My name is Carrie. And I have issues with YA.

Hey everyone!

Every now and then I find myself needing a few days off between books so I don’t burn out. I have finally started a new book, but I’m not going to rush myself through it. I didn’t want to neglect the blog entirely though, so I thought I’d take the chance to talk about something that’s a bit of an elephant in the room for me:

I have issues with Young Adult.

This is something I’ve been struggling with for quite a while. I enjoy YA, there are plenty of books that I’ve found to be fun and entertaining reads. But genuinely good reads? Books that are so strong that I can recommend them whole-heartedly to any genre fan and not just YA fans? They are exceedingly rare, and for the most part I can count those series on one hand. Given how much I read, I don’t think that’s a good thing.

As far as I can see it, I have two major issues with YA.

The first is something that I’ve actually heard authors like Leigh Bardugo (who I love) praise about YA: the focus on romance. I admit: romance is really uncommon in adult fantasy literature, especially when you start looking at epic titles. I’ve read plenty of books where maybe there’s a fling, but full on romance? Not so much. Personally, it doesn’t bother me. I kind of feel like if there’s really some life-threatening crisis that you need to be attending to some light flirting in some downtime might be appropriate, but a full on love affair…not so much. On the other hand, I understand why people would want it there so I don’t inherently begrudge YA genre for having it. That said, too much of YA overly focuses on romance, often sacrificing plot or characterization in favor of pseudo-love-triangles. A really great example of this was Defy: The first 20% of the book set up an intriguing story. The last 30% of the book had some intriguing story and action. That 50% in the middle though was almost entirely wasted on the MC moping and pining about the Prince. Have your romance, but there needs to be balance and I don’t think there. Case in point, one of the most recently praised “fantasy” novels in YA was The Winner’s Curse. It was a beautifully written book, but it almost forgot how to fantasy. Change the real world say or Rome or other early empire and it wouldn’t fantasy at all. That’s a problem.

The second problem I have perhaps isn’t a problem, but more a reflection of the difference in what was available to read when I would have been of age to read YA and now. I started high school in 1995. By contrast, Potter mania really took off with the publishing of Goblet of Fire in 2000. YA really wasn’t a genre before Potter mania. If anything, it took both the success of Harry Potter and Twilight to cement YA as something viable, as a genre that could truly exist. Basically, what I’m saying is that YA didn’t exist when I was a young adult. At the time, YA was basically Sweet Valley High. There wasn’t much else out there. If you wanted to read fantasy, you did what I did: read adult. I read Laurell K. Hamliton before she grew popular enough to write poorly-written sex scenes. I read Tad Williams and Robert Jordan. I read Mercedes Lackey, Melanie Rawn and C.S. Friedman. I read a lot of wonderful, complex books because that’s what I had. They weren’t always the easiest books to read, but I preserved because they engaged me. YA today though? It’s simplified, almost dare I say, dumbed down? Genre YA tends to have fewer characters, simpler plots and sometimes simpler emotions.

A perfect author to look at this phenomena is Gail Carriger, who sets her YA series (Finishing School) in the same world as her adult series (Parasol Protectorate). The later book has a half-dozen major characters and some two-three storylines running at the same time. Finishing school really has maybe 2-3 and one storyline. It’s not a coincidence. And I think it’s a shame.

We should be challenging our young readers more. They can handle it. They deserve it. They deserve that same richness and depth and that I experienced when I had when I was a teen. Why can’t authors give them relatable characters while giving them deeper plots at the same time. I feel like it’s kind of selling to the lowest common denominator. Books like Cassie Claire’s Mortal Instruments series are pulp fiction at best, with questionable quality writing and yet are held up as amazing in the genre, even by other authors. It’s mind boggling, and kind of sad.

I think YA fills a very real need in the book industry, and anything that can get kids and teens to read is fantastic. But YA can do better. JK Rowling is proof that you can you write YA that is tremendously rich and not lose your audience.

I’m not giving up on YA. I don’t want to give up on YA. I’m going to keep looking for that great bit of YA fantasy that can appeal to everyone. I just wish that it didn’t feel like such a special thing to find.


8 thoughts on “My name is Carrie. And I have issues with YA.

  1. I agree that teens are tough enough for the job of reading stronger, more complex literature. I mean, how many kids discovered and fell i love with Tolkien in their teen years? Maybe this is pessimist of me, but I see the current trends as publishers trying to cash in on the YA explosion in the post-Potter and Hunger Games era. I could be way off base though. I haven’t read any YA material since the Potter series ended, with the exception of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, so I really don’t know what the genre looks like these days besides what I hear/see in the media.

    • Exactly. If we challenge them, they will rise to it. There just has to be some kind of better balance than what we have now. The first Hunger Games novel is actually a fantastic book. I’d be happy if there were more books that were equally as smart.

  2. I started High School in 1995 as well so I totally understand what you’re saying. There really wasn’t much available then that made reading compulsive (or cool). But, I think there are some amazing YA books out there that do challenge younger readers. Look at The Book Thief for example, or Laurie Halse Anderson’s books. They are beautifully written and not dumbed down at all. There is a lot of guff out there too, but then that’s true in any genre.

    I think the amount of YA books out there now is amazing, anything that gets young people reading is a winner for me. But yeah, they could definitely lay off the bad romances!

    Don’t give up, be strong! 🙂

    • The Book Thief is a lovely book, and I think there are some fantastic things going on in contemporary (Tease sounds amazing). My focus is really on fantasy though and I’m not going to give up 🙂 In something like this, I’d love to be proven wrong!

      • Ahh yeah, YA Fantasy is a tricky one….I really loved the Graceling Series and found the romance in that a total breath of fresh air, and Seraphina too, but you’re right, it’s quite slim pickings!

  3. The romance in Graceling didn’t bother me, I just didn’t think it was that original. I loved the concept and originality of Seraphina, but was disappointed at how quickly her self-loathing was kind of just hand-waved away at the ending.

    • Thank you! Authors like Leigh Bardugo give me hope that the genre can evolve, but publishers have to be more willing to go there and right now, I don’t think they are.

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