Hi! I’m back with a new series I’ve been wanting to start for a while called Let’s Talk About . . . It’s going to be a monthly discussion post that gives my opinions on some of the more taboo topics in books and the blogging community. The worst thing any of us can do is shy away from talking about the hard topics — no matter how big or small your bookish platform may be, we have an influence.
Today let’s talk about . . . adults reviewing YA books.
Even as a teenager, reading books like Twilight or The Fault in Our Stars can come with a stigma or be perceived as embarrassing. The short reason for this is because society has diminished the value of anything that teenage girls girls like en masse — see also, One Direction and Starbucks. As one of the largest consumers, the things teenage girls make popular are somehow shameful because who would want to be basic, right? However, when an older woman (or man) then likes that same thing, the shame tenfolds because they should be over such frivolous trends or know better. Perhaps that’s why it’s so much harder for adults to read YA without not-so-subtle eye rolls and snide remarks.
Adults can read YA though. That is not the debate we’re having today and it shouldn’t be a debate to begin with! No matter how old you are, the stories you enjoy shouldn’t be limited by the main character’s age or the content of the books. Make no mistake, YA books are not always easy reads — my vocabulary has tripled since I’ve started reading YA — so they should never be viewed as lesser in comparison to adult books. Although, adults reading YA can create some complications if they’re reviewing these books. More so on a critical level as opposed to how entertaining it was. It’s one thing for the writing to be bad, it’s another to evaluate a character’s actions and tear into a piece of fiction that you can’t relate to because you’re not from Gen Z.
“This isn’t realistic.”
“If I had read this at 14, I would have felt bad about myself.”
“Unrealistic characterisation of high school students.”
“I had to keep reminding myself that these are teenagers we’re talking about and not to judge so harshly but I just can’t.”
“The main character was beyond stupid, all of her friends were awful people, and she refuses to communicate.”
These are some quotes I’ve pulled from adults reviewing a 2020 YA book on Goodreads. Could these be valid criticisms? Absolutely. The teenage experience isn’t universal. Yet, these are bold claims from people who aren’t part of the target audience. Adults were teenagers once, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact there’s a generational gap and adult hindsight is more valuable than most of us realise. Plus, 14 year olds in 2020 are vastly different to 14 year olds in 1990. All of this feeds into why I think adult reviews of YA books aren’t always reliable.
The truth is, teen behaviour is amplified by the angst-fuelled thoughts of “nobody understands!” and hormones. Most of the time, teenagers are stupid with awful friends and they don’t want to talk to the people around them because wallowing in self-pity seems safer. Regardless of how ‘young at heart’ some adults may feel, wisdom comes with age and it’s easier to brush off the worries of a sixteen year old protagonist as silly and vapid when it’s been years since you were worrying about if a boy would text you back, or if you’d fumble your first time. If you can’t withhold judgement on teenage characters, I’d suggest reading books that aren’t aimed at teens.
Naturally, a lot of adults are the authors of YA books — some do a great job at capturing the teenage experience; others rely on outdated and cringeworthy stereotypes. Point being, adults do have the ability to empathise with teenagers, so what’s my real issue with adults reviewing YA books critically?
1. They aren’t in the target audience. As a teenage blogger, it’s incredibly frustrating to see bloggers twice my age receiving ARCs from publishers, only to give the book 1/2 stars because the characters are “immature.” I’m still a new blogger and even as a growing blogger I never expect ARCs, but I would like more publishers to reach out to the very people they’re trying to market the books to. Adults bloggers are valuable still — some have been here since they were teens and others (teachers and librarians, for example) work closely with teens — but there comes a point where adults need to decide whether or not they should move on from YA books.
Whether or not you should move on is pretty simple to figure out — do you get annoyed by the immature/naïve/incomprehensible nature of YA protagonists? If the answer is yes, consider trying some NA or adult books. Making that jump from YA to NA can be unnerving, but if you’re consistently critical of a teenage not acting like you — an adult! — then reviewing these types of books can be misleading.
2. Adult reviewers cause the Goodreads average to go down. The average going down is what I mean by misleading. Whilst I’m not the type of person who tends to look at the average rating of a book, this can be important to new authors and a low average might make someone second-guess purchasing it. Whilst the reviews from adults are genuine, they’re not coming from the people the author wrote that book for and it was the adult who knowingly read a book that wasn’t meant for them. I’ve seen some particularly spiteful reviews come from adults, long, ranting ones at that. Not that anyone should ever compromise the integrity or honesty of their reviews, but be mindful of why your rating is so low. Are you really going to one star a DEBUT author in the middle of a pandemic because the 17 year old main character wasn’t mature enough for you?
3. Reading reviews beforehand can alter the another’s reading experience. Admittedly, nobody is culpable for another’s reading experience, but if someone is reading the reviews of a book they’re excited for, their experience can be subconsciously altered if they see someone saying the main character is annoying or whiny (this being a very generalised example). I’d recommend avoiding the reviews until AFTER if you’re at risk of this, but going into a book with preconceived notions is the worst thing anyone can do. Adults are also at risk of sending the wrong messages to teenagers if they say teens acting like . . . teens . . . is bad.
Please let teenagers act their age, let them figure out the repercussions of their behaviour whilst they have no adult responsibilities. They deserve messy books about love and life as they try to figure out who they are.
On the whole, this is not me saying adults shouldn’t review YA, rather we need to open up a conversation about HOW they review YA. You can’t hold teenagers to the same moral standards as 30 year old with a wife and kids. And times are changing. Any adult reviewer needs to be mindful that there’s a whole new wave of worries for teens and they’re valid worries. We don’t have the same problems they had. Of course you don’t want to think sixteen year olds are worried about sex, of course you don’t want to think teenage relationships can be so toxic, of course you don’t want teenagers having these ‘bad examples’ in books, yet all of that is what makes up the modern teen experience.
What topic should I talk about next? I have so many ideas, but I’m open to suggestions. I’m also really eager to discuss this further in the comments. What do you think of adults reviewing YA?
read it and weep,