Does the YA Book Community Really Exist for Teens Anymore?

Disclaimer: This is currently a really polarising and controversial topic within the bookish community, and my goal here is not to contribute to any drama. However, I do want to use my privilege and platform to voice concerns I have seen reflected in other teens. If this post will upset you, feel free to click out!

Hello! Today I’d thought I’d switch directions and have more of a discussion post than a strictly bookish post. I mean, it’s kinda bookish still…WE HAVE A BRAND TO MAINTAIN HERE FOLKS!

CW: I will be talking about sexualisation of minors, child pornography, and incest. Stay safe ya’ll!

When I say “young adult,” you say “should be intended for a teenage audience!”

When I say “young adult,” you say “does not exist for adults and content produced just for matured persons defeats the whole purpose of the genre!”

There’s a problem in the YA book community that I want to address today, and it’s that adults and their interests are being prioritised over actual teen readers. According to a study conducted by Bowker Market Research in 2012, adults account for about 55% of YA sales. (Read more here.) Of these 55% of people, 78% are purchasing books for themselves. And this research was conducted and published in 2012. Considering that the market has since grown, we can predict this percentage has increased with YA’s popularity. On the surface, the purchase of books for one’s adult self is benign. But the consequences it has for publishing are anything but.

115 reviews for the Hunger Games posted to the public forum Goodreads, many of which were negative, contained the word “immature.” For City of Bones, the number is 167. And for Divergent, reviews containing the word immature amount to 184.

What concerns me is that adults, who are the most visible users of sites like Goodreads, and apparently the primary consumers of young adult literature, are leaving reviews with the mindset that young adults books are for them. They’re not. If these books seem immature to you as an adult, it’s probably because they were written for an audience that is younger. This isn’t to say you can’t read or review young adult, but maybe exclude criticisms on the basis of maturity or simplicity. Books my peers have called “simplistic” have been some of my all-time favourites. 

When publishers see reviews like this, and especially from well-known creators, they are more likely to encourage authors to age up their stories to satisfy what they view as their audience. And while a lot of their audience is adults, a lot isn’t. We’re important. We’re supposed to be the target demographic of YA, but we’re not very well represented in the book community. It’s not that we aren’t here, it’s that we aren’t sure what’s safe for us as teens, and others are constantly speaking over our voices. And the adult side of community has not helped. 

First of all, teens are constantly sexualised by adults in a way that is simply unacceptable. The amount of times I have seen sexual fan art of minors or witnessed adults include teenagers in “Book Boyfriend” posts does not make me happy. Adults fixate on “maturity” as an excuse for posting explicit drawings or lusting over HONEST TO GOD TEENAGERS, but the only reason these characters are mature is because of you. You demanded YA age their characters because normal teenagers are too immature by your standards. Even if they act like twenty-two year olds, teenagers are still minors, and all you’ve succeeded in is making literature inaccessible to younger audiences. Images of  teenagers having sex on Twitter timelines are child pornography. This just proves that the community is becoming less and less accessible to teenagers: lots of people are not ready for this kind of content in their adolescence, and forcing it upon them without warning can be startling and harmful. Having your body seen as something sexual can be frightening, even more so in an online space where safety is less of a guarantee and more of a desire. At the end of the day, maturity is not an excuse for paedophilia and using it as a shield is…just not great.

Secondly, very few members of the community validate teenagers. Many talk about the struggles of being an adult reader of young adult– how people label their interests as immature and think lesser of them for it. Sound familiar? Adult readers are doing almost exactly what the condemn: judging readers and boxing them out of circles. The difference is that teenage readers are being thrust from a community built for them…and adults readers aren’t. 

Of course, I don’t want to invalidate adult readers at all. You are all very important to the community and I would never want you to think otherwise. I understand that young adult offers representation for a lot of you. But at the same time, doesn’t that send a message about young adult? If you feel more represented by a genre dedicated to people who aren’t you, maybe it’s time to wonder about your impact on the genre.

In recent days, it has become even more obvious to me that young adult authors are losing touch with their audience. From dismissing teens uncomfortable with incest, to saying teens aren’t on Goodreads (le sigh), I must ask:

Does the YA book community really exist for teens anymore?

In an article for Slate Magazine, Ruth Graham puts it perfectly when she says, “…{W}hen I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks; I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a world where all the adults were camped out in mine.”

But don’t actually click on the Slate article because it’s really mean and not cool!!!








2 thoughts on “Does the YA Book Community Really Exist for Teens Anymore?

  1. I love this post so much, Zoe! I definitely think that there’s an issue in how YA seems to be a very big “adult” thing now. And like you, I don’t mean to invalidate adults who read YA — because the issue isn’t that there are more adults reading it, but that adults are taking over spaces that are meant for teens and also making teens uncomfortable in a space meant for them. (I also am so grossed out by the amount of adults lusting over teenage characters and how normalized it is??)

    Liked by 1 person

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