Sorry, but “you read too much YA” isn’t an insult

thoughts orangutan

Sooo you know how I’ve come out swinging lately about how not everything is YA? Well, I’m here today to tell you that it doesn’t matter anyway! Because, as much as I like being precise about what is and isn’t YA, I don’t really think it matters in the grand scheme of things. I love YA, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading entirely YA and it most certainly isn’t an insult to say “you read too much YA” (which incidentally is what prompted me to do these posts, so thank you kind stranger for the content!) Aside from making me wonder “how much is too much” and “what even is YA”, I also just don’t think it’s a very valid criticism- and here’s why:

meanBook snobbery ain’t cool– okay, so maybe YA just isn’t for you, maybe you don’t fit into the target demographic and maybe you don’t want to read it- but guess what? No one’s asking you to! At this point, I’m gonna come out and say it: it comes across as incredibly judgemental to tell other people off for their reading tastes. I just think WHOA to the unnecessary shaming, that this is telling of some deep feelings of inadequacy and maybe (just maybe) you’ve got a stick up your butt 😉

yayYA ROCKS! I could wax lyrical about how awesome YA is- in fact, I’ve done it before and I’m gonna do it again! YA is innovative, modern and imaginative! It’s pacey, exciting and entertaining! It’s full of youthful optimism and gives us the *feels*. If you’re looking for heightened emotions and the promise of some intense catharsis, you can’t really go wrong with YA.

that's deepIt’s also much deeper than you think– let’s be real, if you denigrate all of YA, your ignorance is showing. Children’s literature has always been an experimental gateway- from the Hobbit to Phantom Tollbooth to Alice in Wonderland to A Wrinkle in Time, we’ve understood that children’s stories can be just as important as adult novels. Likewise, YA has cracked fields of fantasy, dystopia and sci fi wide open. Books like Illuminae show us that stories can be told in an alternative format. Books like Northern Lights explore philosophy and theology. Books like Hunger Games help us explore the issues of our time. Books like One Word Kill explore maths and theoretical physics for goodness sakes! To say that it is shallow is simply daft (and, I know I said critics don’t have to read YA, but maybe if you read some, you might actually learn something 😉)

choose booksNot everything is YA– sorry to harp on, but as I discussed recently there’s a lot of misconceptions about what is and isn’t YA. Given that it’s such a broad and all-encompassing category, how could you feasibly say it’s all bad? Which brings me onto…

spaceYA is limitless– it’s not actually a genre, it’s a marketing category. That means it’s not constrained to one type of book. YA is open to readers of all ages, all interests and all personalities. And that’s why I find it so strangely amusing that people will turn their noses up at it. YA doesn’t limit itself- so why should you?

So, what do you think? Would you be insulted if someone said you read too much YA? Do you like reading YA? Let me know in the comments!

No, it’s not YA

thoughts orangutan

What even is YA? The question comes up over and over- and for those of you experiencing déjà vu, yes, I have talked about this before. Yet recently it came to my attention again when Alix Harrow was talking on twitter about how her book wasn’t YA.

Now I found this interesting on many fronts. Firstly, because I understand this author’s frustration. It’s beginning to irritate me too that there’s this “assumption of YA”. On a personal level, I notice that because I read a lot of YA, somehow all the books I read are assumed to be YA, despite the numbers being closer to 60:40 adult to YA (funnily enough, I even had a list that included Austen, Dostoevsky and Frankl labelled YA!) And anecdotally speaking, I’ve seen countless adult fantasy books- like Circe– end up shelved in the YA section at libraries. Plus, plenty of authors find they have to take to twitter to tell people that no, their book is in fact not YA.

Just some examples of the kinds of books that get labelled YA, though they might not necessarily be YA, are:

  • Books written by authors who previously wrote YA (as Jay Kristoff has found).
  • Fantasy by women- especially if they’ve previously written in YA (aka Priory of the Orange Tree).
  • Fantasy in general (cos I don’t know why you’d think Tolkien is YA otherwise!)
  • Books with a female protagonist on the cover (cos that’s the only reason I think you can mistake Book of the Ancestor for YA!)
  • Books read by women- especially if said woman reads YA 😉
  • Books with teen protagonists (like the Farseer series)
  • Middle grade- especially with a hint of romance (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter)

So yeah, none of these are YA:

And that’s by no means an extensive list. I have my theories why this is- anything from genre snobbery to ignorance to misunderstandings. Assuming it’s the latter, the problem I’m increasingly finding is that the term is nebulous to begin with. To take Ten Thousand Doors of January as an example, there are more than a few reasons why people might mistake it for YA: it’s a coming of age story, with a young protagonist, has age-appropriate content, the kind of cover typical of a lot of current YA and was blurbed by some YA authors. Personally, I’d have no problem giving this to a teen. And this is not the only case- if a teen was interested in fantasy, why not give them Sanderson? Or Tolkien? Or Jordan? And I know there’s been debate around this, but regardless of what category it’s in, teens seem comfortable reading Schwab.

Thinking of YA as a marketing category, I can see why it might be expanded as much as possible. To my mind, then, if the audience is there, why not just put as many books into this group, as long as it fits the barometer of “suitable for teens”? What I am finding tricky to get my head round is how often even this isn’t taken into consideration. Because on the flipside of seeing that more books could easily be considered YA, I do still have some confusion that certain books are classed as YA (again, not that teens should be stopped from reading them, just that maybe not everything should be marketed directly to teens). Last year, Serpent and Dove was published by Harper Teen- though to my mind (as much as I enjoyed it) there’s little beyond the age of the protagonist marking it as YA. Likewise, not to sound like a broken record, but I still don’t agree with the classification of ACOTAR as YA. And just to make the point that it’s not just about sexual content, I’m not especially convinced of Queen’s Thief being YA, partly cos that has some X-Rated violence (but also cos there’s legit nothing YA about it except the ages… yet still it ends up in the YA section- someone explain this to me please!). The classification seems so arbitrary that it’s becoming an impossible game of spot-the-difference! I’m not sure, if I didn’t know the answer in advance, that I could pick the YA out of this lineup:

So, I’m finding that I have less of a comfortable answer for “what even is YA” than I did a year ago! Which is a turnout for the books 😉

What do you all think? Do you have a clear grasp of what YA is? Or are you increasingly as lost as I am? Let me know in the comments!

What even is YA?

thoughts orangutan

Eh- that’s a tough one.

There are all sorts of things that can go into a YA book: coming of age stories, themes around “firsts” and a heightened sense of emotion to name a few. One thing’s for certain- it has to be about *teens*. And not just people that start out as teens and then grow up, like in Assassin’s Apprentice, the protagonist should start and end a teenager for it to really fit in this category.

And I say category, because as Alexa Donne points out in her very comprehensive video on the topic, it’s more of a marketing category than a genre. Which means: anything goes. It’s the wild-west of the publishing industry these days (that ironically doesn’t put out many westerns 😉 )

Because of all this, there have been many instances of missmarketing. I could probably fill a post on the books that have somehow ended up in this category, even though they don’t belong, but here’s just a few:

Now, while a little part of me wants to be cynical and say this is a cash grab, the reality is a lot of teens enjoy this content. As a teen, I personally liked reading books that pushed boundaries and explored darker topics. I’d have most likely been insulted if you told me a book like, say the Book Thief, was technically not aimed at me and therefore off limits (and I’d have definitely read it anyway 😉 ).

Perhaps it is a reflection of this that YA has increasingly been exploring taboo topics.  For better or worse, younger readers have access to books with, dare I say, adult content. Books like A Court of Thorns and Roses is a great example of this- because it was written for adults and yet often mistaken for YA (in fact, I have never seen this book in any part of a library or shop that wasn’t the YA section!) Part of this is thanks to the failure of NA taking off (more for the industry than readers). But a larger part seems to be that the question of what’s appropriate for children has blurred beyond recognition- to the point where many can’t see the line between adult and young adult content anymore.

And while it can be a good thing that adults are buying YA- the expanding market means more books, more bookish industries and more opportunities for authors- it also means that they are the ones driving the market in this direction. Sales, after all, dramatically effect which books publishers choose to put out. This raises all sorts of issues- not least the continuing of this *I have no idea what YA even is anymore* trend.

So, with all that’s said and done, is the term becoming defunct? 

Well obviously not. As much as there have been discussions about the YA genre not doing as well last year, I don’t believe this is because the massive market that exists has gone anywhere (I have my own theories). This isn’t me saying it’s “too big to fail”- it’s merely acknowledging the fact that there will always be a market for high stake drama, with teens at the forefront, exploring the world with fresh eyes. And these are all aspects that this “genre” has in spades. It is also why adults and teens alike will continue to gravitate towards YA no matter what name you give it.

That was rather inconclusive. Looks like I did this whole post just to say who gives a monkeys about genre classifications 😉 In all seriousness, what does the term YA mean to you? Are you a fan of YA? Let me know in the comments!

Why I Fell in Love with Contemporary YA

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It’s no secret that I didn’t always love contemporary YA. For a huge part of my childhood and teens, it was sort of just there. I was much more of a fantasy gal and while I appreciated a good romance, I didn’t think that “good” and “romance” added up to contemporary YA (I know, I had some real genre snobbishness going on). And then, when I went to uni, right at the age when I was supposed to graduate from YA, I started reading more of it when I needed to chill… and that’s when I really discovered how much the genre had to offer- whoops! 😉 Anyway, now that I’m all grown up, I thought it would be fun to share some of the reasons I love the genre. And if it’s not your jam, no doubt this list will provide all the reasons you don’t like it- so if you think about it, this list is for everybody 😉

isla and the happily ever afterThey’re relatable– this is one of the biggest draws for a lot of readers and I know it was for me. I remember the moment when YA contemporary *clicked* for me: it was reading Isla and the Happily Ever After and realising how much I had in common with the main character. While I’d enjoyed Anna and Lola (the first two books in the series), reading Isla was like finding a bookish bestie. And you know what? Ever since that point I’ve regularly found my kindred spirits in books, I’ve related to their circumstances and I’ve realised there’s a lot more to contemporaries than I first thought.

always-and-forever-lara-jean-9781481430487_hrOf course, I also love the romance. Let’s face it, I’ve always been a romance fan- from classics to fantasies, one of the biggest draws for me in books is anything that will make my mushy heart beat. Particularly if it’s super cutesy and adorable- I can’t help myself!! So naturally, I’m drawn to a genre that is centred around the *feels*.

 

serpent kingThey can be SUPER EMOTIONAL in other ways as well– that’s the biggest reason I keep coming back to these books. They make me laugh, cry and everything in between. I thought that contemporary YA was all about the romance for a really long time- not so! They’re often packing a lot more under the surface.

 

list of cagesEspecially cos they’re grounded in real world issues. As tough as it can be to read sometimes, it’s also powerful and necessary sometimes to dip our toes into murkier topics. And contemporaries are an excellent way to do that- they provide a window into the darker parts of life, whilst not losing sight of the light.

 

ps i like youThat’s why contemporary YA can be incredibly fun at the same time. They often have a lightness of touch that may be missing from other genres. When I was younger, I’ll admit, I resisted the charm of a lot of these books, before realising that a little fluff can go a long way. I guess the heart wants what it wants 😉

 

love and gelatoNaturally, for a lot of the above reasons, they make for relaxing reads! It’s not hard to find an easy-read in the contemporary genre, that’s for sure. I started getting into the genre cos I needed to switch off- they may have ended up giving me so much more than that, but they’ve frequently fulfilled that promise as well. A lot of YA contemporaries have a great summer-feel- even if it’s wintry and bleak outside, I can tell you that a lot of the time reading them, I feel like I’m lounging on a hot beach somewhere living the dream 😉

orangutan on a beach relaxing0003

So do you love contemporary YA? Do you agree or disagree with any of my reasons? Let me know in the comments! 

Some Great Contemporary YA Reads That are More Than Their Romance

 

orangutan list

Let’s face it: romance is a staple of contemporary YA. Even so, that doesn’t mean that the story has to end there. Many wonderful contemporaries also explore other avenues of life, love and relationships. That’s why today I’m sharing some of those YA books!

Sisterhood everlasting

#1 Sisterhood Everlasting– I feel like I can rarely talk about contemporary YA without bringing up one of the books in this series. I adore how Brashares shows love and friendship in all of her books- this finale is special though in that it takes a sadder turn. Annnd I’ll leave it there, cos I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that hasn’t read it!

words in deep blue

#2 Words in Deep Blue– another moving book, this delves into the depths of loss, family and friendship. This exquisite story really takes a lot of the themes of this genre to another level.

second chance summer

#3 Second Chance Summer– this was my first Matson book and definitely not the last! I don’t think I could ever forget reading this for the first time- mostly cos it involved lots of crying in public… oops 😉 Seriously, this does not pull its punches. If you want an excellent read about family and grief, then this is the book for you!

cinder and ella

#4 Cinder and Ella– in fairness, this is the most romance-heavy of the books on this list. That said, this Cinderella retelling does a *brilliant* job of demonstrating complex family dynamics and offers more than your standard YA contemporary fare.

simon vs the homosapien agenda

#5 Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda– this is also fundamentally a romance, but along with a good dose of cuteness and a strong hint of humour, this book also delivers by telling a powerful coming out story.

A thousand perfect notes

#6 A Thousand Perfect Notes– I read this fairly recently and haven’t had the chance to review it yet- but rest assured I will get to it, cos this book deserves a lot of attention! I have a difficult time with books on abuse- however I really do believe that this does an outstanding job.

all the bright places

#7 All the Bright Places– possibly the most controversial book on this list, as like many books on mental health, it’s incredibly polarising. Personally, I connected very strongly with the representation and found the characters realistic.

eliza and her monsters

#8 Eliza and Her Monsters– I have made no secret of how much I liked this book- it’s a colourful, exciting contemporary, which also happens to deal with anxiety, friendship and even living on the internet. Hence for a lot of us online, it’s not to be missed!

stargirl

#9 Stargirl– an ‘un one but a good ‘un! This is aimed at a bit of a younger audience, but I read it in my late teens and still got a lot out of it. This is far less about getting a crush and more about dealing with bullying.

And *Bonus*- cos here’s a contemporary without romance at all:

wonder

#10 Wonder- such a powerful read about friendship and overcoming hardship. Words tend to fail me when it comes to this book, so I’ll simply say: if you haven’t read it, you really should.

So have you read any of these? What did you think of them? And what other contemporary YA books do you think are more than their romance? Let me know in the comments!