My Thoughts On: Young-Adult Fiction

21 days until the Minutes Before Sunset release 😀

So I’m trying out a new topic, “My Thoughts on,” because I get asked (mainly in my every day life when people find out I’m a writer/author) about my opinion on certain aspects of the publishing industry, and I think it’s a topic worth exploring.

Today I want to talk about young-adult fiction for two reasons: it’s a very popular genre, and I write it (so I obviously love it.) But I also wanted to explain why and what I don’t like.

1. Language: Many complain about the simplicity of language within young-adult novels, and, honestly, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Of course it’s simple. It’s marketed towards readers as young as 10 years old. (I am not talking about New-Adult Fiction, which is marketed towards 18 to 25 year olds, but is often mistaken for YA Lit. I don’t blame readers for this, however, because many booksellers haven’t adjusted to this change in the market, and numerous novels blur the line.) But (::breathing break::) I still believe the language is allowed to be simple in both, not only because of the readers, but the characters, which are generally younger and (probability speaking) have a simpler vocabulary base.  It honestly depends on the speaker.

2. Characters: Again, this is probably another complaint about readers and their analysis of characters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read “the protagonist is incapable, whiny, stupid, naïve, etc.” I don’t understand this complaint. Most protagonists in YA Lit are teenagers. Of course they don’t have everything figured out. Most adults don’t. So why do we expect a fifteen-year-old to be this perfected virtuous hero? I’m unsure. When I read YA, I never expect the character to be all that capable. Instead, I expect them to learn throughout the novel and possibly grow (not always) because that’s how real people work, and I find believability in characters when they have human faults (just like we do.) Nevertheless, I hear this complaint about YA Lit more than adult fiction, and this astounds me. I will get into more depth when I post “My Thought On” specific novels. If you’re interested in a certain piece, such as Twilight or Fifty Shades of Gray, please post below, and I’ll talk about it.

3. Plot: Personally, I enjoy the simplicity of relationships and life. You have friends and girlfriends/boyfriends, and then their world flips. I like the equation. It isn’t distracting. I’m not waiting for the protagonists to sleep together (because they are so young) and, honestly, I feel super awkward when that happens in YA Lit. I realize it may happen in real life, but, considering the audience, I feel like we are pressuring that audience to abide to societal expectations of sex when we place things like that (which should be an adult matter) in YA books.

4. Movie Adaptations: I generally love them. I’ve talked about this before in a previous post, Movie Mention: The Host, when I elaborated on how different kinds of art brings different aspects to the table. I never expect it to be the novel. If movies were like that, they’d be hours and hours long, full of narration, and I don’t think I’d enjoy watching something like that. Instead, I go for the cinematic experience, normally glad I read (so I can understand some things that are lost) but I try to take it in as art standing on its’ own—basically, I try to pretend there wasn’t a novel, and the movie is new. That way, I don’t get caught up in the little things while watching, so I can reflect when the movie is over.

I realize this may have been a general post, but I made it that way, so my basics are out of the way when I analyze specific pieces in the future. Every post is an encouragement towards a healthy debate, rather than my personal opinion of whether or not I enjoyed it, and I’d love to hear what you’d like to discuss.

Comment below! 

On my Goodreads page, you can look at my bookshelf, which includes a lot of novels I’d be able to discuss. I think I have an array of adult and young-adult fiction, along with poetry and nonfiction, but if you see something that isn’t on there, let me know.

Just an example of one page of my Goodreads bookshelf.
Just an example of one page of my Goodreads bookshelf.


62 thoughts on “My Thoughts On: Young-Adult Fiction

  1. I agree with your point about plot. There are many things that happen in real life that I don’t care to see in books. People often tell me that I’m not being realistic and that these things happen, but it’s my preference when reading.

    And I think that reading a book spoils to movie adaptation, not because of knowing the general plot, but because of the nature of movies being based more on action to keep everyone’s attention.

  2. I also agree with your (and Jevon’s) points on plot. Last year I read ‘Pirate Cinema’ by Cory Doctorow, a YA novel that does the whole teenage sex, drugs and swearing thing; glamorising it in many ways. I generally think YA should be a more wholesome genre, and if I’m reading it, that’s most definitely the kind I prefer. Kenneth Oppel’s ‘Matt Cruse’ series is very good in this regard – classic adventuring fare without pandering to the modern teenage caricature.

  3. I’m an adult fiction writer with silly undertones, but I doubt I’d ever try young adult fiction. ‘Tis not for me. I certainly wouldn’t read it, either. That’s a good bookshelf, I love Jack Kerouac. I’d recommend, as MUST reads, Albert Camus’ The Plague, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and Oliver Sack’s neurological tales in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

  4. Great post. To me well written YA fiction is a very engaging genre because it brings to mind the excitement of that time in life where there is simplicty, a growing amount of independence and a never ending adventure of discovery. Perhaps that just says how long ago that was I suppose.

    1. I think YA is a lot like true life when it comes to sex drugs, etc. The stuff that excites us (& may seem glamorous) is not something the majority of people do. Most of us don’t rob, participate in home invasions, beat up our next door neighbours, or even spit on a cop’s shoes — or have illicit sex. Media (including books) highlight the crises and wrong steps because they draw interest and we may be curious about the path not (yet) taken.

  5. I haven’t read much YA, but I’m curious if there are any YA books that are truly ‘profound’?

    In terms of it’s ideas and concept.

    As a sci-fi guy, if anyone can recommend a good YA sci-fi novel, feel free to. 🙂

  6. I’ll admit, I’m picky about protagonists. I don’t expect them to have it all figured out, and they don’t have to be especially mature, but I expect them to be interesting and active. I’ll take a protagonist I don’t particularly like but who actually does things over a passive lump who stumbles into something interesting and then lets the story unfold around him/her. If that’s a flaw the character is going to overcome, he or she had better have something else to hold my attention, or I’ll move on.

    I look forward to seeing your thoughts on specific books!

  7. I think that “whiny” can often be a valid criticism when it comes to characters, particularly if it seems disproportionate and/or they never develop out of it. It’s just not very fun to read and makes it much harder to root for them if they’re a protagonist.

    As an example, let’s look at What’s Left of Me by Kat Zang. For those who havn’t read it, think The Host but with two human personalities.

    Both of its protagonists, Addie and Eva, angst over their situation on a regular basis. Eva has spent the last several years of her life trapped within her own skin and so has good reason to complain; Addie, however, just seemed downright unreasonable. She complained far more than Eva did, despite being in a better situation, and it took far too long for her to move away from this. As a result, I found it very difficult to get behind her.

    I would be fascinated to hear your thoughts on Fifty Shades. Is it as bad as I’ve heard?

    1. Perhaps when I said whiny I more so meant when people say it about characters like Eva, someone who’s not necessarily complaining (or whining) but trying to think things out. It’s interesting when two people read the same book, however, and one finds it whiny while the other finds it thoughtful.
      Great comment!
      Sounds like I will comment on Fifty Shades of Gray during my next “My Thoughts On”

  8. I love your comment about the language in YA. There are definitely some books that “pander” to a young audience with oversimplified styles that can be boring, but there is an art in writing clear, concise, and understandable prose that a lot of YA authors have mastered perfectly.

  9. I enjoyed this blog post but I somewhat disagree with the sex issue.

    Lots of young people are reading 50 Shades of Gray. I think it’s important many kinds of authors tackle sex so young people don’t have a skewed perspective of it.

    Sex is a part of healthy, normal life. It’s not something to be scared of or avoided.

    1. I agree in that sense. I actually wish I worded that better. I’ve read books that it’s in that I enjoyed, but I still think authors should treed carefully, because I’ve read scenes that I found mildly awkward and inappropriate (just as I have in adult fiction as well.) And if YAs want to read 50 Shades, I think that’s fine too, because they knew what they were reading when they got into it. I guess I don’t like it when I’m not expecting it, and then it’s in there. A lot. Like that’s the only thing in it. Adult and Ya. I find it strange. But great comment! I’ll stop rambling now. :]

  10. I never realized there was a New-Adult category. I know the local library puts all of those in the YA section and I see the same at bookstores. My books keep getting put into the YA category during conversations even though my heroes are aged 18-25 (not counting the ‘immortal’ one). Due to the ages, I don’t have any problem having my characters talk about sex or engage in it ‘off camera’. So, it gets really awkward explaining the category that my book falls into. Many times, I turn a person off to my book as soon as I mention that sex is brought up in conversation. Never seems to happen when I mention the violent sword-fighting. Maybe this would change if I pushed the New-Adult category for myself.

    1. I think sex is a fine topic in New Adult. I only find it uncomfortable in YA that leans more towards 12-14 year olds. But it can be done in the novels that sway between the lines. Just carefully. (Not as detailed as 50 Shades, for instance.)
      Thanks for the comment

      1. Oh god, I could never do that. (My inner voice just sounded like a dainty southern belle putting a fan up to her face for some reason.) I tried writing a scene like that and I just thought it was ridiculous. I’ll stick with my innuendos and awkward aftermaths. 🙂 I never understood why anything that detailed would be found outside of an adult romance novel or, maybe, a horror novel.

  11. Help me out here: what is the definition of young adult when it comes to fiction? Is that just over 18 or just under 18? Sorry – getting lost in the genre definition.

    1. Ya is anywhere between 12 and 18 now that “New Adult” is starting to get defined as 15-25, which is young-adult books directed more towards an adult audience. “The Hunger Games” is an example of this. It’s YA, but it’s also violent and has very adult themes.

  12. I also believe in simplicity when it comes to teenage characters in a book. My WIP is geared towards teens and I am keeping it simple, for the most part. I have a 16 year old daughter that I use as reference haha, makes it a bit easier for me. And I think sex scenes in a YA book is inappropriate, there are young teens also reading the books. The furthest one should go is kissing and very rarely even that. Keep it innocent, too much innocence is already lost.

    1. I would play the DA and argue that intimacy may have a place even in YA fiction, as romantic intimacy is the beautiful result of a natural process.

      However, showing the typical results of that beautiful natural process—rearing children—would be more than enough to dissuade more romantically inclined young readers.

      1. It is a beautiful, natural process. I understand your point completely. However, I don’t feel comfortable writing intimate scenes with the possibility that a 12 or 13 year old will read it.
        Really depends on what the author is comfortable with.

      2. I totally agree. Writing any such scene would depend heavily on a writer’s personal comfort level and moral outlook.

        Moreover, for the sake of the audience, even the slightest hint of exploitation should be avoided. It would be unethical to write such a scene to be titillating or to sell copy. Both the ups and downs of such a life experience should be made perfectly clear to the reader.

        Personally, it would be very difficult for myself to write any such scene and I wouldn’t put it in a YA book.

  13. Nice concept, looking forward to more posts of the same type!
    I was never really hooked by YA fiction, I think it has to do with my beeing so entrenched in overly long fantasy series. One of the problems aside from length, generally speaking, I’ve had with YA is predictability – I like surprises when I read more than e.g. realisism. It could be that I’ve just had bad luck with the few YA novels I’ve actually read.

  14. Great points! When I feel the dialogue is too basic, I remember the scope of my characters’ experiences and thoughts. It’s quite different than the writing I do as my adult fiction alter ego.
    I look forward to reading more about your work. Thank you for the follow.

  15. Great idea for a post. I agree that when reading YA fiction one must keep in mind that the characters are very young and therefore will not react as an adult would. As you said, they are still trying to figure out so many things, so it seems realistic that they will not be perfectly sure about what to do next. Btw, I’m reblogging this on Realm of the Goddess.

    1. Thank you for reblogging (and your comment.) I hope your readers will also engage in the discussion! I think this topic will work out and being really fun the more and more we all can discuss things together as a community.

  16. I totally agree on all points! I personally love YA and I like that it’s from the point of view of naive character generally! There is some great, smart, well written YA out there that shouldn’t be discarded because it is aimed at a younger audience!

  17. Hi Shannon,

    I wonder what you would think of mixing the genres. I wrote a novel that mixes the story of a couple with 4 kids with that of one of the children–a 17 year old. We see both the struggles of the parents keeping their marriage alive and the young woman’s struggles with maturing and the issues of adolescence. The third theme is the issues and struggles around e fact that she and her sister were adopted.
    I think your blog is interesting and speaks of your confidence in writing.

    1. “New Adult” is sort of a mixing. But I don’t think different ages means it’s mixed. It’s more about what the story line is focused on. I’m not sure what your book is, but it sounds more adult than young-adult considering it seems focused on family relationships, but I don’t know the plot or what happens. So it’s hard to say.

  18. I hadn’t heard the term “New Adult” unti now, I like it! I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on Twilight, Fifty Shades, The Hunger Games…any of those mega-popular series, I’ve touched on these on my own blog before.

    1. Okay! I’ll be sure to post about one (and eventually all) of them in the future. I’ll also give you credit for the suggestions (along with a link to anyone else who commented the same thing.)

  19. I don’t mind a lot of YA Fiction, but there seems to be (lately anyway) a lot of the same type of novels coming out. For example, after Twilight, there was a huge boom of vampire and werewolf fiction being written, and though I know this is probably for popularity and marketing purposes, I think it tends to turn me away from YA books because of a lack of variety in the genres and plots.

  20. Totally with you on the whole book to movie thing. One of my gigantic pet peeves is when readers/fans say “oh the movie ruined the book”…How? How did it ruin it? The book still exists for you to enjoy! I also go into them thinking of the movie as a kind of fan fiction, based on the vision of the creators. It’s more or less just a point of view of the original story.

  21. Have you any thoughts about theme? What is it that draws young people to fantasty themes? And are young adult books sometimes weighed down by the need to tackle an issue?

    1. O_o I should’ve talked about that! I will post that as one of the categories next time, but in regards to YA, I think they enjoy fantasy for some of the same reasons adults do: it’s an escape. They don’t want to read about the “real” world, especially teens, because they are dealing with the pressures of becoming an adult when they may or may not be ready. Fantasy gives them a piece of childhood imagination back, something they are allowed to play around with in their own minds.
      In regards to being weighed down by issues, I think it depends on the issue and the book. Like “Speak” is about rape, but I don’t think that novel was weighed down at all by how serious it was. Same with the author of “Crank” and “Identical.” She writes about very serious topics, but there’s almost a different audience for those books–at least in my experience, it takes a very mature teenager to read that YA fiction, and that’s, perhaps, why it doesn’t do as well in the industry, even though it deserves great praise.

      1. Well, in all genres, writers need to be careful that their characters aren’t just ciphers, used to represent different aspects of an issue. The most successful books avoid that temptation.

  22. I can understand where you are coming from. The things you listed are what I expect in YA. They should have those elements and there’s nothing wrong with that. I personally don’t read YA because of those things, but if others have a problem with them as well they shouldn’t read them either. It’s simple. I’ll never understand why anyone buys a book in a genre they know will have aspects they don’t like. Great post!

  23. Interesting post. I like YA novels even though I’m an adult (sometimes I read what my teens are reading). I think the character issue may relate to what I think of as “the trend of the stupid protagonist.” It’s not that the characters don’t have it all together–flawed characters are wonderful, and coming-of-age themes in YA literature can be truly great. But to me it seems like in this generation stories are being written not from the perspective of the smart characters involved, but from the perspective of the stupid ones. The protagonist in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example, seems so slow that you wonder whether he has learning disabilities (until you read that, inexplicably, he’s in honors classes…?). The protagonist in Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is similarly slow. Katniss in The Hunger Games can’t even figure out something as simple as which guy she likes through three entire books. And even Harry Potter was utterly average through about six and a half books and was saved, over and over, by the extraordinary Hermione.

    On the other hand, the protagonist in The Fault in Our Stars seems like a more classic protagonist–smart, capable, still learning to navigate the world but not an idiot. Popular YA literature a generation ago had characters like Ponyboy in The Outsiders, a smart kid who didn’t fit in his rough, blue-collar neighborhood; the kid with special abilities in The Giver; nerdy-smart Meg Murray in Madeline L’Engle’s books. But then again, perhaps this is just an adult’s mis-memory of teen reading from long ago. 🙂

    Great post, and a very enjoyable blog.

    1. I like how in-depth you got with all of your examples. Very great comment! With some lovely points.
      My one thing in regards to teens understanding who they like (Bella in Twilight, Katniss in Hunger Games, etc.): I understand when they are confused. Many adults are, hence cheating and such. I think I only get annoyed when it’s their only focus, yet they still don’t have a clue. (Which is definitely more Bella than Katniss in regards to an example) but I still find it believable within the restraints of teenagers today.
      Again, great comment. I think your examples have a lot to ponder over.

  24. First of all, I really liked this post. I don’t disagree on any of the points. And I didn’t know about that New-Adult genre. Hmm, trying to categorize your writing seems to be getting very complicated anymore!
    I would very much like to hear your views on Twilight and/or The Hunger Games and/or Eragon.

  25. This is my first time on your blog and I understand this post.
    I liked what you wrote and will continue on reading! Great job.

      1. You’re very welcome.
        Feel free to take a look at my Blog.
        From one fellow Writer to another


  26. Hi Shannon,
    Thanks for finding my blog and the follow!. Been having a look at yours – I love it! and this article really got my interest. I know so many people who seem intent on giving Young Adult fiction a bad name (without even sparing the time to read it). It really winds me up. I agree with your thoughts on characters – I find most adults completely forget what it is like to be young and a teenager and see them as just whiny/annoying by default. I find a lot of adults in ‘literary fiction’ to be just as tedious (maybe even more so)!

  27. Great post. I can particularly relate to your comment about movie adaptations. As someone who works on film, I love film as a separate medium to books, though I am guilty of sometimes trying to write my book as though it was a film. I think a lot of young readers pick up books and get into reading because they have seen a movie adaptation of a book that is currently popular. The success of these films has led to a vast improvement in the quality of these movie adaptations and also boosted the YA fiction book market. So I do get annoyed when people get precious about films ruining books.

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