In the last few years there have been a lot of stigmas surrounding young-adult novels. Among them, the most common seem to be:
1. Young-adult books are all the same
2. They’re all about love triangles
3. They teach bad morals
While some of these statements may have had merit at some point–the burst in popularity in vampires and love triangles surrounding Twilight, for example–the YA genre is not its stereotypes, and I’d like to prove this by addressing each one individually.
1. They’re all the same
Now, this is a statement that often comes from people who don’t actually read Young Adult books. They believe what they’ve heard–that every YA book has an abusive relationship or sparkling mystical creature.
Anyone who reads YA, however, knows this isn’t true.
There’s a vast variety of young-adult books, not just fantasy and supernatural. To put it in perspective, The Outsiders is young-adult.
That’s no dystopian novel, and it certainly doesn’t have vampires.
Sub genres range from realistic, horror, romance, fantasy, mystery, and beyond. So don’t mistake “I write YA” for “I write about mermaids in love.”
Though if you are looking for mermaids, you can no doubt find them. If you’ve thought of it, a YA author’s written it.
2. They’re about love triangles
There’s not much to debate with this sentence because it’s simply false.
Yes, there are young adult books with love triangles in them, but they’re actually few and far between when looking at the scope of all YA. As for someone who reviews young-adult books frequently, I can say that I’ve read exactly two young adult books with love triangles in them. Two. They were popular books, yes. But they do not represent YA as a whole. I’ve read several books with simple romances, or no romance at all (though, admittedly, that’s hard to come by).
All in all, give more books a chance, not just the popular ones. You’ll be surprised at the amount of books that can be found that have healthy friendships and no triangles or any other shape whatsoever.
3. They teach bad morals
And this is where the tide turns. So far, this post has been about defending YA. But this is not something that can be defended.
A lot of YA books don’t teach good morals. A lot of them emphasize bad habits, bad relationships, and bad priorities. Not all of them, of course–but a lot of them.
Young Adult: Its Importance and Issues
Young-adult is important because it is the genre teenagers read during the most impressionable years of their life. They look for relatable characters, for adventures that take them outside of their own troubles–for somewhere to belong. It is YA’s job to do these things–their duty.
Young-adult has become a formulaic mix of bad romances simply for the sake of romance, bad family relationships just because it advances the plot without having mommy around, among other typical key points that have somehow become seen as important to sell.
Yes, selling the book is important, and there is much to that. YA books have to be written and rewritten many times, over and over again, until it’s seen by agents, editors, and publishers as perfect. But be wary, authors, agents, editors, and publishers, of who your audience is. There are older women who read YA, yes–I could be considered one of them, to an extent–but mostly it’s teenagers looking for something they can relate to.
If a character they relate to makes a bad decision, and it’s not addressed as morally odd or wrong in the book itself, then the reader will think nothing of it; nothing of the main character dropping all other relationships for a romantic one, nothing of one of the main priorities always being a boy or romantic interest. Not that they can’t relate to these things, but not all teens can. And to be shown that romance is the most meaningful relationship one can have is detrimental to all other relationships.
YA is great and is beyond its stereotypes, but in its years it seems to have forgotten its importance. It’s forgotten the initial target audience; impressionable teenagers.
Teenagers care about romantic relationships, but that’s not the only type of relationship that they need to value, and that’s where young-adult steps in. Teenagers love reading about other characters with flaws they can relate to, but they need to be shown how to overcome them, and that’s where young-adult comes in.
Teenagers love adventures and thoughts of traveling the world, but need to realize that, though the world is grand, there’s no place like home and the people waiting there for them. That’s where young-adult comes in.
Already, YA has broken its barriers and stereotypes with its wide range of books and the recent call for #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #DiversityinYA, and there is no doubt that it will continue to do so.
More importance should be placed on characters of different backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and sexualities.
More importance should be placed on relationships that aren’t romantic, and more books need to show the difference between an abusive relationship and a healthy relationship in a stark, contrasting way.
Already the road of YA is heading towards the above.
All in all, give young-adult novels a chance. They are not their stereotypes, and there are many that are a thrill to read and guaranteed to become your favorite book.
And they’re getting better. YA authors are branching out and writing and demanding more of themselves and each other.
As authors of YA, we need to remember not only plots, characters, twists, editing, etc–but we need to remember who we were as teenagers, and the type of book we needed. Not necessarily wanted–but really needed. Characters who would have helped us, plots that would have urged us onto brighter paths in our darkest days.
Those are the kind of books that need to be written. Not stereotypes.
-M. H. Knecht