Friday, June 22, 2012

Growing Past YA

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.


  1. Completely relate to this! I find it hard to read books where the protagonist is younger! Even if it's good, cos i feel kind of past it :s oh well. Love your blog by the way! When I first discovered it i spent like near 3 hours going through all your old posts! ur in the same year as me, though im from london in england. ur a really great writer!

    1. Thank you so much, for the comment and all the kind words.

      What do you dislike about reading about younger protagonists? It's something I find hard to explain/articulate.

    2. I don't think it's the fact that I feel like I'm past all the school drama, although it is a contributing factor, but I also think it's the fear of missing out syndrome - not going through the same exciting things that they went throughat 16. I think that's it anyway, haha. That being sed I still love YA and I think I always will, as long as it's written well

  2. Hi Katherine,
    I only recently stumbled across your blog. I am YA librarian and constantly searching for a variety of books that I may be able to recommend to people with vastly different interests.

    I am 26 and must confess that I still enjoy YA novels. My favorite YA novels have little to do with the high school scene though. Even if a character is high school age, as long as things are happening outside of school it is a much more enjoyable tale for me. Stolen by Lucy Christopher is a good example of a YA book I liked and would pick to read even if I weren’t doing this job. Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t get something out of a story like 7 Clues to Winning You, but 7 Clues isn’t a book I picked for me. I read it to know what I was recommending to others, and enjoyed it too (a nice bonus).

    Do YA books remind me that I’m old? Yeah, sometimes; but I think the better ones try to avoid repeated references to pop culture. This cuts down on those moments like your “Shrek” example. Also I try to approach books like Struts and Frets by Skovron as an opportunity to learn more about an area of pop culture I am not familiar with (in this case, garage band music in the Midwest). The other nice thing about YA compared to regular fiction is that it is just faster to read. I don’t know if my perspective helps anything, but I just wanted to share.


  3. Hi Katherine,
    I think it's totally understandable that you are growing past YA books. It doesn't have to mean that you will never read one again, it just means that sometimes you may pick other books ahead of a YA title, and that's okay. I think the reason I find it strange to read about protagonists younger than me is because I like to put myself in the place of the protagonist and imagine myself in the story. That's fine if they are older than you because that's exciting, and you feel as though maybe it's something you might do in a few years, but when they are younger I always feel a bit ripped of (for lack of a better term lol. I kind of think, well if i'm already older than them and it hasn't happened yet, then it's not going to.

    I don't mind if you don't blog about YA books anymore, just as long as you keep blogging! I would be interested in reading any of your reviews, regardless of the genre.


    1. I agree--when you read about an older protagonist it's exciting. Not so much with younger protagonists. It's depressing or annoying. Not always, of course, but I have found that a time or two.

      In terms of what I'll be posting about and what I'll be reading, I'm still sticking with YA for the foreseeable future. This post was meant more as an exploration of the issue than a declaration--I'm still reading YA (just finished Jennifer Echol's underwhelming Love Story), and I still plan to blog about it. For now.

      I'm a little shocked by how much response this post has gotten. For me, this is a lot of comments. Thank you for commenting!

  4. I am entering 3rd year university in the fall and at times I find myself reading YA still. From the Hunger Games to Sarah Dessen Novels. It all depends on my mood. I do love the cheesy love stories in some of the novels and find at times that they are comforting. However I have slowly started to drift away from my YA novels and find that they do not hold the same spark that they once did for me, now I prefer to read novels where the characters are in their 20s and 30s signalling the next chapter of my life. I will still grab a YA novel off the shelf at the library once and a while, but I find that I wont purchase one from bookstore anymore.
    I love hearing what you are reading so please do post about books you have found to fill the YA gap.
    - Jaclyn

  5. Dear Katherine,

    I'm an author with a new collection of YA short stories, Ugly To Start With (West Virginia University Press).

    Will you please consider reviewing it?

    I've been writing and publishing for twenty years--more than one hundred stories and two novels--and Ugly To Start With is my best work.

    My first novel, The Night I Freed John Brown (Penguin), won The Paterson Prize for Fiction and was recommended by USA Today.

    My short stories have appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including North American Review, The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Chattahoochee Review. Twice I have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. "The Scratchboard Project" received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

    If you write me back at, I’ll send you a PDF of my collection for your consideration.

    At this point, my small publisher is out of available review copies, so I hope and politely ask that you consider the PDF.

    I would be very grateful.

    Thank you so much.

    John Michael Cummings


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