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Why I read YA

Recently Publishers Weekly ran an article about a Bowker Market Research study, citing statistics that the majority of YA buyers (55%) are adults, and that most of the time, those buyers are purchasing the books for themselves. According to the study, the age 30-44 segment accounted for 28% of YA sales all by itself.

“The investigation into who is reading YA books began when we noticed a disparity between the number of YA e-books being purchased and the relatively low number of kids who claim to read e-books,” said Kelly Gallagher, v-p of Bowker Market Research. “The extent and age breakout of adult consumers of these works was surprising. And while the trend is influenced to some extent by the popularity of The Hunger Games, our data shows it’s a much larger phenomenon than readership of this single series.”

I’m surprised that the people at Bowker are surprised. I’m not sure what rock they’ve been investigating under, since in my circles at least, the popularity of YA among adults predates the meteoric rise of e-reading devices.

Still, for the sake of those who are surprised, as well as for those who are well aware of YA’s appeal to adults but have yet to catch the bug, I thought I’d blog about the reasons YA appeals to me, as a member of that 30-44 age group. Here they are:

YA often grabs readers fast

Because their genre is aimed at least in part at teenagers, an age group said to have a short attention span, YA authors cannot afford to beat around the bush much when they start their books. The result are some of the most compelling openings I’ve come across. Consider the following:

My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.

I counted.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Fancy only allowed three people in the whole world to get close to her: Daddy, who was on death row; Madda, who was working the graveyard shift; and Kit, who was dead to the world in the bed next to hers. And so when she awoke to find a prowler hanging over her, violating her personal space, her first instinct was to jab her dream-diary pencil into his eye.

Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I used to be someone.

Someone named Jenna Fox.

That’s what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill me with. More than the video clips they make me watch.

More. But I am not sure what.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

YA is often fast paced and tight

There’s room for debate about the exact length of YA novels, but sites for writers like this one and this one generally list the desired word count as shorter than that of adult novels (This too is due to the conventional wisdom that teens’ attention spans are short). And indeed, many of the YA novels I’ve read feel tighter and faster paced than their adult genre cousins. Even when a YA novel bores me, it almost never feels bloated or meandering, the way novels for adults can feel on occasion.

YA often goes to dark places, but typically still retains some optimism

As a reader, I try to avoid bleak books that may depress me, but I also don’t want a steady diet of sweetness and light. Some of the romances I remember most fondly are the emotional romances of the 1990s. It’s not that I can’t enjoy a romantic comedy, but the peak reading experience for me is when I’ve been taken to dark places and brought through them to reemerge in the light. I have that experience with some of today’s romances, too, but I find that it can very reliably be had in the YA genre.

I don’t know if the reason is the angst associated with the teenage years, or the popularity of the inherently dark dystopian genre in YA, but YA doesn’t shy from darkness. At the same time, the protagonists’ youth and the focus on entertaining the reader can make it easier for me to read about painful subjects. And what is equally important to me is that even when YA books go to some harrowing places, they usually end on a hopeful note.

Today’s YA is not afraid to tackle big issues without being preachy

Back in prehistoric times, when I was a teen, books for teenagers were less entertaining than they are today. Or at least, I found them less entertaining, and preferred to read adult books for that reason. The YA novels I encountered back then were often issue books, dealing with drug use, teen pregnancy, or bullying, in ways that often struck me as grim or disturbing. There was frequently a heavy-handed message embedded in those stories, and they felt didactic as a consequence.

Today’s YA’s are usually not like that. The YAs I’ve read in the past several years have tackled issues like war (Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay, Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now), child abandonment (Jellicoe Road), racism and bigotry (Sherri L. Smith’s Flygirl, Neesha Meminger’s Shine, Coconut Moon), dictatorship and oppression (The Hunger Games trilogy and countless other dystopians), mental illness (Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves), death and dying (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green) and national traumas (Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore) in an entertaining way, so that I sometimes feel enlightened, but almost never preached to.

YA comes in a variety of flavors and blends

Because YA is an age group rather than a genre, YA books can be contemporary, paranormal, historical, dystopian, fantasy, mystery, horror, science fiction, and of course romance. But more than that, they can be more than one of these flavors at the same time. As author Marie Lu noted at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, because with YA all these genres are shelved together in the same section of the bookstore, it is easier for YA authors to publish a genre-bender.

YA often balances its genre elements well

As I recently stated on another thread, I find YA balanced. The YA novels with SF premises are usually more accessible science-wise than SF is to me. They’re not cluttered with scientific info-dumps. The YA fantasies also have romance in them, and aren’t bloated with world-building details (sometimes this is a weakness, other times it’s a strength). YA horror usually has some humor and relationship focus, and isn’t purely about scaring the daylights out of readers. The YA romances, dare I say it, aren’t as likely to lean on mental lusting or sex scenes as crutches the way some adult romances do. I love that most YA novels aren’t only about one thing, but about a mix of things.

YA is creative

I think it follows from what my earlier point about genre-benders that if a mystery with romantic elements set in outer space, for example, can be published more easily in YA, seeing that such books are published gives YA authors confidence to get creative and take risks.

There have been YA novels written in verse (poetry), as plays, and in other creative formats. How I Live Now is written entirely in paragraph long sentences stream-of-consciousness. It took me some getting used to at first, but proved to be a great vehicle for telling Daisy’s (the narrator’s) story.

There’s some good writing in YA

Crap writing can be found in any genre, YA included, but because there’s a lot of money and success in the YA genre right now, as well as room for creativity, the genre has attracted talent. Perhaps for this reason, I’ve had great luck finding a fair number of YA novels in the solid to excellent range.

YA is romantic

The best news for a romance reader such as myself is that YA novels usually include at least a thread of romance and often a lot more than that. I like the fact that most YA novels are not purely about the romantic relationship. For one thing, the protagonists are young, so that seems fitting. For another, giving the characters other challenges makes the books distinct.

In addition, these other conflicts contrast with the relationship conflict and sometimes can make the romance all the more powerful because — to paraphrase from Casablanca– the problem of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in the crazy worlds the characters inhabit. To show what I mean by this, I’ll give a couple of examples.

In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which I am currently reading, sixteen year old Hazel is suffering from thyroid cancer with additional tumors in her lungs. She has lived this way for years thanks to a drug treatment she calls the Miracle. But due to a side effect of this drug Hazel’s lungs are filled with fluid, and she must bring a machine that helps her breathe with her wherever she goes.

In her cancer survivors’ support group, Hazel meets seventeen year old Augustus Waters, a much healthier cancer survivor whose illness cost him a leg. Augustus is hot looking, and his quirky habits — holding an unlit cigarette in his mouth or playing video games with the aim of saving the civilian side characters at the cost of winning — charm Hazel and she falls for him.

If the book sound maudlin, well, while it does get tragic, the quirky humor and self-consciousness kept the novel from feeling maudlin to me. They also kept it from getting oppressive even in its darkest moments.

Here is a conversation Hazel and Augustus have as they are beginning to fall in love. Hazel has recently gotten a letter from the reclusive author of her favorite book, who refuses to tell her what happens to the characters after the novel ends unless she comes to Amsterdam to meet him in person. Hazel’s parents cannot afford to pay for such a trip.

Not long after that, Hazel tells Augustus that she cannot use the wish a wish-granting foundation gives to dying children to finance such a trip, because when she was thirteen years old, she spent that wish on a trip to Disney World. Augustus then takes Hazel on a picnic and proceeds to feed her orange foods and give the following speech:

“Hazel Grace, like so many children before you—and I say this with great affection—you spent your Wish hastily, with little care for consequences. The Grim Reaper was staring you in the face and the fear of dying with your Wish still in your proverbial pocket, ungranted, led you to rush toward the first Wish you could think of, and you, like so many others, chose the cold and artificial pleasures of the theme park.”

“I actually had a great time on that trip. I met Goofy and Minn–”

“I am in the midst of a soliloquy! I wrote this out and memorized it and if you interrupt me I will completely screw it up,” Augustus interrupted. “Please to be eating your sandwich and listening.” (The sandwich was inedibly dry, but I smiled and took a bite anyway.) “Okay, where was I?”

“The artificial pleasures.”

He returned the cigarette to its pack. “Right, the cold and artificial pleasures of the theme park. But let me submit that the real heroes of the Wish Factory are the young men and women who wait like Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot and good Christian girls wait for marriage. These young heroes wait stoically and without complaint for their one true Wish to come along. Sure, it may never come along, but at least they can rest easily in the grave knowing that they’ve done their little part to preserve the integrity of the Wish as an idea.

“But then again, maybe it will come along: Maybe you’ll realize that your one true Wish is to visit the brilliant Peter Van Houten in his Amsterdamian exile, and you will be glad indeed to have saved your Wish.”

Augustus stopped speaking long enough that I figured the soliloquy was over. “But I didn’t save my Wish,” I said.

“Ah,” he said. And then after what felt like a practiced pause, he added, “But I saved mine.”

Unconventional though this teen love story is, I find it romantic that Augustus would use his one wish to allow Hazel to fulfill her dream. Also unconventional, and hugely romantic, is the romantic thread that runs through Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series.

Spoilers ahead: The Queen of Attolia is the beginning of that romantic subplot, in which our hero, Eugenides/Gen, falls for an older, taller, and very dangerous woman. The book is set in a Greece-based world and opens when Eugenides, a young member of the Eddisian royal family as well as that kingdom’s master thief, is captured in the enemy kingdom of Attolia after having executed some brilliant thefts in the queen’s palace.

The furious queen (named Attolia herself) orders that Eugenides’ hand be cut off, devastating him. It’s not until two thirds of the way into the book that their romance begins, when, in order to end a war, Eugenides separates Attolia’s guard from the queen and kidnaps her. As Eugnides rows her away from her country in a small boat, the following conversation takes place.

“You have a choice now,” the Thief was saying. “Conscious or unconscious, you can go into the water. I have the boat pole to make certain you don’t come out again.” He nudged the pole lying at his feet. It rattled against the centerboard case, and hearing it, Attolia glanced down. The boat pole was five or six feet long and had two small hooks at the end. The hooks she could easily imagine catching in the folds of her clothes as Eugenides leaned on the pole to force her farther and farther under the surface.

She looked back at Eugenides impassively. She thought he had brought her a long way to drown her, but she knew that in his own field he was meticulous and supposed he wanted to be entirely sure of his results.

He made no move but instead spoke again. “Or you can offer me something I want more than I want to hold your head underwater until the last of your air is gone.”

Attolia had thought her choice was to be conscious or unconscious when she breathed in the black water that would kill her; she couldn’t imagine what Eugenides might want more than that. It was all she would have dreamed of in his place.

“I want to be king of Attolia,” he said.

Attolia blinked. She looked around the tiny harbor and had to clear her throat with a cough before she spoke. “You’ve brought me to a place rather spare of witnesses if you want me to declare you my heir before I die.”

“I wasn’t proposing to become your heir,” said the Thief.

“Then what?” asked Attolia.

“There’s an easier way for a man to become king,” said Eugenides, and waited for her to realize what he proposed.

Attolia stared at him. “You think I would marry you?” she asked in disbelief.

Currently waiting for me at the library is a copy of David Levithan’s Every Day. Every Day captured my interest after I read AnimeJune’s review at Gossamer Obsessions.

The Word: Every Day is a truly remarkable, original book. I was fascinated not only by the utter uniqueness of the concept, but the also how brilliantly that idea was executed.

Every day, A wakes up in a new body. Boy, girl, it doesn’t matter – the only constant is that the bodies are all the same age as A (16), and they’re all people who live within the same general vicinity (Maryland). A spends the days accessing the hosts’ memories and borrowing their lives without making too many waves. A is very strict with what can be done with the bodies – after all, A will wake up the next day as someone else but yesterday’s body will have to deal with the consequences.

Everything changes when A wakes up in the body of Justin and falls for Rhiannon, Justin’s downtrodden girlfriend. They have a wonderful, life-changing day together, but suddenly A is no longer satisfied with taking life one day at a time. No matter how many days pass and how many different people A wakes up as, A’s love for Rhiannon remains. Determined to find a way back to Rhiannon, A starts breaking the rules – and comes to learn more about the importance of existence, appearance, and memory.

It remains to be seen whether I’ll love this book as much as AnimeJune did, but I’m excited to try this unusual story. Excited may be the word that best summarizes my feelings about reading in the YA genre right now. Genre trends come and go – Chick Lit, for example, has been here and gone, and Urban Fantasy doesn’t feel quite as fresh as it did several years ago. It’s possible that YA will grow stale for me, but for now, I’m psyched to read it.

And what about you guys? How do you feel about YA and its popularity? Do you read YA, or not? Why or why not?

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

47 Comments

  1. Rosie
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 06:16:10

    I’m in my mid-30s. I had read a few YA titles over the past few years that I’d seen recommended on blogs (Nevermore by Kelly Creagh and Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols). But after getting sucked into the Hunger Games hype earlier this year (loved that trilogy — issues with Mockingjay aside), I started really exploring the YA genre, seeing what I’d missed and discovering lots of great authors and great stories.
    I like the variety within the genre (I had never read much dystopia or fantasy before branching out with YA). I like that the authors are willing to take chances. And yeah, after reading so much adult romance, it’s refreshing to read a “sweeter” romance once in a while that’s not all about the sexual tension — but no less swoonworthy. (I highly recommend Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson, which I consider a great example of a YA historical romance.)
    I read to escape, so maybe being inside the head of a 17-year-old is the ultimate escape from my bill-paying life. LOL

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  2. Carolyne
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 06:19:52

    I enjoy YA for all the reasons you list–and I enjoy “adult” books for sometimes opposite reasons, depending on what I’m in the mood for. I read almost no YA when I was in the demographic, admittedly right before YA as a category exploded, preferring to read my parents’ genre books (science fiction, mystery, horror) and then spending my allowance in the science fiction section.

    Just just this one thing eventually wearies me about reading YA–its necessary focus on either youthful protagonists or on concerns and perspectives and the philosophical questionings of an inexperienced view of the world. Sometimes I want to deal with the concerns of a worldview with more mileage on it, or cheer along a heroine who’s 40 on a world-changing quest.

    I’m interested in seeing how the “New Adult’ category develops.

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  3. Michelle
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 07:13:24

    I won’t bore others with my gushing for the brilliance of Megan Whalen Turner. It is an awesome series. The King of Attolia has the BEST sword fight scene EVAH!! She really does secondary characters well-Costis, Gen’s father, the Magus, etc.
    Don’t forget Diana Wynne Jones, I really think she is an under appreciated writer in the U.S. She has strong female characters. I highly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle, and the Lives of Christopher Chant to start.

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  4. wikkidsexycool
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 07:36:17

    This is what I’d love to see that added to your list:

    YA is diverse.

    Unfortunately, YA is falling into the same trap that other genres do, with a lack of minority leads and/or inserting teens of color as side kicks. Certainly, not all authors are doing this, and I applaud authors who create compelling characters who don’t default into the best friend who’s only there as a sounding board for the lead, or authors willing to pair their lead with a character of another race.

    Also, the authors willing to invest time in doing research and not simply pepper their novels with cultural appropriation. I’ve seen articles that lament the lack of diversity in the YA genre, and I hope fledgling authors as well as established authors remember that teens and children of color need works that speak to them also.

    **I’m trying to do my part, and not just complain about it**

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  5. Patricia Eimer
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 07:54:26

    I read just as many YA’s as I read adult books and what it comes down to is that they’re good stories that are well written and often hold me on the edge of my seat. Sure that may be because YA packs in the action to hold a teen’s attention but it keeps me riveted as well where some adult books I find myself internally monologing “are we there yet? can something happen now?”

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  6. Barbara
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 10:13:15

    Ditto to absolutely everything you said. When someone asks me what I’m reading, they invariably ask me if that’s what I have to read, as if I’m stuck with an inappropriate category. I’m also really interested in exploring New Adult books and have found some good ones (Easy by Tammara Webber is a perfect example).

    A few of those things are also why I’ve gone back to reading some lighter historical romance again.

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  7. Gwen Hayes
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 11:53:22

    One thing that still bothers me about about YA is the price point. Almost all YA is hard cover or trade size. Good luck finding them under $9.99. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that they know the buyers of YA, regardless of who reads them, are adults. I wish they would make them more accessible and put them out in mmpb. And I say this as a YA author whose traditional titles are …9.99 trade cover. I would much rather they lower the price, even if I end making less.

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  8. Janine
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 12:22:12

    @Rosie:

    And yeah, after reading so much adult romance, it’s refreshing to read a “sweeter” romance once in a while that’s not all about the sexual tension — but no less swoonworthy. (I highly recommend Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson, which I consider a great example of a YA historical romance.)

    Yes, and thanks for the rec. I may check it out. I love sexy books when they are well executed (erotica is included among the genres I read), but it’s so nice to read a book that’s low on mental lusting. Most of the time, mental lusting (as distinguished from sex) bores me. I like to vary what I read, and I don’t know if I could read a steady diet of YA, romance, or any genre.

    @Carolyne:

    I read almost no YA when I was in the demographic

    Me either. I think it’s ironic that I read adult books (including the rape-y historical romances of the 1970s and 1980s ) when I was a teen, and now that I’m an adult, I am finally gobbling up YA.

    Just just this one thing eventually wearies me about reading YA–its necessary focus on either youthful protagonists or on concerns and perspectives and the philosophical questionings of an inexperienced view of the world. Sometimes I want to deal with the concerns of a worldview with more mileage on it, or cheer along a heroine who’s 40 on a world-changing quest.

    I think if I read nothing but YA this would get to me as well.

    @Michelle: You know, I wanted to read some Diana Wynne Jones but the covers to her books made them look like Middle Grade, a genre I’m generally less keen on.

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  9. Janine
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 12:39:38

    @wikkidsexycool:

    This is what I’d love to see that added to your list:

    YA is diverse.

    Unfortunately, YA is falling into the same trap that other genres do, with a lack of minority leads and/or inserting teens of color as side kicks.

    You’re right. I thought about this as I was writing the op-ed and wished I could include that as a point in YA’s favor but it isn’t. It’s got the same problem that plagues the rest of the publishing industry. I have found some terrific YA novels written by POC authors and featuring POC characters in YA, and I mentioned some of them in this piece, but it is a problem. I really miss the Diversity in YA blog, too — they pointed me in the direction of some great reads.

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  10. Erin Satie
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 12:40:41

    Jane –

    You picked the two things about YA that have most grabbed me: the genre-bending and the way that romantic elements are well-balanced with other plot threads. So glad to see such a huge shout out to Megan Whelan Turner’s THIEF series – I love those books SO MUCH. Also a huge fan of Kristen Cashore.

    A couple points I’d add…

    Part of the genre-bending is the variation in tone. You can look to any genre and find authors bent on blowing the conventions apart, authors who are magnificent stylists…but for a while, YA has exploded with books that bridged literary and popular.

    On the downside, I’ve been shifting away from YA for the last year or so. Too many new books feel derivative and dull, and it’s taken more effort to sort the wheat from the chaff. It’s starting to feel like other genres to me.

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  11. Janine
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 13:25:57

    @Patricia Eimer:

    it keeps me riveted as well where some adult books I find myself internally monologing “are we there yet? can something happen now?”

    Agreed. The faster pace is a big part of YA’s appeal to me. Which is funny because when I was a teen I read some longer, slower adult tomes I could not read now. I wonder if attention spans are shortening across the board, and not just in teens.

    @Barbara: I vary with lighter books too. I really need variety in my reading to not get bored with it.

    @Gwen Hayes: Agreed about the price point, although on the other hand, the hardcover publication makes YA books easier to find in libraries than some of the straight-to-paperback novels. These days I rely on the library a lot for my YA reading, and if I really love a book, I purchase it later.

    @Erin Satie:

    I don’t want to put words in Jane’s mouth when it’s actually my piece. 99% of the time it’s Jane or Janet/Robin who write the Tuesday op-eds, but I had an idea for one so I went with it (I hardly ever get op-ed ideas).

    Part of the genre-bending is the variation in tone. You can look to any genre and find authors bent on blowing the conventions apart, authors who are magnificent stylists…but for a while, YA has exploded with books that bridged literary and popular.

    This! Excellent point, I’m so glad you made it. It’s another thing I love about the YA genre. What do you think the reasons for that are?

    On the downside, I’ve been shifting away from YA for the last year or so. Too many new books feel derivative and dull, and it’s taken more effort to sort the wheat from the chaff. It’s starting to feel like other genres to me.

    Sorry to hear this. I haven’t had this issue yet, maybe because I rely on recommendations when I try out YA books? I’m not sure. I’m sure there’s a lot of chaff out there since (A) YA has gotten so huge and (B) there’s chaff in every genre. My favorite book this year was a YA though — Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.

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  12. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 13:45:44

    The Queen of Attolia is one of my favorite books, although I’m not sure there is anything particularly YA about it. Can anyone tell me how old Eugenides is in that book?

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  13. Janine
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 13:54:57

    @Sherry Thomas: I think it’s YA in the sense that it could probably not have been published in any other genre. Fantasy, maybe, but it seems a little light on worldbuilding and magic elements for that.

    As to Gen’s age, since he’s frequently referred to as a boy and seems very youthful in his attitude in the previous book, I take him to be somewhere between 18 and 20 in The Queen of Attolia. In fact I think of it as his coming of age novel in some ways. He’s clearly a boy in The Thief, and clearly a man in The King of Attolia. Queen of Attolia (and in particular during his struggle with and in his emergence from the fears, nighmare and isolation that follow the loss of his hand) is the transition from youth to man. I think it could just as easily be considered New Adult, though.

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  14. Erin Satie
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 14:08:40

    @Janine:

    Oh, I am so sorry for getting the author of the piece wrong. I should have double-checked; wish I could edit.

    As for why I think YA had that distinction? I imagine the main reason is the obvious one: all the books are lumped together on the same shelves. I also think the shorter length helps; a lot of my favorite YA books have that sort of jewel-box intensity that can be exhausting over the long haul (though BITTERBLUE, which I also adored, is an obvious counter-example).

    Even if YA isn’t my go-to genre these days, it still makes up a healthy percentage of my reading – I recently read & enjoyed both of Cat Valente’s Fairyland books, along with Sarah Rees Brennan’s UNSPOKEN. Rachel Hartman’s SERAPHINA was one of my favorite reads this year.

    Another YA book that I found astonishingly good, though it has no romance to speak of, was THE WHITE DARKNESS by Geraldine McCaughrean.

    @Sherry Thomas: How delightful to discover that one of my favorite romance authors loves one of my favorite YA books. Like a little unexpected Easter Egg.

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  15. Janine
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 14:27:43

    @Erin Satie: No biggie, I debated whether to correct you, and only did it because I don’t know if Jane is as big a fan of the YA genre.

    Yeah, I think you’re right — it boils down to the different books being shelved together at the bookstore.

    Thanks for the recs! I’ve been wanting to read Seraphina and will look into the others as well.

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  16. Cervenka
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 16:43:53

    One thing I really like about YA: The author assumes the audience is willing to suspend disbelief, and the world-building proceeds accordingly. So much adult storytelling consists of spoon-feeding and info dump and otherwise explaining why the reader should suspend disbelief–to the point where the reader gives up because it’s too clunky to be enjoyable. YA rarely has that problem; authors are willing to give the readers credit for imagination that they won’t ascribe to adult readers.

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  17. Courtney Milan
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 16:44:36

    This was a very expensive post to read.

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  18. MaryK
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 16:54:50

    @Janine: DWJ’s Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my fav books of any genre.

    I’m not widely read in YA but I do like to dabble in YA Fantasy because they’re fun books whereas adult Fantasy tends to be too epic for my tastes.

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  19. Janine
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 17:36:21

    @Cervenka:

    authors are willing to give the readers credit for imagination that they won’t ascribe to adult readers.

    So true! I hope very much that the crossover success of YA will help the industry understand that adults also want to read books with fewer infodumps, genre benders, hopeful books, books with romantic threads, etc. We don’t lose our imaginations or are willingness to read something different, as long as it’s entertaining, as we age. Maybe the success of YA will be a wake up call.

    @Courtney Milan: I love to hear that, since I was hoping some readers would look up the books I mentioned in these posts. I would love to hear which ones you got but regardless, I hope you enjoy them all!

    @MaryK: Thanks, I know I should read it, but I wish it had a better cover. It’s funny, I’ve gotten used to read adult romances with egregious covers but YA novels with childish covers are still a big turnoff to me.

    I love the YA fantasy genre. Can you recommend some of your favorite YA fantasies?

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  20. Michelle
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 17:36:26

    @Janine
    Diana Wynne Jones’ writing is fantastic. Nothing juvenile about it. Howl’s Moving Castle was made into an anime and is good too. It just takes the basic plot-there are a lot of differences. Conrad’s Fate is also one of my favorites. It is part of her Chrestomanci series but can be read out of order. She has one of my favorite cat names “Throgmorten”-he shows up in the Lives of Christopher Chant.

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  21. Marianne McA
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 17:49:15

    At the minute, I’ve more YA books I’m waiting for than any other genre: The next in Brennan’s Unspoken series, the next in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, the next (last?) in the Anna & the French kiss series… and lots more.

    And now I’ve more to investigate…

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  22. Andrea
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 17:50:55

    Most of Diana Wynne Jones’ books ARE middle grade, but in that timeless-anyone-can-read-them way. But try “Fire and Hemlock” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” for the more YA end of her books.

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  23. Erin Satiee
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 17:55:35

    @Janine:

    I’ll butt in with some other fantasy recs – have you read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series? The Foundling series by D.M. Cornish (these are huge favorites of mine)? The Tales of the Otori books? The Amulet of Samarkand? Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (which I loved until I hated it, in the final volume)?

    Those are some of my favorites. I haven’t tried the Marchetta fantasy series that starts with Finnikin of the Rock, though I’ve been meaning to. It’s been racking up rave reviews.

    Another non-fantasy YA that I adored, which I wish had gotten more attention, was I’LL BE THERE by Holly Goldberg Sloane. Gorgeous writing, a really sweet romance.

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  24. Janine
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 18:23:18

    I love getting recommendations, so anyone is welcome to mention their favorite YA novels in this thread.

    @Michelle: Thanks!

    @Marianne McA: Someone else mentioned Unspoken. I need to check it out.

    It was actually your post on one of the morning links that got me thinking about writing this piece. I started typing out a long response and then I decided to make it an op-ed instead. I remember you said explicitness wasn’t why you were drawn to YA and I agreed with you.

    @Andrea: Thanks! I think it was Howl’s Moving Castle that had the horrible cover, but I’ll just have to get over it.

    @Erin Satiee: I haven’t read the Nix, the Cornish, or the Otori books. Nor The Amulet of Samarkand, but that one has been on my radar ever since the 2011 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books when the panel Megan Whalen Turner was on also included Jonathan Stroud. His books sounded wonderful.

    I read the Pullman books. Like you, I had problems with the last one — it got too religious for me. Also the Will/Lyra romance was somewhere between lovely and creepy, given their young ages. The first book was beautifully written but I found it a little too disturbing. I loved the middle one (The Subtle Knife) especially.

    Finnikin of the Rock was good but not as fabulous as Marchetta’s non-fantasy Jellicoe Road IMO. It was a little disappointing to me for that reason. I think I gave it a B- or so, whereas Jellicoe Road was one of the rare straight A’s for me. I can see the Megan Whalen Turner influence in Marchetta’s fantasy (Marchetta has said Turner is an influence) but she didn’t pull off her twists and turns nearly as well as Turner does.

    I’ll look up the Sloane.

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  25. Susan
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 18:46:37

    Yeah, there really wasn’t such a thing as YA when I was growing up. After getting through the Narnia books and Nancy Drew, it was pretty much adult books or nothing. There were some of those issue/After School Special-type books. I like to think of them as cautionary tales: Be good and obey your parents or this is what might happen. Luckily, I missed most of those, too.

    It was many years until I picked up a true YA book. I think the first was a Tamora Pierce book (the Protector of the Small series), and I was hooked. I agree with you that I think the range of genres, settings, topics, etc. is one of the primary draws for me. And the darkness of tone of many of the books. Everything always worked out so happily and tidily in the end for Nancy Drew; not so in current YAs.

    That said, I’m also starting to feel a certain samey-saminess (?) about some of the newer crop of books. It could just be that I’m feeling a bit jaded, but I also suspect that books are being churned out at a furious pace to take advantage of the current popularity and that quality and originality are bound to suffer.

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  26. Sunita
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 19:06:52

    Great post, Janine! I don’t read YA much, but I have to add to the love for Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl books. I read them a couple of years ago, so definitely waaaay out of appropriate age range, and I thought they were amazing. Even better than the movie, which I never thought I’d say.

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  27. Anne V
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 19:26:06

    if you can stand a little more Diana Wynne Jones fangirling around, look for Deep Secret – it’s definitely YA/NA, and is one of my favorite books. Also excellent are a Sudden Wild Magic and the Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

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  28. Janine
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 11:00:47

    @Susan:

    Yeah, there really wasn’t such a thing as YA when I was growing up. After getting through the Narnia books and Nancy Drew, it was pretty much adult books or nothing. There were some of those issue/After School Special-type books. I like to think of them as cautionary tales: Be good and obey your parents or this is what might happen.

    That’s a great description of those books! I hated that type of book so I turned to adult fiction as a teen.

    That said, I’m also starting to feel a certain samey-saminess (?) about some of the newer crop of books. It could just be that I’m feeling a bit jaded, but I also suspect that books are being churned out at a furious pace to take advantage of the current popularity and that quality and originality are bound to suffer.

    Erin Satie said something similar in one of her posts above. That’s a shame and I hope that trend reverses itself.

    @Sunita & @Anne V:

    Okay, okay. I hear all you Diana Wynne Jones fans. I’ll try one of her books.

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  29. Marianne McA
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 11:31:42

    @Janine

    I’m by way of being a Brennan fangirl, so don’t trust me on this one. The only thing I would say is that, if you’re looking at reviews, I’ve seen ‘Unspoken’ criticised for having a cliffhanger ending and I didn’t read it that way at all. To me a cliffhanger implies that there’s something unfinished – we’re left not knowing whether the person hanging from the cliff will fall and perish, or be rescued by a passing jogger. Tune in next book to find out. And I resent that, and tend to dump the author forthwith. (Arrmstrong, Novik etc.)
    But I thought this book had resolution: clearly there’s more story to come, but this book ended in a sensible, if dramatic, place.

    It’s not a perfect book – there’s a reasonably early scene where the heroine is pushed down a well that I can’t envisage at all – but I do enjoy Brennan’s voice.

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  30. Sirius
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 12:06:38

    @Michelle: Just want to add to the love of Dianna Wynne Jones’ works. Truly transcends the age categories IMO.

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  31. Three Booklinks and a (Funera)link | Nisaba Be Praised
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 12:40:23

    [...] Janine at Dear Author gives the reasons, with examples, why she as an adult loves to read YA. My favorites are “YA often goes to dark places, but typically still retains some [...]

  32. MaryK
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 13:33:52

    @Janine: I’m completely blanking on recs. My recent dabbling has been mostly limited to reading spoiler reviews and adding books to my TBR pile. Have you read Robin McKinley’s Beauty?

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  33. Janine
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 15:12:33

    @Marianne McA: Thanks, that’s good to know.

    @MaryK: Yes, I read Beauty when I was a teen. It was underwhelming to me, though I know lots and lots of people love it.

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  34. Michelle
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 16:04:07

    The audioversions of DWJ’s books are really well done. Conrad’s Fate is a comfort “listen” for me. Neil Gaiman is a big fan. There is a new book out of a collection of her essays on the craft of writing, he did a beautiful foreword.

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  35. Sterling Editing » Written on the internet
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 10:00:17

    [...] Author Janine Ballard with this great list of reasons to read YA. [...]

  36. Net News: 15th October 2012 « Read alert | State Library of Victoria
    Oct 15, 2012 @ 02:25:07

    [...] Why do you read YA?  “My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.I [...]

  37. Selene
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 08:59:01

    Looks like no one’s commented yet who doesn’t read YA. :-) I wouldn’t say I’ve never read it, but it’s very rare that I pick one up.

    Carolyne touched on the main reasons, which is that with the main characters so young, they invariably struggle with a lot of the issues that young people do. School. Peer pressure. First infatuation. Growing up. Subjects I don’t find very interesting.

    As for the protagonists, I often either get impatient with them, or I find them unrealistic. Perhaps because they are so often larger than life in YA, which is something I admittedly also struggle with in adult fiction.

    For YA fantasy, the worldbuilding often gets in the way as well, being too light to really bring me into the story.

    Selene

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  38. Janine
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 12:06:52

    @Selene: I was hoping people who doesn’t read YA would comment also, so I’m really glad you posted.

    Your reasons for not liking YA are as valid as my reasons for liking it. The one that resonated with me most was the thin worldbuilding in YA fantasy. Although I sometimes find adult fantasy so focused on worldbuilding that the story moves too slowly for me (Tolkien, I’m looking at you), I also sometimes wish there was a little more detail to the worldbuilding in the YA genre.

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  39. Sunita
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 12:40:20

    @Janine: I’ll unlurk to agree with Selene. I find the emotions tend to be dialed up to 11, on issues that I don’t really wish to relive. I’ve read and enjoyed Diana Wynne Jones, Cornelia Funke’s Inheart trilogy, Eva Ibbotson, and a few others in recent years, but by and large the writing style is a little too bland, in addition to the emotional OTTness.

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  40. Janine
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 12:54:14

    @Sunita: Interesting. Can you give some examples of YA’s you feel have OTT emotions? I’m asking because I wonder if I would agree or disagree. I do encounter strong emotions in many YA’s but I would not describe them as stronger than say, in Balogh’s trads. Maybe Balogh isn’t a good example though, since I think of the emotions in her books as strong while other readers have disagreed with me on that. I’ll put it this way, then: Few of the YA’s I’ve read have approached the Kinsale level of strong emotions, so I’m curious if the books you’re talking about are ones I’ve read.

    I’ve also read some lovely understated YA’s, such as The Adoration of Jenna Fox, the Megan Whalen Turner series, and How I Live Now, but they probably are the exception to the rule.

    If by writing style you mean voice or prose style, I agree they can be a little too bland (with some exceptions). I find that true in adult genres as well, though.

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  41. Sunita
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 14:53:22

    It’s not so much the strength of the emotions as the expression of them, if that makes sense. When Selene described the “larger than life” aspects, I realized that the emotional content came across that way too for me. I understand why; adolescence and early adulthood is all about emotional and other types of extremes. It’s drama time.

    I know all YA books aren’t like that, and I can’t really give you examples because I usually just read the reviews. Unless a book has a strong thematic or other hook for me, I’m unlikely to pick it up. It means I miss some good ones (TheH liked the Megan Whalen Turner book he read very much), but my TBR is so huge as it is.

    You and I both read a lot of less-than-stellar books. I’d just rather read one about adults than one about teenagers or college students. Maybe the fact that I spend a lot of time around the latter in my day job plays a role as well.

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  42. MaryK
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 15:07:28

    @Selene:

    Carolyne touched on the main reasons, which is that with the main characters so young, they invariably struggle with a lot of the issues that young people do. School. Peer pressure. First infatuation. Growing up. Subjects I don’t find very interesting.

    That’s why I don’t read YA contemporary. :-)

    It just dawned on me that the fantasy YA I read is almost all fairytale-esque. I’m a sucker for fairytale retellings, and good ones can transcend age groups. I just finished reading The Book of a Thousand Days which I liked very much.

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  43. Janine
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 18:58:09

    @Sunita: I see what you mean now. That makes a lot of sense. And I think if I worked with young people, I wouldn’t be that keen to read about them either. I like to get away from my daily life in my reading.

    @MaryK: Contemporary isn’t my favorite setting although I don’t exclude it completely.

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  44. Selene
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 01:20:04

    I think larger than life protagonists exist a lot in adult genre fiction too, like in historical romance we have the wealthy, arrogant alpha duke who no character can be indifferent to (the villains hate him, the good guys love him, but he leaves no one indifferent). Or the spunky heroines who aren’t forced to live in the world like real people, but who have the world adapt to their needs instead (they defy scandal but instead of being ostracized, society embraces them). Not to mention all the kick-ass heroines in paranormal romance, the very epitome of larger than life.

    Or in adult fantasy, there’s a lot of the Chosen One, and the protagonist starting out as a young boy and growing up, which is very reminiscent of YA. (Maybe one of the reasons I’m not too fond of YA, having read loads of fantasy of that kind through the years.)

    Still, my feelings are that these type of protagonists are more common in YA, and like Sunita said, they seem to come with a lot of drama attached to their emotions. No doubt there are YA novels with more understated protagonists and feelings as well that I’ve never read, since I don’t really seek out YA novels.

    Selene

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  45. Selene
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 01:33:23

    @MaryK: I get the very same feeling! YA fantasy feels a lot like fairy tales to me too, both in terms of plot, worldbuilding and characters. Unlike you though, I’m not too fond of that. :-) Give me gritty fantasy with complex, unsympathetic (but interesting) characters, and I’m happy as a clam.

    There’s one (adult fantasy) fairytale retelling I really like though, and that’s Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest, and I think it’s precisely the more extensive worldbuilding and the increased space for characterization and internal conflict that made me like it so much.

    Selene

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  46. AJ
    Oct 19, 2012 @ 05:21:52

    Long time lurker, first time poster here.

    I’ve loved Diana Wynne Jones since I was a kid, but I thought most of her books other than Deep Secret and the other one in that series were considered middle grade. They are still awesome books that stand up to adult reading, particularly Howl’s Moving Castle and the first two Chrestomanci books. In HMC I believe the main characters are both adults. Sophie is about 18 and Howl is in his 20′s.

    I like YA for several of the reasons mentioned in the essay and the comments. I’m a fast reader, but I have a short attention span, so the faster pace and tighter plotting work well for me. While I don’t mind explicit sex scenes, at least half the time I end up skimming them because the purple prose and/or dialogue doesn’t do it for me. So in a YA with romantic elements, having the sex elided or implied or just not there is fine; I can use my imagination if I want more details.

    I tend to skim info-dumps as well, due to the short attention span, only to find myself missing plot-critical information and having to go back and reread to figure out what is going on. YA titles do seem to be better at working the important stuff into the plot because of the tighter pacing.

    The lighter worldbuilding in YA fantasy or sci-fi titles can be good or bad. Some books give you enough of a picture without the massive info-dumps or chapters that set the scene but don’t advance the plot. However, sometimes it sticks out when you look for nuances that aren’t there. For example, in Bitterblue (which I really liked) the political intrigue that formed a major part of the plot struck me as oversimplified. Yeah, things were a mess, but given what went on during her father’s reign and how things were handled afterwards, the situation should have been even more of a clusterfuck. However, if I had read it as a teenager I doubt I’d have noticed that.

    That scene from The Fault in Our Stars sounds romantic as hell. I don’t usually read YA contemporary books because I don’t feel the need to relive high school, but I’ll be putting that one on my library list.

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  47. Link Feast For Writers, vol. 28 | Reetta Raitanen's Blog
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 16:40:38

    [...] Why I Read YA by Janine Ballard (great analysis of why YA has become so popular) [...]

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