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Friday, 13 March 2015

Real Talk: Teen Angst in Young Adult Books

These tweets were posted by Ellen Oh, author of the Prophecy series, on the 21st of February and since then, I've wanted to weigh in on her statements but I just couldn't find the time.

I agree with the idea that she is trying to convey to a certain extent, that is, that YA should not be judged negatively for encompassing a multitude of seemingly immature teenage wants, values and actions. At the same time, however, I firmly believe that, at times, reviewers (like myself) are justified in saying that certain novels portray teenage characters in a laughably juvenile way.

Firstly, power to all the age 30+ YA readers out there because you help to make this community of YA book lovers a more beautiful and welcoming place and I hope to still be reading YA books when I'm 70 because it's such a beautiful and multifaceted genre. However, more often than not, I've noticed that books are being bashed not loved by reviewers (myself included at times) for having elements such as insta-love, love triangles and teen angst. And it's not hate that's centered around the way in which these features of the story are explored but hate of the fact that these things actually exist in the novel. Personally, as a teenager (I'm 16, if you were wondering), I find it refreshing to read about such issues. I think it'd be a stretch to claim that they "help me discover myself and deal with real life" but it is interesting to read about actual issues that real teenagers around the globe go through everyday such as disastrous confusions between what they think is "love" and the reality that it's actually infatuation. I find the naivety at which the characters approach unfamiliar situations to be rather endearing because that is how I approach life on a daily basis.

The insinuation that all YA characters, who are usually from ages 13 through 19 by the way, should be perfectly responsible individuals who approach situations with a maturity way beyond their ripe age and are immune to the emotions felt by their raging hormones is quite idealistic and has me like:

It amazes me when I read YA books about characters who have experienced no hardships that could have resulted in their hardening towards teen angst but they are the most serious and boring creatures. I'll yield and say that some novels take teenage tendencies to the extreme and it's absolutely ridiculous and takes away everything that is good and enjoyable from the story BUT I don't think that that is cause for anyone, adult or no, to go into a young adult book and degrade everything that makes it what it is in the first place because yes, overly-dramatic and unrealistically juvenile characters are the downfall of some novels but overly-mature and emotionless characters are also a downfall.

Bottom line: adults, young adults, seniors, everyone, if you're going to criticize the typical YA elements, don't criticize their existence but the way in which the author uses them as a medium to develop the story. Judge on their faults. Just saying "The characters were so immature" or "Teen angst, ugghh!" or "I hate love triangles" is not enough. Particularly for adults who have experienced more of the world, your perception of situations is altered, you know more and you would react differently. Remember that you're reading a young adult book that's targeted towards teenagers, narrated by teenagers and it will contain elements of teenage life.

What are you guys' views on this topic? I'd love to know. Do you agree with me or do you think I just spouted a bunch of BS? Comment down below and tell me! Until my next blog post...I love you guys to infinity and beyond!


  1. This is a really interesting discussion and brings up a lot of excellent points. For me, I think there is a huge distinction between naivety and stupidity. Also, (speaking as a reader), I want the main characters to have character-- which doesn't mean being goody-two-shoes, or whatever, but having something at their core that drives them and that they are consistent in.

    Anyway, whether I'm reading YA or classic lit, or anything in between, I really like that the main character is "with it". It's perfectly fine (even good) for them to have faults, and I think it is important for teen characters to *be* young and new and sometimes beyond naive, especially when it comes to navigating the waters of love.... But yeah, stupid characters get under my skin. Or, more than that, characters that make decisions that have no justifiable logic. If I'm screaming "omg, why did you do that?" at my book, it's not good. That said, my husband, who is also a writer, pointed out a while back that everyone tries to write smart characters, and hardly anyone tries to write characters that aren't too sharp. And why not? I think there is a definite place out there for characters of that nature, and written well, it could be quite interesting. But again, I go back to consistency within the character. A character always needs to be true to him/herself, which ever way the character is written.

    So I guess what I'm getting around to is... in my experience, it's not really the "teen" aspects in a YA novel that can come off as annoying, so much as it is a poor treatment of the writing around those aspects. Done well, teen angst, naivety, and so on... should not be annoying.

    1. I completely agree! Some characters in novels just make me want to pull my hair out because of the horrible decisions that they make and these decisions usually affect everyone but themselves! Thanks for reading, Kate. :)

  2. This is such an interesting discussion. As a YA reader who's over 40, I do sometimes mention when I feel like the characters just act TOO juvenile, but I'll usually mention that it might be great for YA readers who are actually young adults. I never really thought about the fact that YA characters who are too serious might turn away YA readers - that's a really good point!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. They really do because they have me asking myself "Are these really teenagers?". Thanks for stopping by :)


I'd love to know what you think :)