Great Debates: Adult Encroachment in the YA Community

February 12, 2018     The Bluestocking Bookworm     Books, Great Debates, Reading

Today’s topic is one that has been floating around for a while. I am going to talk about Adult Encroachment in the YA Community. Now, I want to preface this post with a disclaimer. I am an adult. I am biased in that way. This is a general rebuttal. This is not aimed at any teen blogger in specific, or even teenage bloggers in general. This is about dismantling the ideas behind the attitude. I may be walking down Unpopular Opinion Avenue here, but I implore you to join me.

**NB: This post is not about the actual safety of teens from sexual predators disguised as authors. (This is a topic that has been very prevalent in the book community in the last 24 hours) That is a right every person – especially teens – should have. Full stop. I am talking about some other items that have come up in discussion.**

The Basics

The basics behind this Great Debates is that adults are making a mess of the YA community. We are guests in a teenage space, and we are tracking mud on the carpet. The biggest principle that keeps being brought up is that YA books are for teenagers, and so we should be looking to said teenagers for everything to do with YA books. Some ways that adult encroachment has apparently affected the YA community:

  • Book awards are judged by adults.
  • Festivals, conferences and events are curated by adults.
  • Podcasts, panels, articles are written by adults.
  • Teens feel talked over, and like their opinions don’t get traction unless they are boosted or supported by an adult blogger.
  • All of the “top” bloggers are adults.
  • Teenagers feel unsafe voicing their opinions, as adults hold the reins.

My Take

There is definitely more that can be done to make the YA community and all of its trappings more centered on teenagers. Having teens on award committees, giving them the floor at panels and events to ask their questions, and giving them the credit they are due when they voice their opinions. Teenagers are not dumb, and if you ask them their opinion on books, they know what they are saying. I love that dedicated spaces for teenagers to chat about YA books exist. (There is a hashtag on Twitter, which I can’t remember off the top of my head.)

My niece is a newly inducted member in the teenager club, and I really love hearing her thoughts on books, because she very often doesn’t see the same things I, at 30, do. And this is an important thing to foster, across all topics. This is also why I take some issue with the people who push for the boycotting of certain YA books. You are an adult, and you are reading the book as an adult. I can almost guarantee that your teenage counterparts are not going to see the same things you are.

However, some of the expected and proposed accommodations are beyond what could be considered reasonable. Teenagers are busy. High School, while not as important as some of the teachers would lead you to believe, is still really important and formative. Some teenagers work as well. I am going to go out on a limb and say that most, if not all, teenagers are too busy with their school, home, and social lives to dedicate time to reading 30 books in a short period for an award selection. They probably don’t have the several months it takes to plan a convention. And while they have the real life experience, they lack in the training sometimes needed. The sheer amount of work and special skills that it takes to do these things is not to be scoffed at.

This brings me to blogs and stats and the like. I have a hard time maintaining a schedule, and I only work 20 hours a week. I don’t go to school. I don’t have homework. I don’t have an active social life that demands I do things every night. I have a lot of respect for teenage bloggers who maintain a good blogging schedule with their other commitments. There is also a monetary component to it. I pay a lot of money for things like my domain name, hosting, and graphics. And disposable income is not something that a lot of teens have access to for any number of reasons. It is one of the privileges of being an adult. Free blogs simply do not get the same level of traffic and search engine optimization that paid ones do. Is it unfair? Sure. But it isn’t unfair to just teenagers.

Also, can we take a minute and acknowledge that book sales are why publishers exist? So yes, your favorite events are probably going to be centered around sales. It sucks that you generally don’t have disposable income as a teenager, but this is one thing that is just not going to change. Sales are how authors make money to write more books, and to expect events to not try and sell books is preposterous. However, I do feel that the basic financial accessibility (see: admission prices, travel costs, etc.) of these events needs to be addressed across the board, not just for teens.

I also really feel like this attitude of adults being “guests” in the YA community is part of why so many adults are ashamed to admit to reading YA books. I’ll be damned if I let anyone belittle me for reading and reviewing YA books as an adult.

Final Notes

It is really important to remember that YA books are written specifically for young adults. That doesn’t mean that adults don’t get to read them or have an opinion. We are not guests. And it is really important to remember that adults do have certain privileges like free time, advanced training, and financial status. While adults need to be aware of the best interests of the teenagers these books are targeted at, teenagers need to recognize that they aren’t always the best people for the job just because they are the target audience. We need to learn to work together instead of against each other.

The bottom line is that if you want to add your voice to the community via articles, podcasts, etc. you need to put in the work. There are no exceptions, and no shortcuts. Boost your work, apply to the online publications (remember that there are labor laws that apply, and that is not something we can really change) and good luck!

How do you feel about adult encroachment in the YA community? Are you an adult or a teenager?

Please remember that this is a safe space, and any comments not respecting other commenters and their opinions will be deleted without warning. Repeat offenders will be banned from commenting.

Stay bookish, lovelies! ♥

Talk bookish to me!

14 responses to “Great Debates: Adult Encroachment in the YA Community

  1. Good article! I agree and I would also like to add that (at least in my country) Young Adults are generally people between the 18-25 range. Meaning that it is not necessarily (just) teens that these books are targeted at.

      • Definitely true. Blogging, and influencing, is a lot of work and as you said, teenagers have a busy schedule. Now obviously it is important to also listen to teenagers, learn their perspectives and hear what they have to say. But let’s not forget indeed that a lot of YA now includes young to mid twenties. More importantly, that everyone should read what they want to read, as reading is something that is meant to enjoy! My own mother prefers YA above anything else! So if adult bloggers want to put their energy and time into making blogs for us to enjoy, they definitely should!

  2. Good points! Although, id like to have a « general consensus » towards what young adult means .. like to me it could easily go until 30, no ?

    But yes! We shall work as a team, regardless of our age, and let the younger of us actually feel a bit more apreciated and heard. And also i agree that even if they’re the « targetted ».. they still have to do some work -now of course they may not have the same time as us to do it. But you know, atleast make an effort- in life, things are just not handed to you like that .. which is probably a good thing for them to learn aswell.

    • I think the “general idea” is that YA fiction is targeted for ages 14-21. However, there is a lot of wiggle room in there. As Sarah said in a previous comment, the upper range has expanded to 25 at the least, because a lot of college books are classified as YA. And don’t get me started on what New Adult could have been and what it actually is, which also contributed to the expansion of YA. And on the lower scale, my niece is 13 and she reads and enjoys both middle grade fiction (which is from 10-13 I believe) and a good chunk of YA. And she has been reading YA for a few years now. So the “targeted range” is just a general idea, really.

      I really appreciate and love teenagers’ opinions on books, and on teen-centered events. Like I said, I am 30 and I don’t relate to YA books the same way they do. And I know my opinions and thoughts are going to be skewed because of my age. But that doesn’t make them wrong.

      • Vanessa

        I hope you don’t mind me butting in here to ask… where the heck did NA suddenly come from like two years ago and why the heck is it basically YA but with sex? Like… what? The first time I saw it, I was a mix between “Oh god, another divider” and “Oh cool, maybe some new (fantasy) books with people my age will come out” (I felt like the protagonists of all books around me were either teens or 30+) but then I went deeper into it and ??? Do they think we only care about adding sex???

        • Of course I don’t mind!

          This is exactly how I feel about New Adult. It had this amazing potential to bridge the gap between YA and adult books. To bring YA pacing to stories with older protagonists. But apparently, all people aged 20-35 want is sex? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good smutty book here and there, but I feel like whoever was in charge completely missed the potential of NA.

          • Vanessa

            I agree. I also read the occasional smutty book, but I absolutely hate the idk marketing for NA?
            Sex is actually one of the least interesting things to read about (unless it’s an aforementioned smutty book which I consciously chose). I don’t mind it when it’s there, but they don’t need to… idk advertise it to make it interesting to me.
            “This book has sex in it… just for YOU not-a-teen-anymore-person!”

  3. Vanessa

    Before I got more into the book community online, I didn’t even know that there was such a discussion around YA/adult stuff. For example, I was really confused about people asking for recs “but only YA”, because before this I never really looked at books like that. I looked at the genre and the summary, but not really which age group the book was intended for (well, unless it was for children I guess).

    I’m going to be 30 this year and I agree with what you wrote there. I also admit that I’m kind of picky about YA, because I *know* which tropes teenage me loved would drive me up a wall now (reason A why lots of super popular YA books won’t find their way to my bookshelf), but I would never tell teens to not read them. Though, I DO think it’s fair to look at YA books with an adult perspective. I mean, I can’t really ignore that I think that some badboy love interest is kind of stalkerish and creepy, even when I know that teenage me might have swooned? And things like the “Wait, why are the adults letting this one teenage girl fight all the demons” questions are also a matter of overall writing quality imo (Buffy answered that question. Digimon answered that question. Sailor Moon did. So you can do it too, book). Just because it wouldn’t have bothered me as a teen, doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother me now or maybe it would have bothered me back then, too. People are not a hive-mind.

    I also buy a lot more books now that I’m actually earning money in contrast to when I was an actual teen, and that money goes as much to YA as it does to adult books. Speaking of, I also wouldn’t tell teens to not read any adult books. Tbh there are quite a lot of books who people in their teens would enjoy just as much… it’s just that the characters are older? Especially in fantasy, where there is no highschool or anything like that it literally doesn’t matter.

    I’m also currently thinking about making my own blog, but I just can’t decide if I want to write in English or in my native language (German), because on one hand, the people I know online and most of the fandom is English, but if I ever want to show my blog to any potential employer, it should be in German… which would mean writing reviews in both languages (since I also post them on Goodreads) and the thought alone makes me head hurt. I definitely wouldn’t have had time for all of that as a teen.

    • Some really awesome points in your comment, Vanessa. Especially about things like bad boy love interests!

      A prime example for me is Twilight. As a teen, I loved that book. As an adult, I can very much see the problems it has, and I can also see how they might influence a teen. I no longer relate to Twilight, largely because of my age. And there is nothing wrong with that.

      I also agree that as adults, we need to be careful what we say. We have influence. It is important to talk to the teens in our lives, but we shouldn’t ever be trying to dictate to them what they should read or how they should feel. Like, if my niece were to ever read Twilight, I might talk to her about how controlling Edward is, and how she deserves so much more than that, but I would never tell her not to read it.

      Some market estimates show as much as 70% of YA books are being purchased by adults (that is to say, people aged 18 and older). Even accounting for parents, that is a HUGE chunk of adults who are BUYING YA books.

      While I definitely agree that there are adult books that teenagers would (and do) love, I think that they tend to skip the issues that a lot of teens identify with. Things like finding yourself and committing to being the person you want to be, even in the face of adversity. Finding love for the first time. Finding your friends and navigating the troubles that can arise with friendship. Loss as a young person. Fantasy is kind of a genre that transcends age, in my opinion, but when you get into a more contemporary setting, there is a very notable difference between YA and adult books.

      And as for your thoughts on becoming a book blogger, I really think you should! There are a few options regarding the language concerns. One is to just post in German on your website, and let visitors translate it as needed. Google offers to do this for you when you visit a website that isn’t in your computer’s default language. I don’t think there is any issue with posting reviews in German on Goodreads, and I really think that people would appreciate having access to a language they may understand better than English. If you are concerned about reviews, you could either write them in English as well (your English is amazing!) or use a translation tool to convert it and clean up any errors, which might be quicker? (I am not sure, because I only speak one language.) But that is just my two cents! ♥

      • Vanessa

        (I could have sworn I had the “notify me via email” think checked… if I hadn’t come back to check, I’d have never seen that you’ve answered me.)

        Oh, I totally agree with the thought of contemporary books being very different for teens and adults. I mostly mean fantasy. There are some really good ones that I think transcend age (well, not to children obviously) on both sites.
        Basically, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind about their reading preferences (especially when it’s teens wanting to only read YA), but I’d love for the trench to not be so wide? I feel like it’s getting wider and wider and I absolutely hate those “This is why YA/adult lit is superior” posts.
        YA is not just full of silly love triangles at highschool proms and adult lit isn’t just depressed single women struggling with love and jobs. 🙁

  4. Absolutely! I am just over 30, with two small children of my own, and I love the YA genre. I believe everyone should have the same voice. if we buy the books and read them, we have a right, even though we are adults, to voice our opinions on them and be heard. You bring up some very good points here!

  5. Ooh, interesting. I actually hadn’t thought about this before (which is of course exactly why it’s interesting). I’ve been longer-length writing YA since I was 16 but it took me a good fifteen years to get published. Because it takes time to build skills. YA remains the genre I prefer to read, therefore it remains the genre I prefer to write. Now that I think of it, my most recent writing group (which is attached to a uni that I attended for all of 1.5 weeks) IS actually a brilliant place for me to get actual YA feedback from talented YA authors. (They are also very welcoming to me; no young adult has ever objected to me writing for them, at least not to my face.)

    I suspect the tension between skills and life experience will always exist.