There’s a lot of discussion on who YA books are for and whether or not adults have taken over the classification of young adult and demand it to be something that it’s not. This is a bigger topic that I only have an opinion on it and other people have different ones, which is the point of opinions. My two cents, whether wanted or not, are coming at you right now.
The readership of YA is in parts teens and other parts adults and primarily adult women. Twitter and other social media also play a big role in who is interacting with authors, imprints, and stories. I know on YouTube where I watch a lot of videos about books, people complain about YA books with characters acting immaturely and doing “unrealistic” things. They chastise them for not speaking to an adult or going to the police. They complain about making bad choices and not talking things out or thinking responsibly. And to all of that I say, “They’re teenagers.” Teenagers, as I know from experience, make dumb decisions. They don’t reach out for help because they’re in this phase in life where they are trying to have more agency and control over their own lives and that means they don’t reach out for help when they need it. They feel like they can handle it themselves.
I also hear people complaining when characters in YA books act too mature. I know John Green has gotten a lot of flack for how he writes his characters. But one would think, since these readers seem to hate immature characters that they would love his, but no, they are also unrealistic and therefor unappealing to read. It makes me wonder exactly how they think teenagers act and what actually makes a story. I majored in Acting and took many classes on how stories are made and how characters behave, and I can tell you, a story where the character makes the best, right decisions every time, is Boring.
If YA is unappealing because of how the characters behave and you don’t like that they don’t make obvious good choice to you, an adult, who has years of experience has both a teenager and an adult and has therefor made all the bad choices and mistakes of youth and have learned from them, then maybe you should move on from YA. But if you think miscommunication, bad decisions, and flawed characters are going to disappear in adult literature… honey, you’ve got a big storm coming. Adults are just as “messy” as kids, but with even bigger stakes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read an adult novel and have gone “WHAT ARE YOU DOING????” because a character makes an obviously bad choice or acts in an immature way. And when it is an adult character, I think there is room to comment on this behavior and not like it because they have had the years of experience to know to make better choices. However, there is a difference between finding a character annoying and insufferable for their behavior, and their behavior being a necessity for the story.
I think we can all agree that Romeo and Juliet didn’t necessarily make the right choices in their story. But if they did, there wouldn’t be a story to tell. The point of Romeo and Juliet is that good intentions don’t mean happy endings. (OK that is not the whole point, but it is a part of it). If Romeo and Juliet made sound, mature decisions, if they were careful and cautious, if they took their time when faced with unfortunate circumstances, yeah maybe they would have lived, gotten married, and ran away to safety to live with each other for the rest of their lives. But then we wouldn’t have the epic tragedy that is Romeo and Juliet. If you want to write a retelling where they do, then write it, but don’t say something is bad just because it didn’t end how you wanted it to, or because someone with less experience made a different choice than you would.
Essentially, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have perfectly mature and wise teenagers (which is unrealistic) and drama. Drama takes place when people have different goals, when people are faced with an unknown obstacle, and when power and control are being taken away. If you don’t have any of that, you don’t have a good story and then you’ll be complaining about that. Let teenagers be teenagers. Let them make mistakes and do things the wrong way. Let them lie and keep secrets. Let them betray their friends for love because they don’t realize how important their friends are. Let them say things that they shouldn’t say, let them ignore responsibilities because they don’t know yet how badly that can hurt them. Let them be kids.
So back to twitter and social media. With the publishers and authors only interacting with an older aged audience, their feedback is going to only represent that audience. So publishers and authors start tailoring their books to better work with that audience so it is more well received and gets more praise from that group. Well what about the kids these books are actually meant for? What if these characters are no longer relatable because they are made to appease adults in their 20s and 30s? That would be such a shame. Reading is so important for young kids and to make something that is supposed to be for them about someone else, is sad. I think there is a reality check happening in the YA book community and I think that’s great. It’s time we realize how our actions as adults affect the YA book industry.