Oh, hi, just me with another discussion post!
I feel like I haven’t written a proper discussion in a long time!! (Whether or not I actually have is besides the point, it’s been established that I have a terrible memory.) I just keep drafting different ones and then ditching them when I lose my steam.
But this topic is something I’ve been seeing around in the book community for a while now, mainly in different reviews of different YA books, and if you couldn’t read the title, the topic is: the hypocrisy when it comes to the “realistic” portrayal of teens in YA.
I wanted to talk about it today because 1) I just felt like I finally had the right words to say everything I wanted to, 2) it’s something I’ve seen for some time now and wanted to finally bring up, and 3) while it’s terribly hypocritical, it’s also somewhat interesting. (At least to me!!) I also feel like I can offer some unique perspective on it, seeing as I’m both a teen and a reader of YA myself!
For a while now, I’ve noticed this glaring hypocrisy when it comes to teenagers in young adult fiction, where it seems like they can never satisfy adult readers. They act one way and get criticized, and then they act the opposite way and get criticized as well, all under the excuse of not being “realistic” teenagers.
(Funny how the adults, people who aren’t YA’s target audience, are the ones criticizing the teens that YA is supposed to be written for, but that’s a discussion for another day!)
One common complaint I see in reviews of YA books (and very often more about female characters than male characters, might I add, but that’s yet again a discussion for another day) is that the protagonist acts too immature or like “too much of a teenager”. It’s hilarious to me that I see “[character] is a teenager” written as a complaint in reviews of YA books because… that’s who the book is about, my dude!! It’s about teenagers!!!
And how do you even act like “too much of a teen”? What does that even mean?? I don’t understand it, especially because there is no one way to be a teen because every single teenager has different experiences and different lives!! It also just tells me that you are attributing certain characteristics to teens in real life that you don’t like, so when you see them in reflected in fiction, you’re annoyed and irritated by them. And if you’re annoyed by a teen literally existing, then you shouldn’t be reading YA.
And then on the other hand, there are people saying that some characters are not realistically teenagers and that there is no way that they can be mature enough to handle certain things or are smart enough to do x thing. For this complaint, there IS some certain validity to it, because there are authors who are actually unable to write realistic teens/teen experiences.
But those books aside, it’s incredibly demeaning to assume that teenage characters can’t handle or aren’t clever enough to do certain things, just because they’re teenagers. I know so many teens who are intelligent and mature (I like to think I’m maybe at least half of those qualities). And the amount of times I’ve seen this said about marginalized characters who have been forced to mature and grow up more quickly because of their oppression? I hate to say it, but yikes!!!
There are definitely a lot of valid criticisms of the way that teens are written in certain books! Like I said before, some authors truly don’t know how to write teens realistically, and that’s an issue when you’re writing a book about and for teens. And I’m not saying that being an adult means you automatically don’t know anything about teens either. Opinions are subjective! I get it!!
But I think there’s a difference between calling out the entire character as a teenager, versus calling out the aspects of the character that contribute to how realistic they are as a teen. For example, I wrote in a review that I thought a 15 year old character’s writing in his letters were too pretentious to be realistically representative of modern teens’ writing, but I didn’t criticize his character as a realistic teenager.
It may seem very minor, but these tiny distinctions are important in differentiating between critically analyzing the way the author wrote the character, and just griping about the character. (At least to me, a nerd who likes to analyze literature, it is!)
And also, probably the biggest part, I just really hate that these hypocritical expectations are forced upon teenage characters in YA by adult readers (and even some teens themselves!), because it perpetuates—and is reflective of—the same kind of attitude towards teens in real life. If teenage characters aren’t allowed to be “too teen” or “too adult” in teen books without people complaining about how “unrealistic” that is, then what’s to say about teenagers in the real world?
These things people say about fictional characters don’t just go into the void; fiction—and literature as a whole—do not exist on their own. You give responsibilities to teens and expect us to act like adults, but then you say we don’t understand the “real world” or that there are things we won’t understand until we’re older, wiser. You say we are lucky that we are still young children who don’t have to face the horrors of adult life, but then you punish us for allowing ourselves to be immature and have fun for a few moments.
And this is the more petty side of me coming out, but also, so what if it’s a bit unrealistic that a few teens overthrow an entire all-powerful government? So what if it’s a bit unrealistic that a teen creates an entire wildly popular gaming world? It’s nice to have some hope in the books we read when our world is so bleak, and being a teenager is when we start to lose a lot of hope. YA is for everyone to read but first and foremost written for teens! Let us hope!! Please.
Even though I think this is a bit more organized than my discussion posts usually are, I still feel like it’s a bit of a mess. But I just really want to question the way people talk about teens in YA fiction, and especially try to look at how that affects (and is affected by) attitudes towards teens in real life. I feel like so many readers look down upon teen characters for… being teens… in books that are written specifically for teens, and I just wanted to open up a bit of discussion about that!!
Thanks for reading and listening listening, you’re all the best and I hope you’re having a lovely day <33 It’s currently 11pm as I write this so yeah I’m tired and feeling sappy deal with it!!
* This is something I didn’t focus on in my post, but I also think looking at how what a “realistic teen” is differs in various genres (like contemporary vs. fantasy) is also interesting. (For example, all the books I featured in this post are contemporary. And were also sorted by color.) But I couldn’t think of anything coherent to say about it so that’s why I didn’t mention it until now!
I feel like this is one of my more critical discussions, so I’m a bit nervous to see how people will react to it, but oh well! what are your thoughts on this? are you a teen reader of YA like me? do you feel the same way? what books do you think portray teens really well?
p.s. thanks to this fool for proofreading this for me you’re the worst