YA Fiction: Who Is It For, Really?

I read a TON of teen fiction. I’m passionate about a well-told story that can teach a student more than I could ever hope to, like Divergent’s Tris in her sacrificial determination to save those around her, or The Giver’s Jonas in his refusal to sit back and let immorality rule, or The Outsiders’ Ponyboy in his effort to “Stay Gold.”

Fiction can be so powerful, and there’s nothing I love more as a teacher than seeing a student really connect with and learn from a character.

However, I’m noticing an alarming trend in YA fiction. More and more, I’ll get an advance copy of a book and wonder, as I start reading, WHO is this actually written for?

Shouldn’t that answer automatically be young adults? Teenagers? After all, that IS what YA stands for – Young. Adult. Now, though, it seems like there are tons of YA titles being published that are written FOR adults, though the characters happen to be teenagers.

What’s the difference? In books written for adults, there’s a feeling like the characters can do whatever they want because it’s all made up anyway, so the natural consequences of the world don’t matter. It’s like that creepy mom who tries to live vicariously through her popular daughter, sending her off to unchaperoned parties and indulging her every whim. It’s grown-ups trying to go back and live their teenage years the way they wish they could have spent them, without worrying about what will happen as a result. This is really disturbing.

While a fictional story is made up and can be a place to explore all kinds of dreams and hopes and wishes, however impossible they may be in real life, it’s also necessary to recognize choices that lead to heartbreak and rough adulthoods. As much as we might wish we could go back and have the party-filled, alcohol and vulgarity laced, sex and excitement ruled high school and college experience, there’s a reason we didn’t have that in the beginning: It’s. Not. Good. For. You.

And really, as authors, we have a responsibility to our readers. The best interests of teenagers should be at the forefront of our minds while we write. There should be some value to the reading experience – something to take away from it. That’s what I love about YA fiction; it’s a powerful avenue for teaching truths through the experiences of a fictional character.

On this site, I only highlight books that I feel are worthy of teens. The books I’d like to see my students reading. Otherwise, how can I call myself a teacher and a writer for young people?

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