Misconceptions about YA

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.

Let's Talk

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!


39 thoughts on “Misconceptions about YA

  1. Ugh I hate all of these too…they’re so condescending too?! Like why is YA this genre that’s only “appropriate” if you’re a certain age and waiting to get onto reading “the real stuff”?? *eye roll* Also I hate the stigma that 20 = immediate adulthood. I don’t know about anyone else, but going from 19 to 20 wasn’t this huge awakening into different literature tastes/needs for me. 😂Like why is it that one day it’s ok to read YA and the next you turn 20 and boom = it’s not?! THAT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE.😂😂All books should be accessible to anyone who wants to read them.

    Loved this post!!

    • Ugh I know right?! It’s like people expect you to enjoy reading about failing marriages and pregnancies and mortgages the moment we turn 20. NO THANKS 😒 But yes, I agree – people should be able to read the books they enjoy and not be judged because of that. Thanks for reading my post! ❤️

  2. The thing about YA being for teenagers just baffles me so much because it also completely misunderstands the words YOUNG ADULT. I used to work with young people and anything up to the age of 25 is considered a young person/young adult here.

    Even then… read what you like! There’s no age range on reading books.

  3. I completely understand your frustration! I think it’s because it’s a relatively new readership where books are actually aimed and centred around teens rather than children or adults and people don’t understand it? That doesn’t mean that when you hit 20 and you’re no longer a teenager, you need to change your tastes to match your age. Tastes evolve naturally. Plus, there is poor “fluffy” writing in all genres and aimed at all audiences. And just because most of the high profile YA books tend aim to entertain rather than specifically address important issues, doesn’t mean that important issues are not discussed within those books!
    The one thing I can understand is the perception that there may not be as many Australian YA authors. As someone from the UK, it very much feels like the YA market is dominated by Americans (at least when I started reading YA books as a teen it definitely did).

    • I couldn’t agree more! You mature as a person gradually, and as you grow, so do your tastes. You might not enjoy reading Adult Fiction until you’re in your thirties, or you might be happy solely reading YA for your entire life. And whatever you enjoy shouldn’t be looked down upon!

      YA is definitely dominated by American authors, but it’s also important for Aussie readers to recognise that there’s Aussie YA out there if they want to read it. Thanks for reading my post! 💖

  4. Wow, didn’t know people have such misconceptions about YA. I mean I’m twenty and I still read and love young adult novels and I consider the authors who write them as real authors. I can even read middle grade books, there should be no age restrictions on books. This is a really great post.

  5. Oh wow… The book police is here!
    I’m not sure where these ideas are coming from, but as far as i’m concerned, everyone should read whatever the hell they want. I’m wondering if their opinion stands in reverse too. Like what if they catch a teenager reading an adult book? Book jail? 😀

  6. I don’t consume YA but I appreciate the clarification on the…I almost typed genre…craft of YA fiction. I had always looked at it as genre, but now I know better.

  7. In my opinion YA is on the forefront of all the important topics being talked about in our society today. Just like young adults and teenagers are in real life at the moment.
    I’ve found YA to be more diverse, tackle just as many tough subjects, if not more, as Adult Fiction.
    I’ve never been able to see myself in AF. I have no interest in having kids ever, I’m not that bothered about marriage, I can’t even let myself think about buying a house because that just makes me depressed about the fact I can’t even afford to move out of my parents house and rent on my own.
    But mostly I find AF often relies on dangerous tropes and stereotypes far more than YA. Yes YA has its own but I feel authors are trying a lot harder to steer away from them than AF authors.
    My mother is 40, she didn’t start reading until later in life and up until 2016 she read mostly memoirs, non-fiction, self-help and AF. That was until I recommended her a YA series and now she reads exclusively what I recommend to her which is mostly YA. She has time and time again said to her friends, when asked why she reads books I tell her to read, that she reads them because they tackle real and messy subjects more often and usually better than any AF book she’s read. I doubt she’ll ever go back to AF, and honestly I doubt I’ll ever move away from YA being the majority of what I read.
    No one should look down on anyone for doing what they enjoy. Looking down on YA is just as bad as judging younger generations because they just ‘don’t get it’. This world would be a far better place if people just let others enjoy things!

    • I agree! I haven’t read too much Adult Fiction, but I think YA is ahead in terms of diversifying our stories and telling the stories that need to be told. And that’s so interesting to hear about your mother! BLESS. So yes, I agree – everyone should read the books they enjoy! 💖

  8. This is a wonderful post and I wholeheartedly agree! As someone studying English in school, it gets so infuriating to hear people talk down on what isn’t accepted as “””sophisticated””” literature. I love reading YA and I think a lot of the misconceptions come from people just not giving it a chance, and basing their opinions on what they hear other people say. I especially love what you say about why YA is important and complex – just because these books are targeted for teens doesn’t mean they can’t handle incredibly complex issues and topics! Not only is it belittling the authors who pour their hearts and souls into these books, but it’s demeaning to the young people who read them because plenty of young people do go through some awful things like the characters you see in YA! Why shouldn’t they see themselves represented on a page in a way that’s truthful and respectful? Even the books that are a little simpler and don’t cover such serious issues are important because they can ignite in someone a love of reading that will bring them to discovering new books that teach them more about the world. YA covers such a broad range and there are so many possibilities, so there’s always something for someone out there. Anyways, rant over, I love this post!

    • Thank you so much! Yes, it’s so frustrating having people tell you what you should be reading and judging you for what you enjoy. And YA is far more complex and necessary than those close-minded people could ever realise. What I love most about YA is how it tells the stories of SO MANY different types of people, and how it allows so many readers see parts of themselves on the pages. And that’s incredibly important 💜

  9. Not that YA isn’t enjoyable or even contains complex issues but reading some classic literature can vastly broaden perspectives. I would say once you start to get to the cusp of the YA “age bracket” its good to mix up your reading and broaden your tastes and styles.

  10. YESSSSS thank you for writing this post Sarah. It really annoys me how people love to belittle adults for reading YA or like to tell is that it’s juvenile and not complex. I mean have they read 50 Shades of Gray? If that’s peak literary fiction then I’ll rather take YA thanks.

  11. Thank you so much for this post!! It’s honestly so surprising the amount of times I get judged for reading YA – sometimes aloud and sometimes just with that side-eye kinda look. YA is so wonderful and diverse, and as someone who’s turning 21 in a few months, I can tell you that I have no intention of stopping reading it. So glad you brought this to light here!

    • Thank you for reading my post! UGH THOSE PEOPLE ARE THE WORST. They just don’t understand how incredible YA actually is, and how it’s so diverse and multilayered and nuanced – and that’s what makes it stand apart from Adult Fiction 💕

      • 100% agree there – but then again I guess the only people really losing out are them. We’ll just be over here, enjoying all of the fantastic stories that YA has to offer ☺️

  12. Clearly, I agree on every point! It was kinda frustrating for me to explain to my best friend about how much young adult are valid… maybe even more valid for me that some of the adult books she loves so much. For example, I’m 24. In my country, people have a distorted idea of what young adult actually is (they think it’s After by Anna Todd, just for making an example). Only right now book like THUG are being published. So, I entered the young adult community in English thanks to Stiefvater books (the series has been interrupted in my country) and I’m late to the party. At first I was just happy that I’d found a category full of fantasy and new worlds,. But at 22 I started to realize that young adult books are the only ones that can represent me and I can still empathize with the protagonists because their feelings and thoughts sometimes are really important and it’s possible to share them.
    Adult literature don’t care about my identity.

    • Thank you! Wow, that’s really interesting. And yes, I completely agree – there are so many important, necessary YA books being published and it’s so great to see so many cultures and identities being represented. YA allows so many people to see themselves on the pages, and that’s one of the most incredible things about it 💖

  13. So let me straight: Your classmates have no knowledge or experience on how the Australian Publishing industry works, yet they feel they are entitled to pass judgment on a huge segment of the literary community? Sounds about right. Sorry, I did a Bachelor of Creative Arts Industries, and I found that some of the teachers and students in University units out of touch/out of date. It’s infuriating to have to listen to these types of comments, I hope it improves for you.

    While I’m not particularly active in the YA community and I have mixed feelings about the predominance of Young Adult books in the Australian Book blogging community, even I know about the #LoveOzYA movement. If your classmates don’t know about Australian YA authors, that’s their fault, nothing stops them from educating themselves. If your classmates are at a university level, they should know how to google.

    • Haha pretty much! It’s disappointing to hear that so many people’s experiences are similar to mine and that their classmates or lecturers dismiss YA. And I couldn’t agree more – if they cared about Aussie literature at all, that should extend to the knowledge that #LoveOzYA actually EXISTS. SIGH. Thanks for your comment! 💜

  14. Nice! Very true. I read everything, I mean I’m pretty ancient compared to you and I still read YA. Sometimes YA makes me see things from a different perspective. I really find YA books pretty fascinating and, so far, no one has really judged me when I’m out and I’m reading a YA novel. If they are, I think I’m too occupied by reading to really notice. I mean, there are some books that I do keep away from, but cause I just don’t find the genre interesting (such as westerns and romance, although some books I’ve read do have some romance). I don’t think we should limit ourselves because when we do, we risk becoming like sheep and we do what we see others doing just because they’re doing it. I don’t know how to explain it better sorry. Good post!

  15. I love this post so much, and these misconceptions and people looking down on YA really makes my blood boil.

    I think I’m going to share this post everywhere haha

  16. Simple: read what you like, what inspires you and the genre that you’re in the mood for rather than going with the label on the book shelf.
    Question: Do you stop watching Disney films because you’re not 12 or under?

  17. So much yes! I 100% identify with this and agree with all of your points, it’s so frustrating! I’d 100% support you and your TED talk – it seems like the professor doesn’t know much about it either. I would definitely recommend sneaking a link to this to your classmates regardless. 😀

  18. My teen years are very very far away and I still read YA. As a matter of fact, I did not read YA novels when I was a teenagers… I wonder now why. I had so much reading to do for school that, after the kids lit, I went straight to the classics and it kind of killed my love for reading for a bit. Thank you for sharing this.

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