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Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

YA is Ultimately for Teens, and That’s Okay

The Teen spending time in the Teen MakerSpace

The Teen spending time in the Teen MakerSpace

The other day a parent came up to me and we engaged in some good old fashioned Reader’s Advisory. Her daughter was 11, a young 11. And she wanted some recommendations for some YA titles, but she was very worried about content. In the end I told her that after talking with her, I thought she would be comfortable with her daughter reading a variety of really excellent middle grade titles. What I heard her saying was that she wasn’t really comfortable with her daughter reading YA, and that’s okay.

At the same time, there has been a variety of conversations online about adults reading – and reviewing – YA. It’s especially an issue when adults continue to criticize main characters in YA literature for acting like, well, teenagers. The truth is, the best YA are those titles that feature authentic teen main characters. That means they have to feature teens that are reckless, impulsive, inconsistent, and changing. Because that’s who teens are.

Don’t get me wrong. I read YA literature. I don’t just read it because I’m a Teen Librarian or for TLT, I read it because I enjoy reading it. I have favorite authors. I have favorite titles, series, and genres. I am an avid YA reader. But I also recongize that ultimately, YA is not written FOR me. I enjoy it, but part of what I enjoy about it is that it is written for and about teens – and that’s very important.

We live in a culture that has strong negative feelings about teens. Local malls put up signs dis-inviting groups of teens from their properties. We enact curfews. We scoff, side eye and demean normal teenage behavior. We joke about how we would never want to go back to middle or high school (and to be honest, I wouldn’t). Every day in so many ways we communicate to teenagers that we loathe and judge them for who they are. Which is part of the reason why authentic, well written YA literature is so important. It communicates a very different and positive message to teens: we see you, we value you, we respect you, we hear you. That’s an important message that teens need to hear.

So what makes YA literature good? rireading2

A YA book has to respect the teen reader

Trust that teens can and do have the ability to read and understand a book. They don’t need to be talked down to. They don’t need your message telegraphed to them. If you assume your readers are unintelligent and write in ways that make that clear, you’ve already lost your audience. Teens know when we are talking down to them, and they resent it. If you don’t respect teens, don’t write or work for/with them.

A YA book has to reference things teens know

I grew up watching Doogie Howser, MD. I’m 44 years old. Your book should probably not have a teen character that references Doogie Howser without some really good reason for doing so. For example, in The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez one of the supporting characters is obsessed with the Rat Pack. This character explains to you why they are invested in the Rat Pack, who the Rat Pack are, and what they know about them. It’s an obscure reference that teens won’t know, but it is given in a context. Without that context, teens don’t understand what is being said or why. If you name drop obscure references from your own teenage life, you are no longer writing for teens but are writing for yourself or author adults your same age.

See also: Slang. Pay attention to the terms you use and slang you reference.

A YA book has to have teens that act in authentically teen ways

Teens are not mini-adults. Brain science tells us that the teen brain is functionally different than that of an adult. They are often bad at decision making, impulsive, and emotional. Yes, they absolutely are submerged into a world of incredible hormonal influx and wrestling with what those hormones mean. Like adults, many teens are unlikable. That’s just human nature. They should be complex, richly developed, and well-rounded. If you are an adult who complained because Harry Potter acted like a moody, entitled, emotional teen in the later HP books, then you probably don’t remember or don’t respect teenagers. I was a moody, entitled teenager who slammed down the phone, slammed doors, rolled my eyes and both raged and bawled my eyes out. It’s all normal teenage behavior. PS, many adults still do all of these same things. I mean, even I am prone to rolling my eyes.

There are always outliers, and they deserve to be reflected in YA literature too. But old soul teens who speak like college professors or act like mini-adults should also be outliers in YA literature, not the norm.

A YA book has to reflect the diverse world of teens

My teenage daughter is a cis-white female who has just finished the 8th grade. She knows and is friends with 4 trans people, many other GLBTQ people, people with disabilities, and a wide variety of people of color. Her white best friend is dating a black boy. She goes to church every Sunday and then goes to school on Monday and talks about her weekend with her Muslim friends. She does not live in an all white, all straight, all Christian world. Even in the community that I work, which is 96% white, my teens live with and want diversity. They are aware that they are a small part of the world. In fact, I find daily that teens are much more open and kind and craving of authentic diversity then previous generations have been.

A YA book has to reflect the diverse interests of teens

The Bestie is a cheerleader who plays volleyball and goes to book festivals. The Teen is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do who also loves musical theater and science; she is also an avid reader. The teens I know are interested in comics and anime and sports and art and movies and . . . . well, a little bit of everything. And not a single teen I know is defined by any one thing, just as adults are not. I am a wife and a mother and a librarian and a friend that loves science fiction and sharks and dinosaurs and robots and the water and cake. We are all multitudes, as are teens. Stop writing about jocks and cheerleaders and nerds and band geeks and loners and stoners in stereotypical ways. And stop writing one-dimensional characters. Again, respect the teen reader and respect their complexity.

selection1

YA is not for everyone, and that’s okay. Younger readers can read YA, but there is also lots of glorious middle grade out there for them to read. I love and read MG, too. Adults can read YA, but there are also lots of glorious adult fiction out there for adults to read. And in the middle there is YA, which can and should be ultimately for teens. Teens need good, quality YA written for and about them by authors who understand, respect and value them.

If you are an adult who reads YA and finds yourself complaining about the teens in YA literature, YA literature may not be for you. And that’s okay.

YA is Ultimately for Teens, and That's Okay//


YA is Ultimately for Teens, and That's Okay



  1. Walk into any bk store or library. See all the adult fiction? Read YA if you like, but it should be for & about teens. Adults don't lack rep


  2. And yes, teens often read adult fic. But man, when teens connect with a YA book that represents them in some way or they connect with it.


  3. That's priceless.
    And important and profound.
    And life changing.


  4. We tell teens in so many ways that we loathe them or find them a burden or a nuisance. To have sections of YA in bk stores & libraries


  5. sends a much needed affirming message. It lets them know that we do value them. That we do respect them. That was do want them here.


  6. I am an adult who reads YA. But I do so as someone who works with teens so I get how good YA has characters who act like teens.


  7. If the MC in YA annoy you because they act like teenagers, please remember what being a teen is really like. Spend time with teens.


  8. Or, you could always read adult fiction. That's okay too. There is a lot of great adult fiction out there.


  9. And if you can't handle teen characters in Ya lit acting like teens, please don't be a teen librarian. They need us on their side.


  10. And for the love of pete, please let YA continue to be authentically about and for teens. They deserve that respect.

 

#MHYALit: My Definition of Crazy, a guest post by author Lois Metzger

Today as part of the #MHYALit Discussion we are honored to host author Lois Metzger. Her newest book, Change Places with Me, will be released tomorrow. You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.

MHYALitlogoofficfial

I’m at my bedroom window, looking out at the building across the way.  Unbelievably, it’s on fire.  I can see a girl facing me.  Doesn’t she know she’s in a burning building and there are flames at her back?  But she’s just standing there, staring at me.  I start waving my arms at her—get out!  She waves her arms too.  Then I realize—I’m looking at a reflection.  I’m the one in the burning building and the flames are behind me, coming closer.

I wake up, heart thudding, barely able to breathe, my nightgown clammy, as if I’d stood too close to actual flames.

As a kid growing up in Queens, in New York City, I had nightmares like this several times a week.  In college I majored in psychology and read about “night terrors,” as they’re called, dreams so scary and troubling they wake you up.  The textbook said that people got night terrors two or three times a year.  I thought that must be a misprint.  They meant a week.  But then the book went on to say that people who had them more often might have mental-health problems.

Still, that didn’t mean I was crazy.  I had a clear definition of crazy in my head.  My grandfather.

####

My grandfather had lived his whole life in Vienna. When Hitler came to power in Germany, my grandfather didn’t see a threat because he’d fought in World War I on the side of the Germans.  But after Hitler marched into Austria in 1938, my grandfather was persecuted because he was Jewish.  At one point he was imprisoned, and beaten so badly that old surgery scars opened up again.  For years he was on the run.  In Yugoslavia, he was put in a number of small concentration camps.

After the war he came to America.  He lived in Manhattan and loved that he could walk everywhere, as he had in Vienna.  He came to our house a couple times a month and cooked egg noodles.  I remember him as tall, kind of stooped over, and soft-spoken (after saying “hello” in English, he kept up a steady stream of conversation to himself entirely in German).  He wasn’t all “there,” it was explained to my brother and me.  He thought that his wife (my grandmother) was in touch with Hitler and that Hitler was coming to New York to find him. My grandmother had had to leave him; she found her own apartment not too far from us.  We weren’t allowed to talk about my grandmother in my grandfather’s presence.  We had to pretend she was dead or in Chicago.  I don’t think it mattered that she could be dead one month and in Chicago the next.

Then, one day, he tried to kill a window washer by pulling his ladder away, because he thought the man was spying on him.  My grandfather spent the rest of his life in a psychiatric hospital, though in his last years he had freedom to leave and go for walks.

Growing up, that was how I saw mental illness, as something distant and triggered by world events.  (Or the occasional sighting on the street of someone who was no-doubt-about-it insane.)  There was some talk that my grandfather may have had issues even before the war, but his war experiences pushed him far over the edge.  As for my grandmother, who’d been on the run with him—she came through the war much stronger.

My grandmother was the one who noticed things in me.  She said, “You feel too much.”  As a kid, I was drawn to books about narrators who were also plagued by intense feelings—sadness, grief, anxiety, depression, guilt:  Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” and Frankie in Carson McCullers’s “The Member of the Wedding,” Gene in “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, and Ralph in William Goldman’s “Lord of the Flies.”  I didn’t know this was a kind of self-help, but it most definitely was.  In middle-class Queens I couldn’t relate to Holden Caulfield’s life of privilege—I didn’t even know what a prep school was—but I was right there with him in every other way, though I never took it seriously when he insisted, “I’m crazy.  I swear to God I am.”

It was only years later I realized the world of mental illness was a lot more inclusive and widespread than my narrow childhood definition.  The novels I write tend to be about young people who don’t even know they’re part of this world, let alone realize there’s a world of help out there.

Meet Author Lois Metzger

Lois Metzger’s latest book, “Change Places with Me” (HarperCollins 2016), is about a girl desperate to avoid intense feelings and who has a dream about a burning building.  She is the author of three other novels, including “A Trick of the Light,” about a boy with an eating disorder, and she has written two nonfiction books about the Holocaust.  She lives in New York City with her husband and son.  Please visit her at loismetzger.com and on Facebook and Twitter https://twitter.com/metzgerlois.

changeplaceswithmePublisher’s Book Description: CHANGE PLACES WITH ME by Lois Metzger

Rose has changed. She still lives in the same neighborhood with her stepmother and goes to the same high school with the same group of kids, but when she woke up today, something was just a little different than it was before. The dogs who live upstairs are no longer a terror. Her hair and her clothes all feel brand-new. She wants to throw a party—this from a girl who hardly ever spoke to her classmates before. There is no more sadness in her life; she is bursting with happiness.

But something still feels wrong to Rose. Because, until very recently, Rose was an entirely different person—a person who is still there inside her, just beneath the thinnest layer of skin. (June 14, 2016 from Balzer and Bray)

January #ARCParty – A Look at January, February and March 2016 YA Lit Releases

January #ARCParty

Here’s The Teen, The Bestie, and new TAB member Cat taking a look at some of the most recent ARCs that we have received here at TLT Headquarters (aka, Casa Jensen). In case you are new to TLT, here’s what we do: The teens go through each book and look at the cover and read the description to let me know what they think and if they would be interested in reading the title or not based on that little bit of info. I always find it interesting to see what they think plus it helps me know what titles they might be interested in reading and reviewing.//

January #ARCParty

A look at #yalit coming out January through March 2016

  1. Gonna have an #ARCParty. We'll be looking mostly at Feb & March 2016 #yalit release https://t.co/meRdfqq5gP

    Gonna have an #ARCParty. We’ll be looking mostly at Feb & March 2016 #yalit release pic.twitter.com/meRdfqq5gP
  2. The Bestie has already read this one and says "one of the best books ever". Substance abuse, cousins https://t.co/1ecPeEeEkc

    The Bestie has already read this one and says “one of the best books ever”. Substance abuse, cousins pic.twitter.com/1ecPeEeEkc
  3. An over achieving perfectionist tries to live life more fully https://t.co/VqC2AjMRLP

    An over achieving perfectionist tries to live life more fully pic.twitter.com/VqC2AjMRLP
  4. Karen actually read this & it was good. WWII. Greatest maritime disaster. They say it sounds good. #ARCParty https://t.co/SOAO6h94Dt

    Karen actually read this & it was good. WWII. Greatest maritime disaster. They say it sounds good. #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/SOAO6h94Dt
  5. Teen w/strange new power; 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. Sounds interesting! #ARCParty https://t.co/QMmowNJ5wD

    Teen w/strange new power; 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. Sounds interesting! #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/QMmowNJ5wD
  6. Much giggling about title. Transfer student. He really is a pterodactyl apparently! They are intrigued. #ARCParty https://t.co/RowzMD07h4

    Much giggling about title. Transfer student. He really is a pterodactyl apparently! They are intrigued. #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/RowzMD07h4
  7. They like the cover. They say yes!  (This is a sequel) #ARCParty @lexusgailey will be reviewing. https://t.co/M0OcvENkwJ

    They like the cover. They say yes! (This is a sequel) #ARCParty @lexusgailey will be reviewing. pic.twitter.com/M0OcvENkwJ
  8. Arts academy; is our MC responsible for a string of deaths? fantasy. So intriguing. #ARCParty https://t.co/ScoS790u5G

    Arts academy; is our MC responsible for a string of deaths? fantasy. So intriguing. #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/ScoS790u5G
  9. Suicide attempt, friendship & family; self discovery, middle school. They say it sounds good. #ARCParty https://t.co/eoM2ln7Nri

    Suicide attempt, friendship & family; self discovery, middle school. They say it sounds good. #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/eoM2ln7Nri
  10. Cliff falls for girl, has to figure out life, about to graduate. They said it sounds good & intense #ARCParty https://t.co/e8OMjCkjql

    Cliff falls for girl, has to figure out life, about to graduate. They said it sounds good & intense #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/e8OMjCkjql
  11. LOL - they're all, no don't touch it! Don't get anything on it! #Arcparty https://t.co/bFteHdkM0k

    LOL – they’re all, no don’t touch it! Don’t get anything on it! #Arcparty pic.twitter.com/bFteHdkM0k
  12. Drug abuse/addiction; domestic violence; homelessness; trying to end cycle #ARCParty https://t.co/GbMtTHQrID

    Drug abuse/addiction; domestic violence; homelessness; trying to end cycle #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/GbMtTHQrID