Thursday, August 13, 2015

What Do Teens Want to Read?

by Katy White

Like Kasey, I've recently read a lot of "YA Cliches to Avoid" lists, along with articles about upcoming trends in young adult literature. The lists have been mostly frustrating, frequently patronizing, and even misogynistic, including things like "immature teens" and "female protagonists." Because being your age or gender is, like, so totally cliche. Ugh.

One article that I refuse to link to, so as not to give the site any more traffic, was more disturbing than any I've read yet. It talked about teen sexuality and how (I hate that I'm even typing this) threesomes are the hottest trend in YA. The article explains that most teens aren't sexually active until around seventeen, and then the author has quotes from parents saying that allowing teens to read about such experiences helps them figure out their own identities and prepare for future experiences. (Like, you know, threesomes. Every parent's dream for their children.) This kind of reading, the article says, expands the mind and challenges preconceptions.

You guys.



Worse still, the article stated that since teen books have become sexier, sales are up. Never mind the fact that 78% of young adult books are read by adults, so this arguably reflects the fact that adults are looking for sexier books about younger demographics (which I find disturbing). This is what teens want, guys. Obviously.

Except that I then read a great post from a *gasp* Real Live Teen! who responded to this article by saying that adults need to stop telling teens what they want and, instead, listen to teens.

All of this makes me wonder: who on earth are we writing for? And who should we write for?

I look at the world through religious lenses, so naturally, I want books to be uplifting and/or hopeful and/or to show growth and perseverance (and I want some that are flat out fun and swoony and enjoyable). I want books that my daughter can someday read and talk to me about, books that will help her see the world through someone else's eyes and help her become more empathetic. I include in this books like Eleanor & Park (which I desperately love for older teens and for myself), in spite of the pervasive language and probably because of the very mature, sad, realistic struggles of both protagonists. It's real and the characters make hard choices and worry about hard things, and all of these things are just so very teen.

An authentic YA book shouldn't appeal to a readership comprised of nearly four times more adults than teens, because 78% of adults aren't worrying about grades, college/future, moving out, falling in love for the first time, wishing that a first love could be a forever love, no matter how ridiculously unlikely that is, or having fights with their parents and siblings, however well meaning they are.

Before writing teen books, maybe we should actually talk to teens. Maybe we should have YA critique partners and beta readers. Maybe, just maybe, if we do that, we can write books that resonate with more teens than adults. Maybe we can expand minds and challenge preconceptions in a way that actually matters.

What do you think about teen books and trends? Sound off below!


  1. YES!!! A huge, HUGE problem I have with a lot of the critical responses to books, for example, Twilight, is that they don't like the "mopey teenage girl protagonist" or the "obsessive relationship"---two things that, face it, teens are ALL about. I remember when I was a teenager in love, and was rejected, and months flying by without me emerging from my cranky, depressive cocoon----that was totally me! I've always said that if ADULTS have a problem with TEENAGERS in the TEENAGED books, maybe they should read GROWN UP books instead, and stop putting their adult expectations onto the teenaged characters of these books. Yeah for someone who agrees with me!!

    Oh. And UBER creepy to think about the sexualization of YA, because adults just want their trash to be easier to read. Like all those 40 year old women with "Mrs. Cullen" or "Team Jacob" bumper stickers and t-shirts.... blerg.

    1. I totally agree--if you get sick of teens being teens, read about adults being adults. It's as simple as that!

  2. I agree completely with you and Leann- funny how you (Katy) and I had our minds on the same thing this week!

    I think the main thing we need to ask is: Why are adults reading YA? I really hope your creepy theory isn't true, or that maybe people really DO forget that they're reading about teenagers. Personally, the reason I read YA is 1. I write YA. 2. I prefer the cleaner (safer) content. 3. Being a teenager was a fun, intense, exciting time in my life and it's fun to escape back to that and remember what it was like.

    I also like that just the very nature of being a teen puts the MC at a crossroads- every new school year or summer feels like a big change, not to mention the huge leap to college.

    That's my two cents!

  3. Ugh. I read on Twitter some agents talking about getting queries for YA erotica, which is was (thankfully) disturbing to them. I just feel like YA books can be steamy and swoony and have all the thrills of first love without crossing a line or making things seem normal when they are in no way normal.

  4. Yes, yes, yes. I'm so glad to hear those agents were disturbed, too. Young adult isn't a trend, or something that needs to get hotter to sell books. It just needs to be real and resonate with its readership.and if there's kissing involved, all the better! ;-)



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