever, enchanting stories that fall in the YA genre and have crossover appeal because they are so good.
     

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