I recently turned nineteen. That means I have less than a year left of official "teen" life left. And then I'll be an adult or something. At least, that's what they tell me.
The point is, I am quickly aging out of the Young Adult demographic. I started reading YA when I was nine years old, and for years, I was younger than the protagonists. I wasn't even in middle school yet and I was reading about seniors in high school. It mad me feel mature and grown up. Then I started high school, and I was the same age as the protagonists, which was nice. They understood me and experienced the same things as I was experiencing right at that moment. Or, at least, they experienced the things I wanted to experience. The first romances I longed for, the best friends I dreamed of. But now, I'm in college. Slowly but surely I'm moving away from the YA set. I'm growing up and I really don't know if my love for YA will be able to grow with me.
I have a number of friends my age who insist that they cannot read books with protagonists that are younger than them. I don't have a hard rule like that, but I understand where they're coming from. When we graduated from high school and started university, we felt like we were past it all. The high school drama. The 9:00 to 3:00 school day. The group projects. Parents and principals and all the other people trying to control you. Right now, I think we all want to distance ourselves from that, not dive back into it. It all feels a little immature and silly and we kind of want to pretend we're over that.
I am still reading YA. But I have, for the most part, stopped reading middle grade fiction. It's all a little too cutesy and innocent for me. And I won't specifically reject a book if I read that a book has a fourteen year old protagonist, but it certainly doesn't do the book any favours. I'm much more enthusiastic about books about high school seniors, people who are worrying about college and future plans, just like I was (and still am). I can connect with those feelings so much better. They feel so much more relevant to my life than some grade nine drama.
On a theoretical level, I like to believe that I can appreciate YA, no matter my age. That the most rewarding part of reading is not the plot or the happy ending, but the ability to connect to characters and authors on an emotional level. And there is no shortage of YA books that provide that connection. When I read Elizabeth Scott's Perfect You, I cried, as touched the exact places in my heart that my best friend had bruised. When I read Deb Caletti's Stay, I smiled at all the small moments I recognized, all the exact doubts of insecurity and poor self-esteem that I have nursed all my life. On this theoretical level, it seems as though it's not about abandoning YA, but abandoning bad YA. Which is, of course, silly and impossible. Because the things that I love in books aren't written in the descriptions on the back covers.
On a much more minuet and literal level, I am concerned. I just finished Terra Elan McVoy's Being Friends with Boys, in which the Charlotte, the protagonist, said "I watched Shrek everyday when I was little". Now, Shrek was released when I was nearly ten years old. It's not a movie I watched when I was "little". I remember seeing it theatres, and enjoying it. But I was too old to watch it obsessively in the way that little kids watch movies. When I was "little" I loved The Lady and the Tramp and The Little Mermaid. Those are my childhood reference points. What bothered me about Charlotte's statement was not that I didn't understand the reference, it was that I didn't relate to it. It was not from my generation; this not a movie my friends and I grew up with. It's a small, seemingly insignificant reference, on its own, but it raises a larger issue: as a get older, won't I relate to the references less and less? Thus, won't my emotional connection with YA books grow weaker and weaker?
Like so many questions and concerns I talk about on this blog, I don't have an answer. And before anyone says it, I am more than aware that there are many, many people who read YA who do not have the word "teen" in their age. But I'm just not sure I will be one of those people.