Time to Ponder Books: Why I’m So Frustrated with YA Novels

For a very long time, I have been telling people that I don’t want to read Young Adult (YA) literature. And I didn’t. Why not? Because it doesn’t speak to me. How’s that for vague? But something changed.

A few years ago, feeling friendless in real life, I decided to join a book club advertised on Meet Up (if you haven’t been on there, you should check it out). Since the leadership of the book club had changed many times, it was a bit rudderless and eventually fell apart, but for a couple of years we would meet on the last Sunday of the month, briefly discuss the book we had chosen, and then vote on the next month’s read. This typically involved everyone getting on their phones and digging through their TBR lists on Goodreads. Then we threw out our ideas and voted.

What I discovered is the book club had thriller and YA tendencies. Just the kinds of books I didn’t want to read. But I wanted friends. So, I read.

Starting in 2018, I began reading books that feature fat women and girls in a respectful way, leading to a challenge that has completely blown up. While combing the internet for leads on new books (and avoiding those in which the lead diets or dates her way to happiness), I learned that most books with fat female protagonists are YA — just look at this list. For a full year, I’ve been in uncomfortable, yet hopeful, territory. Why not celebrate YA if it’s doing what other genres dare not do: feature commonly unheard voices from different minority communities? Why not throw all my money dollars at the YA industry in support?

Because YA still drives me nuts. But I’ve figured out a few reasons, and I would love to discuss them with you. I’m not here to convince you YA is terrible, but why I find it endlessly frustrating. Please feel free to posit questions, submit facts and opinions, etc. in the comments. I’m especially interested in what non-U.S. bloggers reading YA from their countries have to say.

Here’s What I Discovered:

#1 Every YA book I’ve read features a first-person narrator, one of the most misused writing techniques. In an article by Cris Mazza, published by The Writer’s Chronicle (Vol 42. No. 2), she found that the number of published books with a first-person narrator is going up. Lacking complexity, Mazza argues first-person narrators have become a fad rather than a deliberate choice. She posits:

. . . readers were meant to have the sensation that the narrator was a “real person,” was our friend telling us a story about himself, that it was personal and intimate and therefore cozy and emotional. . . . [but] it was either a superficial use of the technique, or . . . literally, a person telling his own story because he had no other way to render literature out of experience.

If a first-person narrator is just the voice of the author hiding behind a character name, the technique has not been used properly. A story in which the first-person narrator merely describes what he/she sees or does is a waste of the technique, too. Typically, we get a story one of one action following another with little else when authors choose present tense. The result: no reason for a character to reflect on their past or analyze what happened. We live in the moment, and so does the character.

We should almost be trying to figure out who this first-person narrator is through his/her choice of words, what is left out, emphasized, etc. Think about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Many readers complain that young Oskar sounds like Safran Foer coming out of an nine-year-old boy’s mouth. The way Oskar speaks and thinks pretty much tattles on Safran Foer.

Jonathan Safran Foer pulls inspiration from his days as a college student.

But back to YA. I’ve never read a YA novel that wasn’t in first-person. To live in a teenager’s head for 300+ pages (because YA must be very, very long) is exhausting when you’re in your 30s, like I am. To see a character make all the wrong choices in a cliched fashion, when one normal adult could steer a character in a positive direction, and to see the mistakes coming a mile away, is frustrating.

#2 The YA frenemy. Though it’s a limited sampling, I went through 10 recent YA novels I read. 8 have a frenemy. I’m forced to ask myself how often frenemies exist in real life — someone you’re friends with but also compete with and possibly hate — and why each protagonist in YA predictably needs one.

“Love ya!” *kiss kiss*

#3 Getting into a big ol’ fight with the bestie. Looking at the same 10 books, 7 had a the protagonist get into a fight with his/her best friend, which resulted in removing the bestie during the protagonist’s lowest point in the novel. Of course they reunite. But in real life, is that friendship ever the same?

#4 A piece of shit mom. Now, I’m not talking about a mom who doesn’t understand, or who makes the protagonist angry. These moms are more like Disney villains. Half of my 10 books had a Cruella-esque mother. I’m frustrated that fathers don’t step in to debate evil mothers on their choices and think it speaks little of men as parents. Furthermore, a lazy first-person POV leaves the mom as a villain without helping readers see her for who she is. And one big sappy apology near the end doesn’t fix the poor writing of an “evil” mom.

I told you it wasn’t worth it to try out for the dance team! Now look at us; we’re going to miss Wheel of Fortune over your stupid idea!

#5 Kisses the crush by the end. Personally, I stopped using the word “crush” was I was 18, so it tends to bap my cringe-reflex, but I understand it’s a word that works with the teen experience. In my small sampling, 90% of the books I read had the protagonist kiss his/her crush by the end of the novel. The one book in which it didn’t happen was a YA re-telling of The Handmaid’s Tale. . . not really a crush-y environment. If you pull out your old Lisa Frank bedazzled diaries, you’ll embarrassingly recall how rarely you kissed your crush. Why must it happen in YA?

#6 Dreams come true. In some YA novels, the dream is to get the girl/guy. But others feature ambitious teens with a goal, be it career-driven, to get into some college, to draw attention to an issue, etc. In 70% of the YA novels I looked at, the protagonist’s BIG HUGE DREAM came true. Even in the most unlikely of situations. This frustrates me because real life requires a back-up plan, and I ask what more reasonable role might YA play in preparing teens for that reality?

#7 They hate their bodies. And here is the one I find upsetting. 7 out of 10 books had characters who absolutely hated their bodies and were doing one or more of the following: actively working to “fix” their bodies, speaking or thinking badly of their bodies, or thinking miserable thoughts about their worth based on their bodies. I’m not talking moderation. “Oh, if my hair were straighter it would be easier to deal with.” It’s more like “I have a horrible fat body and no one will ever love me.” This went for male and female characters, and ranged drastically in body sizes. What about other characteristics? Not really. There is no greater societal sin than to be fat, right?

Final Thoughts:

I guess for me the biggest issue with YA is how I feel like I’m reading about the same person repeatedly. I can tell you the end of the book after reading the synopsis — and the reason for that is readers demand expectations be fulfilled. To anger bloggers who didn’t get the ending they want in a YA novel is to say bye-bye to a sophomore book deal.

Margot @ Lectito once told me that I should try Australian YA, that it is vastly different from YA in the U.S. I haven’t read much, just one book (Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell), but I had no idea where that book was headed, what would happen, and I loved the characters that much more for their capricious tendencies.

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117 comments

  1. This is interesting to me as I don’t read YA because, well, I am no longer a Young Adult, but I am fascinated by the fact that so many older people love the genre. Having said that, I am reading a YA book at the moment by writer from Northern Ireland and so far there is a refreshing lack of the cliches you mention.

  2. I feel exactly the same way about YA, which so often seems to be written to play into stereotypical ideas of what teenagers want and need. It’s hugely frustrating as, as you say, the diversity of the characters, as well as the concepts behind the novels, are often so good. I have come across a few exceptions, but these haven’t yet swayed me.

      • Off the top of my head, I loved Shappi Korsandi’s Nina Is Not OK (though I think it might have been marketed as an adult novel), have had a lot of fun with Becky Albertalli’s novels, and although I think you might have included its cover as a bad example, have been haunted by Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, despite its many problems. A lot of older YA that I read when I was a teenager is also still rewarding to read as an adult – especially fantasy writers such as Robin McKinley and Garth Nix.

        • Only Ever Yours was actually a book that didn’t check off many of the boxes, but I read it recently so included it. So you see that a lot of my categories have something like 60 or 70% and that often means that Only Ever Yours was not included in there. Louise O’Neill’s books are good, I’ll give you that! I haven’t read Albertalli yet, but have Leah On the Offbeat on my list. I think I’m just going to watch the Simon movie instead of reading the book. I believe you and I talked about that before and you said that the movie was fairly similar. Basically, I don’t want to read a bunch of YA novels, but I do want to read the Leah book because she’s a fat girl.

  3. I probably read more YA than a 40 year old should but for the most part I do enjoy it. I do go through phases of thinking “here we go again” same old, same old but I do think YA is pushing the boundaries and venturing into areas that adult fiction is not (yet). I do get incredibly frustrated with non problems that seem to be blown up out of all proportion and those romances that become the all important thing but there are some wonderful YA books out there to offset the trope filled ones.

    Personally I’m a big fan of Patrick Ness and Adam Silvera. I also recently read Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin, it’s not a perfect book but it definitely has one of the most interesting MC’s I’ve come across in YA.

      • I would say YA as there are some quite heavy themes and I’m not sure younger readers would fully get them however Ness has said himself he doesn’t really like putting reader ages on his books. His view seems to be readers will find the books at the right level for them so no reason a MG reader (or a pensioner like my mum) couldn’t pick them up.

        • I try not to think of books as having age limits, but I personally can tell when the writing is at the level of someone younger than me. It’s hard for me to really see who a book is aimed at, reading-level wise, because I have three college degrees in literature and fiction writing. My experience is going to be very different. I just know that when I read YA that is clearly marketed as YA, I can tell that each sentence is doing a lot of work that a book for adults wouldn’t. Each idea is spelled out, and it takes 2-3 sentences when it should take 1. That changes how much I enjoy the book (usually for the negative) because I lived in graduate-level reading for so long.

  4. This was enlightening to read. I’m from India and in my country, the YA genre is still fledgling. Here, YA somehow gets mixed up “adulting” adults- folks fresh out of college, joining workforce, falling in love, family obstacle etc.

    It’s good that you are exploring YA genre of different countries. I think, what constitutes of YA lit is very culture-specific.

    All that jazz about kissing crush/ dreams becoming true would feel out-of-place in a country where parental restriction nips many possible young romance at the bud/ searing competition demand to have a back-up plan always.

    Sorry for hogging so much space. It’s sad to know that authors changing the ends to please bloggers. Sheesh !

    • I never think of long comments as “hogging so much space.” It’s the long comments that inspire me to keep blogging 🙂

      In the U.S. books that focus on young people in college are called “New Adult” fiction. YA would have characters still in high school (around ages 14-18). Do you read much Indian young adult fiction?

      • I used to read them when the novelty was still there. Now, it’s the same cliched plot everywhere- educated-urbane- women- hyperventilating-over-bf-problems. 😀

        • What a shame! Personally, I always hyperventilated over math class. Another weird thing: though YA characters are in school, you never read about them actually attending class or doing homework.

  5. I’ve been put off by YA too. I want to read more of it, but I hate the first person narrator done badly! I hate the me, me, poor me. They are always a chosen one in fantasy or dystopian books. They seem to follow the same patterns. You have pretty much explained why I don’t ready much YA and have avoided it. But I am going to read a bit more. I like to read books for various genres — it’s more interesting. But I keep following/finding bloggers and people on twitter who only read YA and I can’t relate. I’m 30 and sometimes I find the school environment and the slang childish. I was old even in my teens 🙂

    • I also learned that book blogs are dominated by young adult readers. In many cases, those readers are young adults themselves, or just a bit older. It’s possible that YA bloggers have more free time to run a blog if they are still in high school, or perhaps they’re just more comfortable with the technology. I know several older bloggers who have kept paper reading diaries for decades, so it’s almost like the were book bloggers without the blog.

  6. I read a decent amount of YA fantasy, but I always approach a new book in that genre with a bit of trepidation. I’ve been disappointed by so many YA fantasies that feel like they’re chasing trends, haven’t been edited, or have nothing more to say than “isn’t my sword-wielding Strong Female Character awesome??!!” or “isn’t this dramatic romantic relationship just to die for???” *sighs*
    It often feels like the publishing industry is pushing books based on focus groups and #trends rather than seeking out authors who tell a good story and actually have something to say about something other than pretty sword-girls and angsty romances. I’ve found some YA fantasies that aren’t like that, but they’re never the books that are getting all the love on blogs or BookTube.

    • I have noticed the uptick in fantasy bad assed girls. It makes me sad because it suggests that if you’re not just totally bitchin’ then you’re not really worth anything. Why can’t a character be timid or meek or an introvert, and still be worth our time? Actually, that’s something that I really love about the Mercedes Lackey books that Jackie and I are reading for our 2019 read along. I’m about a third of the way through our first book, and I’ve noticed that very, very few of the characters are actually described as being beautiful or attractive, and our main character is very shy and afraid of everything. It’s interesting because the main character thought that all of these heralds from her books would be gorgeous in real life because they’re so powerful and part of a long tradition of brave people. So when she finds that they have graying hair or that they’re rather plain-looking or that they’re even a little bit pudgy, it really surprises her and I love that Mercedes Lackey does that.

      • Exactly! It’s like the ability to commit violent acts has become the only way to make a strong character, when that’s not the way things are in reality. I actually just finished Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa, and was so impressed that Yumeko, the female lead, accomplishes as much through kindness as the male lead does with his sword.

        I was reading Lackey’s books before the craziness that is current YA, so it wasn’t such a contrast between her plain, graying, everyday heroes and everything else. It’s going to be such a difference going back to them! I’m still waiting for the books to come in from the library, but I have no idea when that will be. If they don’t get here in the next couple of days, I’ll probably have to just buy the first one as an Ebook.

  7. Great conversation to start. Thank you for bringing to our attention! You’ve made some valid points especially the sameness. I don’t like feeling like I’m reading the same book with characters renamed and a different title.

    I’ve never been a fan of YA but I’ve read a few historical fiction ones here and there. But if this genre is to bridge the gap between children’s books (which sometimes I will read for nostalgia and it makes me feel good) and adult books it seems the authors are doing a disservice to the audience they’re targeting. The frenemy, self shame (based on body type which is not a good thing especially at a volatile time in adolescence). Which is the great thing about the type of books you share with us on GTL. Keep the conversation going.

  8. I’m the target audience for YA, and even so, about 4 out of every 5 young adult books I read I don’t finish or dislike. Many of the characters are overdramatic and often don’t see much past themselves. Their big problems tend to be clothes, crushes, and mean girls. The fake romance is annoying. A lot of young adult books make it seem like you must be in a relationship in order to be a happy and successful person, intentionally or not. I, at least, have enough manufactured drama and self-preoccupation to last a long time without it being reinforced by my reading material.
    That said, there are a few young adult authors that write books that are interesting or at least not annoying. Mitali Perkins, Stephanie Morrill, and Andrew Peterson have written young adult books that have more substance than the usual YA fare, and I’ve enjoyed their books.
    Some genres are more substantial than others. Historical fiction often features characters that must work to make their way, and fantasy often has stakes higher than the character not getting to go to prom with the boy or girl they like.
    Also, young adult books set in other countries often are more interesting and substantial than contemporaries set in a US high school.
    Wonderful post. Your list is very accurate.

    • Hey, thanks so much for the compliment, Grace. The quote that I included from Cris Mazza comes from an article that has stuck with me for years. I read that article probably 5-6 years ago, and I still remember the title clearly: “Too Much of Moi?” Since I read it, I really notice how crippling first-person POV is to a book, especially when I’m reading one in third person and it allows me to see what the main character would not. It’s not just that we see everything through one character’s eyes, but that character has limitations as a person. Right now I’m reading the first book of the readalong I’m co-hosting. The main character is a shy, terrified 13-year-old girl. If it were in first-person, she would view everyone as intimidating, possibly cruel when that’s not what they intended, or make me mistrust all the other characters when I shouldn’t.

  9. I definitely understand your feelings about YA and agree with you on a lot of these points. I’m finding I’m reading less of this category recently because of it. Some I still enjoy just for a few hours of fun and escape but there are some YA books I’ve read that I thought were very well done!

    • Which YA books did you enjoy? I’m not the kind of reader who says, “No, I will never read _____ books” because that is closed-minded. I actually got into an argument with another blogger a while back because she said she had read two graphic novels and hated them both, so she refuses to read (or acknowledge the value of) graphic novels. She said she tried brussel sprouts twice and hated them, and she would use the same mentality toward graphic novels. Does she not know that all brussel sprouts are the same and graphic novels are not??

  10. Interesting post, thank you. I think the term YA is very broad, I mean how young is a young adult these days?
    I enjoy the occasional YA book because I feel that the best ones get to the heart of the human experience without having too much baggage in the way of the story.

    • YA novels typically deal with the experience of high school-age individuals (14-18). New Adult typically deals with college-age experiences (18-22). Who reads YA and NA is totally dependent on what the person likes to read and does not have an age limit. There is so much that could be done with the genre that is not. Oftentimes, the novel lives within a school year or summer vacation, and in that time period the character must finally kiss someone they’ve been crushing on. I’m not reading much that gets to the heart of realistic human experiences, though feeling warm and mushy at the end is all some readers really want, and I can respect that!

      • They don’t sound like the kind of books I’d want to read… maybe YA has changed and become a narrower category since I was reading it as a young adult myself, I’m not sure. Anyway you have made some good points there 🙂

        • What are some young adult books you read when you were a young adult? I was obsessed with the Sweet Valley Twins, which is definitely NOT any better than current YA (much worse, in fact — it’s all rich, beautiful white kids). Other than that (and it’s something that really bothers me), I don’t think I read much in high school. I was told I read too much when I was in middle school, so I stopped.

          • I liked the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz (spy thrillers), Darren Shan’s vampire stories, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, The Edge Chronicles by Stewart and Riddell, and lots of standalone books… I’ve always read a lot but tended towards non-realistic settings and suspense, so I think I bypassed the high school romance type books. Maybe the more diverse books aren’t getting promoted enough.

  11. Thank you for disliking first person narrative! I thought I was weird as that’s something that does get on my nerves. The worst one is first person present tense narrative – I’m shivering just thinking about it… ok, the worst one for me is actually the second person narrative but that’s not relevant to YA so I won’t carry on with this rant any further… 😊

    There are so many tropes in YA literature. I read quite a fair bit of MG / YA fantasy books and a lot of them feature similar cliches. There are exceptions though, Tamora Pierce and Katherine Arden both write some great stories.

    I am glad that YA ventures into new territories – diversity is now considered a must when reading any new YA books and authors can get really attacked by angry readers if it’s missing. I think it’s awesome that all these books and exploring new topics and territories. There are still so many under-represented groups out there. It sadennes me as whenever we find a book relatable, we experience something wonderful. But… I think many authors use diversity as an excuse of either sloppy writing or quite stereotypical characters building. I’m all in for complex diverse characters but sometimes, authors have no idea what they are writing about – only put a certain ‘minority group’ character there so the box is ticked and readers won’t get mad… It may not be true but that’s how I feel about it these days anyway.

    Great post Melanie!

    • There are readers who have accused authors of including minority characters just to seem equitable, and that those characters are not written well or accurately. On the other hand, there was an author on Twitter complaining that readers felt her Romani characters were inaccurate when she herself is Romani.

      A lot of people struggle with second person because it can seem gimmicky when done poorly. If it’s done well, you almost feel like a character in a “choose your own adventure” story, and I do love that.

      • That’s really interesting about that Twitter incident! It just shows how personal reading can be… I have something to ponder about! 😊

        And fair play about the second person. I read a few books written that way, which I didn’t enjoy, but really haven’t given it a proper chance. If you remember of the top of your head any books you enjoyed in that narrative, could you please let me know? Happy to explore it a bit more. Thank you. 😊

    • The absent parents are equivalent to the no technology thing that’s happening in thrillers. Basically, you get characters somewhere with no Wi-Fi or cell phone reception and then bad things happen that could be solved with a 10-second Google search. You get the technology and the parents out of the way, and the impossible happens — and we’re asked to believe that it’s possible.

  12. I remember being annoyed/upset by YA when I was a teenager because it focussed so heavily on romance – I did not have any romances and it made me feel like I was failing comprehensively! Writing novels for young adults in which they find salvation through romance (and the implication that the romances will last forever!) seems like very irresponsible behaviour to me. Ironically, I probably like YA more now than I did when I was actually a young adult – I really enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious last year and was impressed by it.

    • When I write about my frustrations with romance being key to YA novels, I have you in mind, Lou. Since I started blogging, I’ve encountered many, and befriended some, people who do not want a romantic relationship. I think you are so interesting and amazing, and if you were a character in a novel I would be appalled to see your many talents take the backseat to a romance.

  13. I read quite a bit of YA (actually a lot more than I ever did in my teens) but recently I’ve been feeling disillusioned with it. It takes a lot to make a YA book stand out from the crowd these days; everything feels very samey. I’m hoping to reintroduce more adult books this year, while hopefully still finding some YA that I enjoy.

    • I would recommend trying some international YA. Check out my review of Everything Beautiful, which I linked at the end of my post, and see if it’s something that interests you. The book did not feel familiar at all.

  14. I enjoy YA but the thing that bothers me is so much of it is samey genre fiction – fantasy or werewolves or the like, which is not something I like. I enjoyed The Hate U Give because it showed me a world I don’t know and Mammoth for the scientists and the aunt. Oh, and UK YA stuff can often have really great mixed groups of young characters of diverse races and older adults as role models – male authors I know, but Benjamin Zephaniah and Bali Rai’s books are wonderful and not cliched at all.

    • I don’t refuse to read books by men, I just don’t review them in this space 🙂 I write brief reviews of books by men on Goodreads. This year I plan to read all 5 Mark Renton books (basically the Trainspotting series) by Irvine Welsh. I also love Roddy Doyle’s work (especially the Barrytown Trilogy) and several African American writers (James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., etc.).

  15. haha how funny Melanie. Yesterday I posted a review for a book I believe is YA, and explained why YA is not for me – essentially, not my interests anymore and I find as a result it gets tedious. Behind that statement though was pretty much all you say here – I just didn’t explain it in full because I was writing a review. I do find it strange that so many adults like it but each to his/her own.

    Loved your list – including the “frenemy” and “shit mother”. Australia’s John Marsden has written some standout young people’s and YA novels – and one of the reasons is that you don’t see that sort of cliche.

    I have been commenting recently in various posts on the first person thing too. I used to like it, but I’m finding it becoming overdone. When not a carefully made choice and then well-handled, it can become limiting or tedious. I particularly hate it when the first person has to tell us something that the author can’t work out any other way of passing on to us but sounds silly. Third person solves all that. I still like some first person books of course, but …

    • I haven’t read your YA review yet, but it’s in my inbox, so I’ll hop over there soon. I think 1st person becomes such a problem now that everyone wants to do it in present tense. The character cannot look back or learn anything, so I’m often made to feel like I’m living a life but someone else is telling me what to do and making me make bad choices (because I’m supposed to feel like I’m in the first-person narrator’s shoes). I’m currently reading a book in third-person past tense and love that this timid, scared 13-year-old girl is developed more fully because the older students and her teachers can see and evaluate this girl for us. If it were first person, she would only tell us about herself and likely see her fellow students and teachers in a suspicious way because she’s so scared. Actually, they’re good people, and if I viewed them suspiciously, I would not like them.

  16. I love how well thought out and how well argued your case is. You know I’m an old guy, not to mention Australian like Whispering Gums up there above me. I still read YA from time to time, I think it has a certainty or simplicity that appeals. When I was young I read mostly British YA that was old fashioned even then – heroic young men who mostly adventured with their mates but who would sacrifice everything for the ideal girl. No Kissing! Since then I have read and enjoyed Harry Potter, and unlike many adult readers I enjoyed that they paired off as they got older. That was certainly my experience of the last couple of years of high school. Another series I enjoyed was Ranger’s Apprentice, on audiobook as I worked, and also Tomorrow When the World Began (which WG mentions too), both Australian as it happens. And another popular Australian is Looking for Alibrandi, and yes I enjoyed it too.

    • There is no kissing in old British YA? Now that I think about it, in real life the idea of holding someone’s hand could often be terrifying, but in the YA I read someone is just always going in for that kiss — an explosive kiss with all the right methods that I would never expect from a first kiss in real life. I do know a lot of old YA focuses on boys going off to war, so I’m surprised that I don’t see any YA in the States that has a character thinking about joining the military or anything like that. We have been at war forever. Even someone talking about joining the Army Reserves would be more interesting because the political climate dictates how characters live. The brand-new YA I’ve read lately doesn’t even hint at us living in a world with Donald J. Trump. Why can’t YA show some students resisting, LIKE THEY DO IN REAL LIFE?

  17. What a great conversation! I had to read ALL the comments!
    I agree with your reasons for not liking YA, which I think we’ve touched on before. But I also admit that I haven’t read a broad range of YA, so I could be really missing out on some great books. You’ve also got me curious now about whether or not Canadian YA is any different than American. I would be surprised if it was greatly different, considering we are very close neighbours and we tend to like to follow your trends.
    My daughters read a lot of YA, but I can’t bring myself to read very much of it with them – I’m too afraid I won’t like it. They do like Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (I think both mentioned above). And, of course, their favourite is the Harry Potter series (which I have read and really enjoyed – I don’t think of HP when I think of YA).
    I haven’t read a lot of Canadian YA, but last year I read The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline and loved it. It has dominated the best seller list up here. I’ve also read and liked a few YA books that have been historical, like the Dear Canada series (although, that might be considered middle grade) and a couple of Eric Walters’ books.

    • Yes, Harry Potter starts as middle grade, but I’ve been told the books grow with the characters and readers, so as the readers get older, the content gets more challenging, and perhaps tips into YA territory. I have yet to read Becky Albertalli. She’s only on my list so I can read Leah on the Offbeat as party of my reading fat women challenge. I’m going to skip the first book about Simon and watch the movie instead. I would imagine some older Canadian YA might be different. Tales of survival in the harsh Canadian landscape, no doubt. If your daughter readers a contemporary Canadian YA novel, let us know what it’s like!

  18. I love the honesty of this post! Naomi’s suggestion above is a really good one, it’s gotten lots of attention here in Canada. Australian literature is great too-very different from ours I find, so it’s definitely worth your time. I also hate the ‘insistence on kissing your crush’ trope.

    • Although I haven’t read a ton of YA fat fiction yet, every book I have read steers an amazing character away from herself and dreams and onto being kissed. UGH. As I mentioned above to Lou, since I started blogging I’ve realized there are a number of people who are aromantic, and why don’t YA novelists think about that?

  19. Oh man. I just need SO MUCH TIME to get through all these amazing comments! Look at the magic you’ve created, Melanie! Look at it!!!

    But before I dive into the fray — This is why I love reading fantasy, science fiction, and middle grade. I find that a lot of adult contemporary novels written in first person are also starting to sound the same and I can pick out what will happen by the end of the book. Without any background knowledge what-so-ever, I attribute this trend in both YA and adult literature to come from publishers who are just looking for the next author who will crank out a copycat best seller they can make money off of. Jaded? Yes.

    Fantasy and science fiction are (almost always, at least) genres where the author has to put in an obvious effort. A world needs to be built. It needs to be compared to our world so we can question and understand and explore the different possibilities this new world provides. It requires thought, exploration, and careful consideration. I find there are fewer bad fantasy/science fiction novels published by respected publishing houses than contemporary novels.

    And middle grade! More and more middle grade fiction, regardless of genre, is so intelligent. Themes, concepts, and ideas I barely understand as an adult are so clearly articulated in middle grade. While there is certainly more 1st person than I’ve seen in the past, the reading level is still primarily third person. I mean, these kids still have an active imagination. They want to learn someone else’s story, not one they could make up!

    Brilliant post, Melanie. I love how clearly you articulated your concerns without coming across aggressive or mean. Merely critical. Bloody brilliant.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Jackie. I noticed how well Pages Unbound are doing with discussion posts, so I wanted to give it a try. The goal is to get one out every Wednesday (though I skipped during Christmas week). As we’ve discussed before, I don’t remember reading a ton in high school. When my brother and I were home alone during summer vacations, I would read all the time. I was told to quit reading so much one summer, so I switched to TV. And thus my high school years don’t have a ton of books in there. I honestly can’t remember one book I read outside of a school assignment. Thus, I don’t have anything from that time period to compare today’s YA novels to. There was one book I remember that my mom gave me that I read before I was a teen. It was about a teen girl and several younger siblings who are abandoned in a car by their mom and discusses how they survive and yet avoid authorities so they can stay together. That was a great book.

      • I noticed you are posting these discussion posts on a schedule. Keep it up! I try to publish one a week also… but, well, I’m not great at it some weeks. XD That said, I have one in mind for the end of the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy. Mwahaha!

        It makes me so sad someone told you to quit reading. I’m glad you found your way back to books eventually! Any idea what helped you return to them to the point where you ended up switching to an English degree with a sense of focus and intent?

        Oooh. I want to go to the library and ask if someone can find this book. Not that I’d be able to recognize the cover or title or anything. When I was in high school, I read more adult books than YA books. I hung out with the kids who only wanted to read science fictoin/fantasy tomes and the classics. #Nerd ❤

        • I can’t remember the name of the book. My mom gave it to me to read. I don’t think I’ve done much in way of making decisions about academia that required focus and intent. I kinda fell into one thing after another, all with weak excuses. I remembered that I had liked reading, so I went to English when my Music major was an utter failure.

          • Most of life is like that, Melanie. I wouldn’t worry about it. You just sound so intentional with what you read, why you read, and how you absorb literature I must have made an assumption! Don’t let my assumptions bring you down. 🙂

            I mean, I fell into my current job entirely by accident. It was a weird journey from professional musician to continuous improvement consultant. XD

  20. I don’t mind first-person narrative and maybe that’s because I’m used to it. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t typically notice unless someone points it out to me. I think YA contemporaries are most likely to be in first-person, but fantasies, especially ones that juggle multiple POVs, usually are in third-person limited. I know that YA editors push for these kind of POVs, though the reasoning behind it is lost on me.

    I’ve honestly moved away from contemporaries by white authors because I feel like there are only so many ways to tell a story and these tend to be very formulaic. Unless there is some diverse aspect or its an author I’ve read in the past, I typically stay away because it can feel like a lot of these tropes have already been done with the same kind of characters over and over.

    I do think that YA does a lot of things that adult novels haven’t quite caught up with. When I look for diversity, I go for the YA novels. The numbers still say it’s a small portion, but these are the ones everyone talks about, at least in the part of the book blogging community I am a part of. I recently saw someone say because New Adult pretty much crashed and burned because publishers themselves weren’t willing to buy into it and tap into the early 20-somethings market (and when it was a thing, they were limited to contemporaries which were very white and very heterosexual), these readers have to reach for YA novels because the adult novels just aren’t as appealing to this age group. I do think there is a lot more hopeful stories in the YA compared to adult, but I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing.

    I see both sides when it comes to having books that reflect how teens think (who as a teen didn’t have insecurities about their bodies?), but also think its important to present a healthy mindset for these readers about their bodies for example. Am I making sense? I’ve been dealing with a migraine on and off for the last week and am a little out of it right now.

    • Alicia, you definitely make sense. I think a the YA I’ve read has a lot about body insecurity, but characters go over a hump where they start to accept themselves. That’s what happened when I read Mammoth. The only YA novel I’ve read that didn’t have a character nervous about her body was Millie in Puddin’, and she seemed awfully unrealistic in many ways to me.

      When I look at your blog, I see a beautiful variety of authors, sexuality, experiences, and genres of YA. I’m really glad you joined this conversation because I trust your opinion deeply when it comes to YA. I’m only sorry that you aren’t feeling well–I was waiting impatiently to hear from you!

      I didn’t realize New Adult crashed and burned, but now that you mention it, I don’t really hear anyone talking about it anymore. I do know that I read all the Sweet Valley High books, and when they went to college and their Sweet little world changed and was hard, I was devastated. I don’t think I was ready. Plus, a number of college students may not read for pleasure, so if it isn’t college-age people reading college-age characters, who is?

      Point of view always stands out to me because I have three degrees in creative writing. We’re always thinking about craft behind the book, which has kind of ruined books, to some degree, for me. The same thing with my husband, who has a degree in broadcasting. Most movies are ruined for him because he knows the craft behind the film, and how it would have been different with other techniques. Plus, when we get first-person point of view, I’m very aware that the character is only sharing what he/she perceives. It’s less about being behind someone else’s eyes and more about what their brain thinks they see. If you thinking someone looks grumpy, but they’re actually stressed because something bad is happening to their family, all you can report is that person is/looks grumpy. I feel like empathy is lost when we have first-person.

      • It honestly feels like YA is in itself a new concept. I can’t recall books being labeled so rigidly in the past. I think if something like The Outsiders was written today, we’d label it YA, but I don’t recall it ever being presented like a story just for teens.

        • I feel the same way about clothes. New markets are opening up all over the place. When I was 11-12, you could either get little kids clothes or women’s clothes. From 13-18 you pretty much made up outfits out of both sections based on what fit. Now they have tween clothes and teen clothes. Same thing with books. I don’t recall there being a teen section at my hometown library.

  21. I am with you! I have many of the same feelings and issues. I’ve wondered if maybe YA doesn’t appeal to me like it used to because I’m a 31 year-old woman & over all the teenage drama. I notice a lot of these themes in contemporary YA, which is why I try to steer clear of it. I have noticed that I do much better with YA science-fiction and fantasy…

  22. Interesting arguments! I guess whenever a genre gets too predictable, it gets annoying. But I hadn’t thought of the bigger issues: like all of the mains hating their bodies, etc. You bring up some good points!

      • It’s a good point. We really don’t! And yet that’s one of the staple relationships in romantic comedies and women’s lit. It’s really disappointing when you stop to think about it… 😒

  23. The first person (present tense!!!) narrator drives me nuts, too. It’s fine sometimes, but not in every single book I read! I think I am also the only person bothered by times this becomes “unrealistic,” like when there are things the narrator shouldn’t know or the narrator is writing in first person something that happened a long-ish time ago (more rare in YA but it happens). How are you narrating little details from a conversation 5 years ago and telling me what the pattern on the carpet in a room looked like? No way you remember that.

  24. I agree with so much of this post! I’ve really slowed down my YA reading lately. I’ve felt uninspired to pick YA titles up, as they all sound the same. Even the covers all look the same. I’m particularly over YA fantasy novels at the moment because they all sound like they are the exact same plot – just the setting might be slightly different. The one sub-genre of YA that I still gravitate toward is YA historical fiction. There’s not a whole lot of that out there, but I’d much rather pick up something historical vs something in a contemporary setting (which almost all YA happens to be set).
    Some standout YA books for me are the Harry Potter series and also The Book Thief. These books, to me, go beyond the YA genre, and that is one of the reasons I like them so much. The narrative style of HP isn’t the typical first person, so that feels refreshing when reading them. And The Book Thief is narrated by Death, so that also feels different than the usual YA while reading.
    I also like how you brought up the bad parents thing in YA. It’s so frustrating how parents are portrayed as evil, terrible, and/or uncaring. I remember reading The Hate U Give and being so glad that the family was portrayed as loving and close. The parents were respected and loved, and while the kids would complain about the parents, it was all done with love and felt realistic. That’s so rare in YA.
    Also – not sure if you’ve heard about this YA title yet, but there’s a book coming out in May by Sandhya Menon called There’s Something About Sweetie. The synopsis mentions that Sweetie is fat, and I’m hopeful that the book has some positive representation – somewhat hard to tell from the synopsis – I’ll be keeping an eye out for reviews on this title!
    Great post!

    • I think I heard about There’s Something About Sweetie just recently….maybe from Alicia at Kernels of Nonsense? She’s always ahead of the curve with YA. I just Googled and found There’s Something About Sweetie is written by the same person who write When Dimple Met Rishi, which has made a huge splash!

      Another great thing about the parents in The Hate U Give is that it feels like there are three of them: the mom, dad, and uncle. So, Starr gets more parents than most YA kids put together, lol.

      Glad you liked the post, Ami. Despite everything I wrote about YA, I still have a number of YA titles on my to-read list because YA authors are willing to write fat characters.

      • When Dimple Met Rishi was very cute! I enjoyed it. I haven’t read her other popular book yet, From Twinkle With Love, but some day I hope to! I’m hopeful that There’s Something About Sweetie will be good. If I’m remembering correctly, the family unit in When Dimple Met Rishi was close, and it sounds like There’s Something About Sweetie is a companion book to that.
        I’ll still read YA too 🙂 I am trying to be super selective in the YA books I read and not read the popular titles just because they are popular. There is really a great focus on diverse characters in YA!

  25. This is a very interesting post (and I wish I had more time right now to respond–I’m running to a meeting in a few minutes). Many of the reasons you list for not liking YA is why I like it (first person narration, kisses at the end, etc), but I agree with you that sometimes it feels like the same character over and over again. I don’t mind it when I like that personality, but it does become boring after enough time. I think that’s why I haven’t been reading as much YA lately. These days, it’s mostly nonfiction for me.

    • I can see how might feel comforted by the same character and happy endings. I know I read so many books that almost had the same plot arc every time when I was younger. I wanted to live in the world of certain book series, even if nothing in that world changed much. I think that now I just see all the flaws and lack of nuance that adults face, which….I mean, why would a young adult face the same problems as a young adult? And that’s one of the reasons I think it’s just not for me: I’m not the target audience. Thus bashing on YA makes little sense.

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