Why I Hated YA and How I Converted

I feel like there’s this specific challenge in Young Adult literature when it comes to designing characters. There’s a sort of expectation that they be very strong, everymen teenagers. In adult literature, I encounter protagonists who are radically different than me when it comes to their emotional make-up and philosophical grounding, but in YA I consistently find characters that are (or at least striving to be) facing and struggling with some very unifying issues and thoughts that are common to that age group. While people and characters remain unique individuals, there really is something about the adolescent mindset that puts everyone growing through it in a distinct mental place.

The number one reason I put down YA books is because I can’t relate to the protagonists. I’m infinitely more forgiving in other genres, and am willing to suspend my disbelief because characters are often leading a radically different life than I am. When I was a teenager though, I didn’t like young adult books. I would sit down and start reading about someone’s crush, high school, friend troubles, or so forth and I would just toss the book, thinking, “No, this isn’t what it feels like. I’m here, I’m living it, and this isn’t what it’s like at all.”

I didn’t articulate that sentiment for a long time. I just thought I didn’t like YA. It was only after I graduated high school that someone thrust a John Green book into my hands and changed my mind. I slowly began to consider the idea that I might not unilaterally hate YA, that there just might be a lot of bad books written for teenagers out there, but adults whose memories of high school were foggy and their writing style mediocre. Which makes sense, it’s a booming industry and very little of it suited an English nerd who was mostly reading more Shakespeare than Harry Potter in high school.

I went from swearing I would never write YA to producing (and publishing) exclusively that. I had an added layer of motivation with the genre that hadn’t existed when I was writing straight science-fiction and fantasy. I wanted to write the book I’d wanted to read in high school. When I was a teenager, I never found the YA book that clicked with me and showed me the world through the same lens that I saw it through. There’s a passion in The Neverland Wars because it is written with the impossible goal of giving my younger self a gift. While I have an audience in mind, I really wrote this story for myself, and put my heart and soul into it. Five years ago, I never would have believed I’d be as entrenched in YA (reading and writing it) as I am now.

2 thoughts on “Why I Hated YA and How I Converted

  1. I feel similarly–it’s very hard to write relatable YA protagonists who are also flawed and unique enough to be interesting characters. I didn’t read a lot of YA books as a teen because my friends and I were more excited about adult literature, but I always wrote YA. I’m hoping now that, as I age, my voice stays true. 🙂

  2. I think that there’s something very attractive about adult literature when you’re realizing just how capable you are as a reader. It can take a while to really appreciate that just as much skill and craft goes into writing for a young adult audience, if authors do it right.

    Another issue I had was even well written books usually focused heavily on the romance, and I was all bookish and bitter about my lack of a high school sweet-heart. My teenage self probably would have boycotted your books, grumbling something about how it-never-works-out-with-cute-boys-for-ME, hahaha.

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