Being so involved in the bookish community in Melbourne, it’s easy for me to forget what other people think of YA — and that there are even people who don’t appreciate YA like I do. I’m sure I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that a lot of us get so incredibly wrapped up in the YA community. I mean, YA is such a major part of my life. I blog about it, I write YA stories, I attend book launches, I run a book club, I make booktube videos about YA, I created a YA podcast… YA is everything to me, and I’d be lost without it.
But it wasn’t until last week, when I attended my first Contemporary Australian Writing class at university did I realise not everyone who loves books is as passionate about YA as I am. And of course, people are entitled to their own opinion and everyone has a different taste in books, but I was just so surprised by some of the things that were said about YA in this class. There were so many misconceptions, and it took everything I had not to get up and do a Ted Talk on what YA actually is to my tutorial. Sigh.
So instead of making my classmates sit through my crash course on YA, I thought I’d come here to rant instead! Today, I have five of the main misconceptions about YA and why they’re false — and, not gonna lie, I’ll probably airdrop this link to everyone in my class if someone says something negative about YA again. Let’s get down to business.
It’s a genre just for teenagers.
THERE ARE TWO THINGS WRONG WITH THIS, but let me begin by saying that when I announced I mostly read Aussie YA, my teacher looked at me and said: ‘You still read that?’. First of all, YA isn’t just for teens — you aren’t banned from reading YA when you turn 20. Sure, the target audience for YA is teenagers and these books should be written with teenagers in mind first and foremost, but so many adults love YA and are incredibly passionate about it. And that shouldn’t be looked down upon. I mean, I’ll be 20 this year. SCARY, RIGHT?! But does that mean I’ll suddenly lose my love of YA? Of course not. YA is, and always will be, a major part of my life.
SECONDLY, YA ISN’T A GENRE. IT’S A READERSHIP. I cringed so hard when my teacher said ‘iI’s an interesting genre’ that I actually corrected her and said ‘Yes, I love the YA readership’. It’s honestly not that hard to understand: Young Adult is a readership that comprises of books written for teens, with teens as protagonists. Genres are things like contemporary or sci-fi or fantasy — and YA comprises of all of those things. It can’t be its own genre. I’m actually going to buy this shirt and wear it to my next class. TAKE THAT, FOOLS. (But of course I don’t blame people if they don’t know, but now is their time to get educated so I don’t throw my coffee at them in future. Thank you in advance.)
YA isn’t important or complex.
Out of all these five misconceptions, I think this one is definitely the most insulting to me. The idea that Adult Fiction are the only novels that could ever be profound or convey important messages to readers is just downright condescending. And yes, I’ve had someone say those exact words to me. Sure, some YA novels are just fluff, but I love those kind of books too. But then we have novels like The Hate U Give and Love, Hate & Other Filters and When Michael Met Mina. We have novels that explore cultural identities, and racism, and feminism, and mental health, and sexuality, and neurodivergency, and it’s INCREDIBLE to see that kind of representation.
To say that there’s nothing complex about YA is an incredibly naive thing to say. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — books create empathy. YA allows us to understand those who have lived through different experiences than us, and it also gives us the opportunity to see ourselves in what we read. Just because YA’s target audience is teenagers, it doesn’t mean that these stories are ‘dumbed down’ or made simpler for its audience’s sake. To claim that YA isn’t important or complex is to disregard the lives of teens and their experiences on a whole.
YA is just a stepping stone to Adult Fiction.
WRONG. YA isn’t some middle ground between books for children and Adult Fiction that people pass through as they grow older. Some people read YA their entire lives. Some read a mix of all types of books. As I mentioned before, you don’t have to stop reading YA the moment you turn 20. I know I certainly won’t. So the idea that readers are not as sophisticated or educated as those that just read literary fiction, for example, is just an incredibly pretentious notion. Young Adult fiction shouldn’t be overlooked or disregarded.
There’s not much YA written by Australia authors.
For a class about Contemporary Australian Writing, I was surprised when a lot of people said that they’d like to see more YA written by Aussie authors, or set in Australia. COME ON, FOLKS. Yes, I’d like to see a lot more too, but that’s not to say that there isn’t MUCH #LoveOzYA. I guess it doesn’t surprise me that most students could only recall the names Melina Marchetta and John Marsden when discussing Aussie YA. Again, because #LoveOzYA is such a major part of my life, it’s so easy to forget that a lot of people don’t know what YA is for offer in Australia.
Yes, the vast majority of YA comes from America and yes, a lot of what we read is being Americanised. But there’s SO MUCH authentic Aussie YA written by Australian authors and set in our country. More than I could even name here. To me, claiming that there’s no much Aussie YA is just plain lazy — it’s THERE. JUST GO LOOK FOR IT. I’m just going to take a whole bunch of #LoveOzYA novels to my next class and throw them at people when they drag YA.
YA authors aren’t “real” authors.
AGAIN. STOP LOOKING DOWN ON YA. People who write YA aren’t doing so because they’re ‘not talented enough’ to write Adult Fiction. For a lot of YA writers, dare I say most even, Adult Fiction isn’t some kind of end goal they’re working towards. But there are so many readers, and even other authors, who approach YA writers and ask them when they’re going to write ‘a real book’. SIGH. And that all comes back to respecting YA and acknowledging that YA is just as important and complex as Adult Fiction, and that the teenage readership shouldn’t be looked down upon. I admire YA authors so much, and as an unpublished YA writer, I have so much respect for the incredible work they create and the novels they write that continue to chance the YA landscape for the better.
Have you encountered these misconceptions before? Do you have any horror stories from what people have said to you about YA? Do you have any misconceptions to add? I’d love to know!