17 August 2009

(Young) Adult?

For the last month, the lovely Ana & Thea from The Book Smugglers have been hosting a Young Adult (YA) Appreciation Month, with giveaways, guest posts and interviews, along with numerous reviews. They also issued an open invitation to write a YA post.

I have to be honest - I've been rather overwhelmed with the number and quality of YA books Ana & Thea have been discussing over the past month.
When I was a young adult (I think I'm beginning to sound like my grandmother) the selection of YA books was not all that great; the range was limited, as was the content. And that got me to thinking...is the young still in young adult? Recently published YA books seem far more...explicit is too harsh a word...detailed (perhaps?) than when I was a young adult (and now I definitely sound like my grandmother *grin*). The books available today deal with various topics - drug and sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, bullying (and not just in contemporary settings but in [urban] fantasy as well). I'm not saying it is a bad thing, I'm just curious as to why. Is it the books themselves that have changed or has society changed and YA books with it? Children grow up a lot faster now than they did then, so perhaps the YA books of today simply reflect that....


  1. Hmmm, I think it's got a lot to do with how 'open', especially in terms of the media and film, the internet and the availability of information, etc, society has become.

    A lot of the themes you mentioned such as teenage pregnancy and abuse were taboo subjects, but now people are more aware of them and willing to try and deal with such topics in meaningful ways for both adults AND young adults.

    I think the key word for me here is 'meaningful'. Fiction provides an opportunity for diverse people (eg ages, sex, cultural) to engage with challenging topics in a way that provides them with context and insight.

    My 2c anyway.

  2. Thank you Kris. So much has changed in such a short period of tine - it's scary. I think open can be good...if, as you say, it's meaningful rather than...gratuitous?

  3. It does seem like there's more sex and "adult" themes in YA books these days, but maybe I just didn't read the scandalous ones. I did used to think it was a rule that there was no sex in YA books, though.

    I think maybe part of it has to do with the fact that so many adults are reading YA now? And also just changing societal attitudes, probably.

    This would actually be a great question for a long-time YA writer.

  4. I think maybe part of it has to do with the fact that so many adults are reading YA now?

    That's a good point heidenkind...I hadn't thought of that. And yes, it would be nice to have input on the subject from a long-time YA author :)

  5. I definitely do think there is a level of sophistication in current YA that wasn't present in teen books I was reading as a teen. However, that may explain why most of my reading as a teen was adult fiction--mostly mystery and romantic suspense. My YA authors were: Phillis Whitney, Victoria Holt, Madeleine Brent, Barbara Michaels, Mary Stewart, etc.

  6. I just had a conversation with Ana (or maybe Thea, not sure who was typing) on Twitter last week. Kate (Katiebabs) tweeted that she was reading a YA and the F word was used and that disturbed her. So this got a discussion going as to what should be "allowed" in YA books. The Booksmugglers said - they consider the age of the protaganist as the classification for the book to be YA, not necessarily the content. They feel if the story warrants it, then language, sex and violence is acceptable.

    I found this to be very interesting..I never thought about it that way. I mean, I guess every teenager has heard bad language and seen violence and sex on tv and at movies. I honestly don't know how I feel about it. If my kid is 16 or 17 ok, but 12 or 13? Maybe it is more up to the parent to see what their kid is reading.

  7. I feel it has always been up to the parents to at least be aware what the kid is reading. Even better if they manage to engage the kid on discussion of the themes, if not the actual plot/characters, of the books.

    Personally, I think it's the labels that have changed, rather than the content (from sex to language). There used to be a series of so-called "cautionary tales" for teens about this young runaway, Chris something-or-other, that were set in the US. The things that this kid did or had done to her ranged from horrible to disgusting to unbelievable.

    The writing was rather poor, but they sold like crazy. *shrug*

  8. My daughter is 10 years old, but quite a sophisticated reader. I try to pre-screen the books that she's interested in reading (either I'll read them or her aunts will). She's been reading since she's 4, so I'm finding it difficult to find books that I think are appropriate for her, but that she'll enjoy and that are at her reading level.

    When she came to me and told me that she wanted to read the Twilight series, I was a bit put off. From some of the comments I didn't think it was appropriate, but all the other girls in her class were reading them (please, please MOM!). I asked her aunt and she said it was OK for her to read, as it wasn't explicit (or filled with details). Plus we had had our semi-annual sex and "friends" talk. So I let her... now she doesn't want to read "baby" books as she "outgrown" them.

    On the plus side, we have quite in-depth discussions on the books, so any questions are answered honestly and with some candor.

    For me the content and context are important. She's a sharp cookie, so nothing slips by her too much... context seems to dominate a discussion with us. I try to steer her away from drama books; since they seem heavier on the "adult" content then say a science fiction or comedy might.

    It is a difficult thing to navigate though. (Sorry for the long post.)

  9. Renee - I did the same thing. Went from children's books to adults' books, most fantasy IIRC. The majority of teen books at the time just didn't interest me, and the authors I did read (e.g. Robin McKinley) wrote fantasy (what can I say, I was a fantasy nut *grin*).

    Great comments Mariana, and very insightful. Out of interest, has your daughter ever read Eoin Cofler? Maybe a bit young for her if she is reading Twilight, but I loved them (even as an adult :)

    Very interesting point Mandi. I guess I always thought that teen books were 'acceptable' for those of teenage years, but what is considered acceptable these days?

    I agree azteclady, although saying that my parents weren't interested in what I was reading (although my mother did tell me not to laugh when I read Barbara Cartland as the books weren't meant to be funny). Everyone in my family thought it amusing that I read (the only person who read as much as I did was my grandfather). I don't know of the series you are referring too, but it did make me think of another teen series. The first book was The Truth Trap (which I've ordered as I realised I had the second, third and fourth books [signed by the author] but not the first). Very good series, although dark.

    Hmmm. All of the comments have made me realise that YA now is a very different kettle of fish than YA in my day...and that the emphasis is more on the parents to ensure the content and context are appropriate as YA today is a rather broad genre..

    Thank you all for such insightful comments!

  10. Orannia - We just started to Artemis Fowl series! She finished Rick Riordan's Olympians series before going on vacation (which I've started).

    I'm also looking at DJ MacHale's Pendragon series for her... doing a bit of research on it now. She was asking about Richelle Meads Vampire Academy, but I don't know much about it and glancing through it there were a lot "boyfriend" references... not sure of that yet.

  11. YA today is certainly different from teen stuff I read as a teen. ^_^

    I went much the same route as Orannia and Renee but I was definitely strongly into SciFi and Fantasy. Read all the fairytale and mythology books the library carried. Read Gone With the Wind and The Thornbirds at 12 and decided that whole romance thing was boring and depressing. And didn't pick it back up until I went to college.

    The only teen books I liked was a series about different girls in different historical periods. I remember all the titles were the names of the heroine and there was always a love triangle. My sister read all those nauseating Sweet Valley High books. I was much more into the talking animals. ^_^

  12. I'm afraid I'm not much help. I'm so far removed from YA that the YA genre doesn't appeal to me. Even my sons are far removed from YA - ACK!!!
    But when I was a YA - I was reading Mary Stewart, Georgette Heyer, Daphne DuMaurier - which are all a FAR cry from the books of today.

  13. Wow, that's interesting that YA is defined more by the age of the protag than the audience. I didn't know that! Wow!

  14. Aymless - I have to confess to reading a few Sweet Valley High books when I was a teenager. An abberation, I swear :)

    KristieJ - I'm very impressed with the books you were reading as a teen. My first adult books were James Herriot's autobiographies, which I still adore :)

    Wow, that's interesting that YA is defined more by the age of the protag than the audience.

    I didn't know that either CJ...but it explains in part how the genre has changed so much.