As a reader who often heads to the Young Adult section first, I’m frequently called out by adults for my reading choices – usually by those who don’t know what the YA field is like and think I want something simplistic to read or that I never grew up or whatever “theory” is prevalent this week.
One of the latest Twitter controversies revolves around sex in YA novels, but with a new twist. These posts aren’t about demanding “clean reads” for teens or decrying sexual content in YA novels. Instead, some people (both fans and authors) are upset about adults reading YA and “hypersexualizing” the teen characters.
It has gotten so odd, some people have claimed they feel like alerting the FBI about YA authors who “hypersexualize” their teen characters.
Oh, I’m sure it was meant as a joke. Sure. Some of the other posters aren’t joking when they suggest this sort of book shouldn’t be published and that the authors should be arrested. Or that these authors need therapy because they are writing about the sex lives of teens.
So if the authors put sex of any sort in a YA novel (even at a subtle level), and the editors and publishers allow it, should they go to therapy? Or worse, be reported to the FBI? Does anyone truly believe the FBI has the time for this? Should only minors be writing (and editing and publishing) YA books with sexual content of any type? What is going on?
This discourse also makes a lot of assumptions about adults reading YA books; apparently, it means they have been unable to “grow out of them.” Do the people who say that know many actual readers? Like other AAR staff, I read a lot of different genres.
This discourse is making creepy assumptions about adults who read YA. And assumptions about the teens who read it. Just because I read a YA novel, that does not that mean I’m “hypersexualizing” the characters. And are we assuming that all teens who read these books dislike seeing sexuality on the page? Who decides what is “too much” sex in a YA novel? What if on page sex is true to the characters?
I don’t read YA hoping for lots of sex. While a romance in a YA book can be great, some are better without a romantic element. I read it because I like how these books have treated certain plots and characters – often without taking as long as many adult books take to address similar issues! Take Tracy Banghart’s Grace and Fury and Queen of Ruin duology, for example. In just two books, she sets up a misogynistic society and gives us heroines who work together to bring it down. The pacing was great, and while the story iss dark, the ending is hopeful. Yes, I know there are fast-paced, hopeful books in adult SFF, too. Guess what? I’m able to find those books as well. Without being sneered at.
The publishing industry complicates things. There are adult science fiction and fantasy books that are often miscategorized as YA even when they are shelved in the adult Science Fiction and Fantasy section. This has happened to Rebecca Roanhorse, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, R.F. Kuang, and others. (Some people think that if a woman writes a fantasy or SF novel, it must be YA. That’s an important issue.) There are also some series that should have been sold and marketed as “new adult” or even adult, such as A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. But this is a problem with publishing, not authors, and not readers.
People who want SFF with a more romance-oriented plot can’t always find that in the adult Science Fiction and Fantasy section. So they’ll turn to YA to find the stories they want. That doesn’t mean they want to “hypersexualize” the characters.
Yet I can see why some adult readers of YA get tiresome. Some will read a novel about teenagers, aimed at teenagers, and then complain when they those characters act like teenagers. Wait a minute there…
I also get annoyed at adults who read YA for the romance but sneer at the Romance section. That’s a marketing issue. For years, people who might have wanted to read a romance novel have stayed away because of clinch covers, bad cover copy, sloppy media coverage of romance novels, and their own assumptions. Let’s hope that changes.
Finally, considering the YA market, if adults were somehow no longer allowed to buy the books (that’s not going to happen), what do these critics think would happen to the sales figures? Do they really want the whole YA market to crash and burn? Do they want writers to lose their livelihoods? Or are they just writing “hot takes”?
YA isn’t perfect, but these “hot takes” will not fix it.