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Let’s Talk About . . . Adults Reviewing YA Books

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,

37 replies on “Let’s Talk About . . . Adults Reviewing YA Books”

This is actually great and making me reconsider how I’m setting realistic standards for YA. Mostly for me tho, the realism stems from: is it believable in story-logic? And ‘would teenagers speak like this irl’? The part about teenage angst is on-point though :’)

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I think that’s a good mindset to have. Language and logic are a good way to figure out realism. I read a book earlier this year where the teenagers said “LOL” or “FML” a lot, which isn’t realistic and is more a stereotype. I’ve seen some adults, however, not LIKE the logic of teens. Slut shaming is wrong, but is it prominent in high schools? Yes! It’s not nice to read, yet it’s accurate.

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I write and read YA, and I’m old but not ancient. This discussion reminds me of when I see YA authors online talking about what “lesson” they’re trying to teach kids when they write, which really rubs me the wrong way. Like, YA should be appreciated as its own art form and genre. Don’t write down to me! …Anyway, I digress. I think you make a really good point about judgments based on people’s personal experiences, especially when society has come so far in the last couple decades. Everyone is going to review that way because that’s how reviews work, but the age range of YA readers means we should probably be more discerning about what reviews (and stars) we allow to carry weight.

OK, another topic idea — authors who write other races and ethnicities. Seems pretty taboo these days!

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I agree with everything you said. These become such an obsession with making YA books a pure, positive influence when that’s not realistic. I saw someone get upset because there was slut shaming in a book when it was addressed and resolved by the end. Things like slut shaming and bullying are wrong, yet they happen! We shouldn’t hide these things because they might send the wrong message, we should hope that teenagers know that’s it’s wrong already.

That’s a good suggestion, thanks. I have some of my own thoughts on it, so I’ll take it on board and will have to search for some other bloggers to collaborate with in order to create a diverse post. I’d never want to speak over anyone.

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I love this post. You are so right, I completely agree. The issue isn’t that adults review YA, but it’s how they do so. I have always said that I don’t like negative reviews. As much as someone doesn’t enjoy a particular story, we should always acknowledge that even though we may not love it, others do. We should always respect an author’s hard work. And as you said, not everyone’s experience in different stages of life is the same, the generational gap, the target audience… ALL TRUE.

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The best approach, for me, is to always say “I didn’t like this aspect, but fans of ____ or people who are ___ might” because everyone is so different when it comes to reading. It always rubbed me the wrong way seeing adults saying teenage characters aren’t realistic when teenagers think they are.

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Ah I LOVE this discussion post because I have had the exact same thoughts for YEARS. I get so annoyed with like 30-year-olds complaining that teens are annoying or are acting stupid/annoying when it’s literally so realistic and YA is not even written for you.

Also YES about giving YA BOOKS TO TEEN REVIEWERS!! Please!! They need to stop handing books that are written about teens to only adults. Being a teen book-fluencer is hard as it is.

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I’m so glad you agree! I was hesitant to post this because of course those adults are valid, but they can be so out of touch with teens as well. You can enjoy YA as an adult, but I do think they forget who the book is for on occasion.

It’s so frustrating about the ARCs too! There’s plenty of teens in the book community, it makes no sense why they wouldn’t be more active in making sure the books reach the TARGET AUDIENCE on top of the longtime bloggers.

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Love this post! I try to be really careful when I’m reviewing a YA book not to let my adult perspective come through too much on my reviews since I know I am not the target audience. I think it also helps that I grew up reading YA so I know what characters in YA books are supposed to be like. I feel like I often see reviews on Goodreads from adults who pick up one YA book when they never read YA and then get surprised when it’s not written for them. I love YA even though I’m an adult but try to be mindful in the way I write about them that YA is for teens!

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Growing up reading YA no doubt helps! I think the surge of YA movies (mainly post Twilight) has caused an influx of adults who like the movies finding the YA books they’re based on and being disappointed. It’s somehow easier to indulge in movies with teenagers that are almost so-bad-they’re-good as opposed to books where every little action can be scrutinised.

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This post was very mind-opening and I will put more thoughts on my reviews from now on. As an adult who reads YA only, this is a topic I really care about because I believe books can have a major impact in future generations. But, I think YA became more of a specific genre, a fandom, than representing an audience. I think adults reach out to YA more than teenagers, for the simple fact, we have the means to buy these books. At the end of the day, who buys all these expensive limited editions with sprayed edges and whatever?? 🤷‍♀️

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I think these books can have a major impact on future generations too, but I also think there’s a pressure on authors to release something groundbreaking and world changing when sometimes books can just be about awkwardly figuring out life. It’s interesting that you consider YA a genre, I see a lot of people are divided over it being an age group or a genre. For me, it’s an age group. I don’t think I’d consider ‘adult’ it’s own genre, but it’s open to interpretation for sure. As for limited editions, I don’t put much value on them personally. I’m on the older end of YA, I work to buy the books I have, but don’t think I’d buy a limited edition unless it held sentimental value. I understand where you’re coming from though. However, I don’t think that adults reach out to YA more than teenagers and if it becomes about the adults, it takes away from a lot of what makes YA so authentic for many teens 💕

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This was such an interesting post! I have a hard time accepting I’m supposed to be a grown-up (maybe because I don’t know how to, and I lack some of the experiences even the teens in YA books have had😂) but I 100% understand where you’re coming from.

I was never a big fan of contemporaries, even when I was in the age group these books are addressed to, always more interested in the fantasy section, so maybe that’s why I don’t have that many problems with teen characters and their behavior, but no matter what I always try to keep in mind who’s their target when a book feels too childish for me, so that doesn’t affect my reviews.

I do believe YA has a lot of wonders and amazing messages and stories suited for everyone, no matter their age, and I’ll always defend that, but I also understand it’s frustrating for writers and teens to have the books criticized again and again. If you can’t understand teens are angsty and dramatic and overreact and make bad decisions, because they’re teens, then maybe you shouldn’t be reading books addressed to teens.

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You make a really good point about genre! Contemporaries are obviously meant to be more realistic, so they probably get more heat in that respect. And it’s good that you can keep that mind! I recently read the Percy Jackson series for the first time (late, I know!) and it was obviously younger than I’m used to tonally, but I still found myself immersed in the story and focused on that feeling when rating it.

I’ll always defend YA being for anyone too. I hate people who gate keep books or believe certain books don’t count as ‘proper’ literature because they aren’t difficult to read or written a hundred years ago. Most of all, it’s about knowing yourself as a reviewer and what your limits are. If teenage characters annoy you, don’t read about them.

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I love this post, it’s so thoughtful and really puts the problem into spotlight. In the end it’s really about character growth, and as long as the character is able to learn from their mistakes and move on, I’m happy to move along with the story too. ‘Young adults’ ARE supposed to be incomplete and flawed characters, and what is ‘realistic’ anyway? Everyone’s reality can be very different from standard normal so it’s not up to adults to judge how characters act until they have read the whole story. I will say though that some authors are better with capturing teenagers’ voices than others and it can really ruin a book for me personally if it’s too ‘immature’. It really depends!

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Thank you for your kinds words! Character development is ESSENTIAL in any book for me, but it feels especially important in coming of age books where the characters are going to be constantly learning about themselves. I also agree on some author’s capturing that voice better. I’ve read some more ‘immature’ voices, so I’ll usually preface with it being aimed at the younger end of YA. Some YA books are more suitable for 13 than 17, even if the main character is 17 themselves.

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That’s a really interesting post and I fully agree! I think one of the main problems with YA right now is that a lot of books are technically YA but are clearly written for and marketed towards an older audience. I mean, I definitely am not a teenager anymore but I love YA, though I guess I read a certain type? I know myself well enough to not pick books up where I’d think “ugh teenagers”. And even though I think that sometimes, I understand the place this comes from and why the characters act in the way they do. I mean, looking at myself I see so clearly how I’ve changed since I went to uni, of course teenagers don’t act the way I do and I do accept that. And I think that’s a thing every adult should reflect upon before reading YA and reviewing it.

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Exactly. I talked a little about it on Twitter, but YA is almost being made into a genre instead of an age range. If it becomes a genre, YA is at risk of catering too much to an adult audience, then it wouldn’t even be YA anymore. The most important thing as a reviewer, like you said, is knowing yourself. YA has been ‘trendy’ for while now and when it becomes trendy, people might pick up books for the wrong reasons and fall into the trap of making snap judgments about what isn’t to their tastes and isn’t aimed at them.

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OMG I completely agree with you. As an adult who reads YA books, that drives me crazy. When I criticize how a character is written, I always check myself that it is really the character and not because Im not looking through an adult lens. Truthfully, I review adult and YA books and sometimes adult characters act more idiotcally than teens, which mirrors real life. So there’s that, too. And then there are kids who are written like adults. And I don’t even mean YA books that eskew older YA but dialogue where they use vocabulary that my two MA degrees has to look up and I will point that up unless it is built into the story for a specific reason lol. But yes I agree. Lol

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It’s really good that you think through how you’re viewing characters before making reviews! I know a lot of people will finish a book and review on pure emotion, which isn’t always the smartest. I do agree about some authors being way off with how teens talk too. I’ve read some books with LOL and OMG in every two sentences, I’ve also read books that have dialogue filled with extensive vocabulary and philosophical metaphors, neither of which is the most realistic unless it’s specific to a character for a reason.

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Wonderful post!! It’s so true that YA books are not always easy reads, just look at Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. That book is very heavy and essential reading I believe.

YA is relatively new genre as well, despite books always having lead characters in that age group. I think a lot of classics would be tagged YA now since their main characters are late teens or early twenties but no one thinks of them as YA.

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Great post! My all-time favorite three-star Goodreads review of my first novel: “A bit too YA for me, but overall a decent story.” How can a YA be “too YA”? Why read it if you don’t enjoy YA? Still, as an author I try to remember that these people bought my book (usually), read it, and took the time to share their opinions. That’s more than 99.9999% of the population.

As Tony Robbins said, “Turn expectation into appreciation, and your whole world changes in an instant.” Words to live by. 🙂

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This was such an interesting discussion! You did such a great job at explaining the main issues regarding adults reviewing YA books. I completely agree with you. Adults who decide to review YA books should really acknowledge that they may not like some of the aspects of YA books because they’re not the target audience and yeah it is annoying to see that some YA books have a lower average rating because of adult reviewers. This was an amazing post! I can’t wait to read your next discussion post!

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This was a really thoughtful post. I don’t really mind adults reviewing YA, but I agree with you on the point that the publishers should send some ARCs to teenage bloggers. I agree that adults say that the characters were immature, but isn’t that the point? I hate YAs if the characters act more than their age. I don’t know if you have read the book, but in Moment of Truth by Kasie West, the main character acted more than her age and I didn’t really like it.
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I’m glad you liked it. I don’t mind adults reviewing YA either! I hate people who gate keep because I think it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can like any kind of books. My issue is more in if they hold teenagers to same standards as adults. I agree, acting older is a turn off too.

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