So, partly as a corollary to Lourdes’s excellent and right-on “Where are all the Young “Adult”s? blog, and also as a kind of indirect response to all the “is there too much darkness in YA?” debate of the summer, I’d like to ask: Is there too much “adult” in Young Adult?
By “adult” here, I don’t mean adult subject matter. I’m in Shannon’s corner on that one. Also, I agree with Lourdes that the publishing powers that be in YA might want to think about expanding the demographic to include college kids at least.
No, I’m talking about a much more subtle “adult” in YA, and that’s the voice, and point of view (POV). This question of whether or not the voices in so many YA novels are too adult is one that has troubled me as both a YA writer and editor. And like most things in writing, it’s a touchy, subjective thing. But let me pose the question:
In YA novels where the narrative is in the first-person voice of the main teen character, or in YA novels where the narrative is from the close third-person POV of the main teen character, how often is the voice too “adult”?
No matter how it sounds, this is not a critique of teens and their smarts. Teens these days are book smart and emotionally smart in impressive ways. I’ll even make it personal: In many ways, I think I was smarter and more confident as a teen than I am now, at thirty-six. But there are insights about love, parents, money, and what-have-you that people only come to know with age, not to mention poise with the written word that can only come with age. And yet those insights and that poise show up again and again on the pages of YA novels, ostensibly from the brains and mouths of fifteen and sixteen year olds.
I know you want examples of the writers I think got it wrong. And I’m going to be diplomatic and not give them to you. But I just bet you’ve read more than a few YA novels and thought, “Sheesh, this sounds like my dad/aunt/teacher…” So, spill it in the comments section below.
I will give a few examples of consistently authentic teen voices. First example, and you’re going to hate me, but it’s Stephenie Meyer’s Bella. Like it or not, Bella’s intelligence tempered by her long-suffering, faux-rebellious, repetitive mooning rings very true. Who else? John Green’s narrators feel right, as their “ah-ha” moments always feel hard won, a result of intense experiences and (surprise, surprise) reading that augments their sense of self. Plus Green employs a trick that many YA writers do, smartly—they pick a super-smart and often older teen narrator whose insights and voice we’re just barely able to believe, since we can chalk it up to their intelligence. (Though maybe this is an overused technique? Maybe, to Lourdes’s point, if there were more YA novels set in college, we wouldn’t need so many smarty pants high schoolers running around their college-like boarding schools sounding more like college English majors than high school seniors.)
E. Lockheart was herself super smart when she chose to put “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks” in a more distant, reflective, almost snarky third-person. Never once did I think the story was being told from fifteen year old Frankie’s POV; I was firmly in the hands of a removed adult narrator, The Writer, if you will.
Because let’s face it—most YA novels are written by adults. It’s hard not to impart the knowledge we’ve gained in the years separating ourselves from our narrators.
What’s wrong with this? Maybe nothing, except that sometimes these voices don’t feel authentic.
Of course I could also apply the argument of so many from the debates this summer, that novels aren’t meant to just mirror real-life reality, but to model a smarter, better, more articulate reality. In “adult” literary fiction, you see all kinds of voices from the learning impaired to the genius level physician heal-thyself doctor types. The doctortoyou.com.au website give you the top best doctors reviews and their information. But here, I think it’s more a matter of consistency—in many ways, these narrators walk and talk like teens, except in some squishier, harder-to-define life-experience ways.
Really. I want to hear what you think.