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Is YA Unsophisticated?

Okay, so a few weeks ago I was reading an article. It was otherwise a very interesting article, about Indian history, but then the author went and said this

‘The misconstruals [of Indian history] leave many people[…] with[… ]a young adult version of Indian history’ (italics mine)

Now, I can’t be certain that the author of this article specifically meant young adult literature. But the implication—that teenagers are somehow less smart, less sophisticated than adults, left me seething—especially because it isn’t unique.

sophisticated YA

There seems to be this idea that what young people want to read—and what a lot of adults want to read too—is somehow lesser for being marketed towards teenagers. How does that make sense?

Teenagers don’t have fully developed brains (or ‘not fully myelinated. Yes, I can use sophisticated vocabulary). But that doesn’t mean we’re stupid. It doesn’t mean that what we have to say and what we want to read is unsophisticated. In fact, a lot of teenagers have taken or are taking literature classes, and could probably analyse adult books very sensibly. But instead, we read YA books. This isn’t because we aren’t capable of reading adult books, and it isn’t because YA books are dumbed down to our level. It’s because YA books and their characters represent us on a basic level—having characters our age who share the struggles of growing up and figuring out who you are (not that I’m trying to criticise adults who read YA).

I’ve read a fair few adult books. I have, in fact, enjoyed many of them. Probably I’m going to read more as I get older. To me, those books were in no way better than YA books. They were a little more explicit about certain things than YA books are (and those things aren’t usually sex, it’s more the complexity of adult relationships). But I look at the YA I read, and the way YA tells stories is by no means lesser. Look at the complex storytelling used in Illuminae—do many adult books dare experiment in that fashion? Look at the compassion in The Wall—could an adult character have told that story? Look at the complex layers of reality created in Made You Up—could an adult writer have done any better? Look at the sophisticated humour and adventure in The Wee Free Men—is it lesser than the Discworld books aimed at adults?

Sure, YA has so much I love, that you sometimes need to dig a bit harder to find in literary adult books. Adventure! Transitions into different stages of life! Romance! Beautiful writing! Community! There is nothing wrong with that. It might be a good thing, even. YA can be beautiful and sophisticated, even if it isn’t always. This misconception that teenagers are lesser has to go away.

Young adults need books written for them (but not exclusively. Adults can join in too). But just because the people reading these books are teenagers, it doesn’t mean that they’re worse books.  There seems to be a pervading notion in our society that teenagers are somehow ‘lesser’ than adults—for being interested in pop culture, for not having degrees yet, for generally being responsible for the corruption and mayhem of how things used to be. As such, people dismiss what young adults are interested in—or what is designed for young adults—as not worth their time. And so people—like the person who wrote that article—use the words ‘young-adult’ as derogatory, as implying that something is not refined or sophisticated or good enough. But that isn’t true, and it doesn’t make sense. I’m not really sure how to change this (wrong wrong) notion. But I’m going to keep reading and writing young adult books. I’m going to keep analysing them and loving them and blogging about them. And those people with different opinions to mine, those people who are simply wrong can suck it up.

What do you love about young adult books? Do you feel like some adults judge them? Tell me in the comments!


19 thoughts on “Is YA Unsophisticated?

    1. I feel like YA is just like adult fiction: there are some totally quality works and there are some overhyped, terrible works. But it’s not really worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater, bt it’s definitely important to read a variety of genres, not just YA. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think this is always a painful topic to discuss, because the way the argument is set up reveals a lot of prejudices against young readers and what they “should” be reading. Do I think that YA or its readers are dumb? No, of course not. But I think YA, the culture of YA, definitely has its fair share of criticisms, some of which are fair. We have to take for granted that some YA, proportional to the rest of the literary pool, is just going to be bad. That is the way it is. Likewise, YA is going to be driven by a market built off of the willingness of its fans to buy. It’s the same with all other types of books, though in varying degrees. But for those who don’t care, or aren’t interested, or feel superior, I think they can see the surface of the culture. A genre dominated by love triangles, filled with maudlin characters and convenient quotes that one can sell on Etsy. It seems weird or suspicious or silly to those who have their prejudices, their biases… And I pity those people. They are entitled to their opinions and in many ways, I understand. YA is different, and difference creates all kinds of problems. But, at the same time, to devalue YA is to devalue young adults, and that is nothing new at all. It’s sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YA has lots of problems for sure, like a focus on lustful romance, and unrealistic decision making and terrible representation of lots of people. I don’t think we should ignore that or not campaign for those issues to be dealt with. I totally agree with everything you say here, because there is bad YA, but just because it’s YA doesn’t mean it’s bad… it’s all about your logical process. You can definitely miss out on great books if you don’t read YA and read terrible ones if you do… it has to be a risk you’re willing to take. It’s tragic!


  2. I have to roll my eyes at comments like that: seriously, have they even read the YA books that deal with school shootings, drug use, mental health issues, rape, consent and everything else — in complicated, not condescending ways? UGH. I feel like it’s the same kind of BS some classics readers give people who don’t like classics. Because unless you read classics, you don’t count as a reader. sIGHS. I got ranty. Sorry! EXCELLENT POST!


    1. YA books are equal to adult books-there are terrible and fabulous ones, and they can deal with issues really well or horribly. Those comments are so annoying. That’s okay… basically this whole post was a rant so…. thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    1. Terry Pratchett is very clever… though actually some of his adult satire annoyed me a little be (Going Postal, I’m looking at you) I guess there is a danger though in ignoring people that have different opinions to us… like their opinions don’t have to change who we are, but they might still have something of value to say–like the article I quote above was still really interesting if you’re interested in Indian History and not YA


  3. I don’t hear a lot about adults’ thoughts on YA. When I was in Secondary school, my teacher would lend me YA and adult fiction books to read *shrugs*

    But I don’t think people should look down on YA, either.


    1. Definitely not all adults look down on YA/ teenager books, but it’s a bad mindset to have. I love it when teachers lend you books.. my school has a whole room full of YA and adult books that you can borrow as well as the library.


  4. Oh yup, I definitely think YA gets judged unfairly a lot (and it’s readers!). I wrote a post about an article that was slamming on YA recently (oh wait…it was probably a month back or something….but that’s recent, right?!😂 TIME ON THE INTERNET IS WEIRD. Ahem. I digress.) But it’s just so wrong when people judge books that they know nothing about. Just because a book is about a teenager doesn’t mean it’s fluffy or mindless or won’t change the world. People should not look down on other people because of age or reading preference or…anything!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did read that post (and it was awesome btw)… but the Guardian (where I found this article too) has a great children’s books page, and lots of other quality articles, so I have not discounted it forever. Teenagers are awesome and we can do so many great things. It’s really hard not to judge, but I guess compassion is always the key, right?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmm.. I wouldn’t totally agree on either. There are always great books and others pretending to be decent. I do believe there are recent ones (some) which are just sham of YA , without substance, with no message whatsoever ( yes they spoil the genre, same goes for romance and chick lit).


    1. Oh, there are definitely terrible YA books out there that just copy others and so on, but just because something is aimed at young adults (or women or whatever) doesn’t mean that it’s worse. It’s all about sample size I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. no no, I meant “some” are bad coz of the writing and plot. Ofcourse a great Ya stays beyond time, i cherish reading some of them in my teen to this day. but yes i also suppose there is this sorta mass market laziness towards the genre. that some writers and publishers have, coz of the false sense of it not being actual literature, that would explain some books that were horribly bad these past few years.

        also it is kind of very mainstream, while there may be many great books there are also some mediocre work. Much like films, its like superhero thing ya know. commercial.

        in short it depends on the writing and a book rather than a genre as a whole,whether it is unsophisticated or not. catcher in the rye was essentially YA, that wasnt unsophisticated ! 😛


  6. Personally, I think the world would be a happier place if busybodies just let people read what they wanted to read. It’s not going to happen though. People have always done it. I’m not an Austen fan (unpopular opinion alert) but there’s an excellent bit in Northanger Abbey where she literally stops the story to rant for three pages about how some people (you know, idiots) think novels are a waste of time and a low form of art. If novels used to be looked down on, maybe there’s hope for YA?


    1. I agree… but it can be hard not to pass judgement, and I’m willing to believe that this mistake was unintentional, though no less irking for that. I think it has more to do with the systematic devaluation of young people’s voices in society, ergo what they read must be lesser…but YA is really popular so there should be hope 🙂


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