Search This Blog

Friday, September 12, 2014

Some Thoughts on YA Novels

Is including fantasy, sex, and violence all that is required for a YA novel?  So many authors of YA books appear to feel that all that is required to appeal to their target audience are young characters and violence and/or sex.   How condescending.

It isn't that I believe sex and violence should be excluded from YA fiction, just that there should be a purpose to it other than titillation.  Sex and violence do not need to be treated casually as the main draw of the book, do they?

What do I think should be included in YA and Juvenile books?

  • Good characterization and dialogue.  Skimpy novels that rely on a stereotypical version of someone else's characters just to get published do readers an injustice.  Recently, the dialogue in several YA novels has left me pondering where the authors live, if they have any contact with adolescents, what kind of conversations the authors themselves indulge in.  Characters in YA novels often sound so...hollow.  
  • Plots that are intriguing and require some thought.  Yes, even young children can appreciate a well-considered plot with plenty of detail.
  • The inclusion of good vocabulary, allusions, history, or current events that encourage young readers to do some research of their own volition.
  • Strong supporting characters, often adults but not always, that provide guidance, consolation, comfort, and inspiration.  Although there are negative characters in life and literature, there are also people we can depend on to do their best, even if they are not always successful.
  • A  sense of values.  Integrity, responsibility, trustworthiness, etc.  Not in a pedantic way, but proof that, although characters can make mistakes and bad decisions, they can improve, solve problems, overcome circumstances.  There are consequences to negative actions, but there are also ways in which we can improve our situations and become better individuals, both in fiction and in life.
What would I like to see less of in YA novels?
  • Emphasis on appearances (full lips, great pecs--so overdone is so many YA novels)
  • Sex.  Does not need to be overemphasized or detailed.  Plot and characterization should always take precedence.  A personal preference, perhaps, but I don't like gratuitous sex in any novels.  
  • Insta-love.  What a great lesson to teach young people.  Not.  Especially since most insta-love is based on appearance.  Attraction is one thing, but love requires something more than appearance and hormones.  
In all fiction, I tend to be drawn to mystery, fantasy, and science fiction.  Good old entertainment and escape novels.  They don't have to be worthy of being classified as great literature; they just have to be good entertainment.


The above is from a draft I wrote in February, but after my last review, Melody made a comment about that sent me searching for this draft.
 "Generally, I often find myself in a dilemma reading a YA with dark and violent elements. They may be intriguing, but I'm not sure if those might have some impact on the YA readers, given some school violence we've seen today. I just hope that the readers would be mature enough to distinguish the difference between fiction and reality."
 Thanks, Melody, for reminding me that this is a subject that interests me.  I read a all kinds of fiction--including children's and YA novels. Some are excellent for readers of any age, but some are disappointing (at least to me) in what they offer young readers.

Those of you who love and read YA fiction, what do you look for in this broad category?  Do you prefer certain genres?  


  1. I feel the same way. I hardly ever read YA books- I never got into the trend maybe because I passed on Twilight. Insta-love is so overdone in YA and adult books that I cringe when it happens and lose interest. Instead of going for shock value in YA books, how about a really decent plot? Also I enjoy a good fantasy now and then, but do some many YAs have to include sexy vampires?

    Thanks for a good discussion.

  2. Excellent post! I agree with everything you said. I appreciate the fact that YA novels don't shy away from teen sex and other tough topics that young people are dealing with in the real world. But that should never be the *point* or a substitute for compelling character development and storytelling. And for the love of all things holy, don't convey the message that true love happens in an instant or that premature sex leads to real love. Genuine love takes time and a lot of hard work, and sex is not a shortcut.

  3. Rita - A decent plot should be any author's goal, but sometimes I wonder. :)

    Irene - Oh, yeah. Fall steadfastly in love for a lifetime at first sight. Happens all the time. While love may lead to sex, the opposite does not often hold true. Love your phrase "sex is not a shortcut"!

  4. That's a great post and you've pointed out many things I want to say, Jenclair. I feel as long as there's great characterisations, a decent plot and some issues for us to ponder about, it'd make an excellent read not only to YA readers but to adults as well. Too much sex and violence is overrated in my opinion.

  5. Melody - I don't think all books need to be great literature to be entertaining, but I wish fewer books would use formulaic plots and one-dimensional characters. Like you, I think a good book is a good book regardless of the target age. :)

  6. Insta-love is my pet peeve. I'm not as fussed about dark elements in YA books -- I read lots of very dark YA books when I was that age, and it was fine -- but insta-love is such an ick aspect of books. It's dull as well as lazy, and it usually happens in books that also have terribly regressive gender roles. :/

  7. I think a lot of times adults come across so badly in YA books. Either they are stereotypes or just non-existant. I wish relationships between teens and adults were just a bit more believable. I'm currently reading two YA books and both have pretty dark themes but so far they are keeping me interested.

  8. Jenny - I'm not opposed to dark elements in YA either, but I want something more to give some substance. Gratuitous, graphic, and repetitive violence to sell books, whether adult or YA, always grates on my nerves. If it is there, then I'm happier if there is at least some serious consideration (not just reaction) to it. It should have a purpose that is to some extent examined.

    Iliana - Yes, adults often come across badly in YA books, which I understand, and can distantly remember my own adolescence (I'm afraid I pretty much dismissed adults, other than my parents, when I was that age). Some YA books cast all adults as foolish and that is not realistic. Adults aren't always saviors, but neither are they all complete dolts or villainous. Whether an adult or not, I do like to see some positive characters, other than the main protagonists, who at least try to do the right thing.

  9. I totally agree with this, great post. And love the comments too! I've been lucky for the most part with the YA I've read, most of it has been pretty clean but maybe that's just because of what I'm picking out- I have no doubt there is stuff out there like you describe, and you're right, what a poor example to set.

  10. Greg - There are some excellent YA novels out there. I've several favorite YA authors including Maggie Stiefvater, Megan Whalen Turner, Patrick Rothfuss, J.K. Rowling, Cassandra Clare, Diana Wynne Jones, Jim Pugmire, Intisar Khanani, Mary E. Pearson, Juliet Marillier, Terry Pratchett, Robin McKinley, and many more. I may not like every book written by these authors, but each one of them can deliver a good plot and memorable characters, and handle sex,death, and violence without succumbing to a tawdry attempt to grab an audience in a gimmicky or shocking manner.

    I still look for new offerings, and sometimes I discover an author with more to offer me. Of course, sometimes, the books are just disappointing, but NetGalley has delivered me some wonderful reads and send me off looking for everything else the author has written. :)

    Good authors of YA fiction are just good authors, aren't they? They may use young characters, but the stories are not immature or shallow, even if they are purely for entertainment.

  11. I recently read and prepared my review of a young adult novel (still haven't posted it) and realized not once was I reminded as I read that it was a young adult novel.

    The romance is very subtle and the characters are young, so it fits in that category for sure. But the author's writing style never made me feel like I was reading a young adult novel. If that makes sense.

    Anyway, I love this post. I agree with all of your points.

    My preferred young adult novel tends to be fantasy--which means it fails in some of the areas you mention almost always--insta-lifetime-love? Especially when it's a sixteen year old falling for a century old vampire stuck at 17? Yep. That always gives me pause. And yet I read it anyway.

  12. Wendy - That is the ticket, at least for the older YA crowd. The book should not be "in your face" adolescent-characters, plot, and writing style should appeal to any age.

    Fantasy does have my favorite authors for the genre, but any novel that has a romance must speed up the time. The more contemporary YA books that have young people commit themselves based on beautiful eyes and great physique on first sight...just no.