Our thoughts on teens in YA

Hey everyone! As you might recall, if you’ve been around my blog a bit, I did a discussion post last month (it was actually a collaboration with April @Booked Till Midnight!). I had a whole lot of fun writing that post and so I decided to write another discussion!
Unfortunately I decided to procrastinate on writing this post until just about the last minute and now I’m tired and rushing and this post is nowhere near as good as that other one (which you can find here). Sooooo I’m super sorry about that and hopefully you still enjoy the topic. I promise that the post coming next week will be better. It’ll be one of my famous* wrap-ups so, yeah, there’s that to look forwards to if you enjoy those anyways (and I’m sorry if you don’t?)
*This is self-proclaimed fame. I honestly feel like my crazy wrap ups are the thing I’m most known for at this point (but especially my absurdly long January wrap-up).
This is a really interesting topic that I’m sort of conflicted on, and I’m wondering what all of you think. I really hope you enjoy since I’ve been thinking about this for a while and can’t wait to hear your own opinions on this topic!

In YA books, teens or people in their young twenties are almost always the main characters, the heros of the story. They’re books that really show how young people can be strong, can be the heros, in a world where oftentimes it’s older people who take the helm, from parents to government officials, etc. But how well do authors, who are oftentimes adults themselves, portray teens? Where is it okay that they make the character act a little older/younger than they are and where is it just weird? What books write teens well and what don’t?
(I know people have addressed the wordpress editor font weirdness before but for some reason it just changed for me and I do not like this times new roman font size twelve or whatever)
I just want to start off by saying that all opinions are my own and not everyone might agree with me!

First of all, I wanted to discuss younger teens in YA books, maybe teens who are thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old, ages that I don’t see portrayed that often in YA. I, personally, don’t enjoy how books portray characters these ages a lot of times and I’m going to cite a book that is loved by a LOT of people for this: Eliza and her Monsters. In Eliza and her Monsters, the main character, Eliza, is 17/18 years old. Now, in this book she has two online friends who she talks with a lot, one of whom is 14/15 years. And throughout the book, Eliza and her other friend who I believe is a little older than her (honestly, I’m shocked I remember even this much, I read this in September and info from books slips through my brain like water through fingers.) constantly talk about how young this character is and just make her seem a lot younger than 3 years. Guys, fourteen year olds aren’t actually that young. At all. I promise. They’re teenagers, they act like teenagers, three years isn’t that big an age gap at all. Also, I listened to the audiobook for part of this (it’s a terrible book to listen to on audiobook because there are some pictures) and whenever Eliza was talking to this 14 year old, Em, Em’s voice was so high like she’s a first grader not a fourteen year old.
This isn’t the only instance when this happens in books, it’s just the one I remember most (because Em’s voice was so high and it was in my ears aaack) but the verdict: I believe that younger teens are portrayed as much younger as they are in real life in YA books and I’d love to see some more books with characters who are on the younger age range of the teen-spectrum (not sure if that’s a thing but sure, I just made it up). Oftentimes, teens these ages are the main characters in middle grade books or supporting characters in YA and I think we need more main characters these ages. What do you think?

Next up: Do authors write teens in books too old, sometimes?
Well, in my opinion, yes there are definitely times when teens are written much too old (looking at you, Six of Crows). These are seventeen or eighteen year olds who act like they’re nearly thirty. Does this dampen the enjoyment of reading? It depends what you read for. If you’re reading these books specifically to find characters your age who act like you but who do these super heroic things, yeah, it might. If you spend the entire book telling yourself ‘a teen couldn’t do that. This is super unrealistic,’ and contemplating how un-teen-like this entire thing is, then that will definitely not be a fun read. But I’ve found, at least in my case, that it’s possible to enjoy a book even if the teens aren’t realistic. I pay more attention to the plot than I do to the characters, most of the time and that means that even if these eighteen year olds are acting like thirty year olds, they’re still doing awesome things to help the plot forwards so I still enjoy the book. How does the way characters act affect your enjoyment of a book?

What makes a good teenage protagonist in a YA book?
Well, I think this varies depending on the genre of the book. If you’re reading a YA realistic fiction/contemporary, you probably want a relatable protagonist. Contemporary/realistic fiction is about growing up, learning new things, so the protagonist you’re reading should be relatable. Someone who you can connect with. If not relatable, at least realistic. You want real problems, real emotions, not some sort of barbie-doll plastic mold of a teenager.
(disclaimer: I don’t read many realistic fiction/contemporary books and I also do not analyze the characters a whole bunch so I’m sorry that that part was super short)

In a fantasy or adventure or basically anything that isn’t a realistic fiction book, I think that it’s a little different. Of course, you want a teenager who acts like a teenager, once again a thirty year old-acting teen is prooooobably not the best character, but I feel like there’s also certain ways you want a teen to act. You know, you don’t want a damsel-in-distress teen (unless it’s the beginning of the book and they get an arc) because you don’t want to read about other people helping the protagonist. They’re the protagonist, you want to read about them doing their own things! Usually, in a book you’re looking for a strong, determined, loyal* character who can hold their own and who is the star of the story, not some sort of side character while the action is taking place somewhere else.
*this is something I see in a lot of characters in books but obviously not all of them. Keep reading, more on this below.

But then, there’s a type of character we haven’t talked about. A type of character that a lot of people seem to love (I actually don’t fit into that category, something I’ve discovered recently). Morally grey characters are not really your typical YA protagonists.
Why?
Here’s the thing. There’s one trait that sets them apart from characters I discussed above: loyalty. Oh, also things like a moral compass…okay there are several things. Man, that sentence sounded dramatic and now I have to go add things to it.
Anyways. People love these ruthless, grey characters because they’re different. I think. I’m not one of these people so maybe I shouldn’t be speaking on this. But I had to add this in here! So onwards I go. Morally grey characters are different and oftentimes these really strong characters who are willing to do anything to get what they want which can be an admirable trait. And they can just be plain, downright fun.
Gosh, I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.

Well, that’s a wrap on this post! Again, sorry for the content, it definitely wasn’t up to my usual level of chaos over here on my blog and wow maybe I should stop apologizing and actually just write something I’m proud of but nope I’ve been busy (and yet if you asked me to name a single thing I did this week I’d probably sit there staring at you (or my computer screen) blankly.).

Just a reminder to everyone that there is one week left to enter the giveaway for ‘A Bite of Revenge’ by Setayesh Kazempoor. Check out my post where I interviewed Setayesh, and then head on over to enter the giveaway! You can also find the giveaway here and the goodreads page for this book here.

What do you think of this post? Do you agree with me or have some different opinions? What sorts of things do you enjoy seeing in your protagonists?
As always, thank you so much for stopping by–it means the world! Everyone, please, stay safe and keep on reading!

35 thoughts on “Our thoughts on teens in YA

  1. this is such an interesting topic! I usually think that there’s a need for more older young adult ficiton, like in the weird middle after high school but not really an adult, you know? Because I feel like a lot of the time, authors just write characters who act like that but make them a bit younger so they can set the story in a high school setting (this is in contemporary though). However, I also totally agree with you, there’s also a need for younger teen stories. In conclusion, Young Adult is a bit of ~~~vague~~~ label.

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    1. Oooh, yeah that’s true! Yeah, I totally see that, there’s a lot of like 17 or 18 year olds, I don’t really know how many like 19 or 20 year old YA characters I’ve read. That’s a really good point! Haha yeah, high school, just *full of drama* lol. Yeah younger teen stories are not common at all. I feel like they’re mostly mg, like if you look at Percy Jackson he’s like 13, 14, 15 in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th books or something. Yeah, YA is suuuuper vague.

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    1. Yeah, I agree about fantasy, I care more about the plot than the characters. Haha everyone does love morally grey characters. I thought I did too and then I actually read a few books with morally grey characters and…meh. I like them to a point, like that sort of determined smart point but I hate when they do sort of unnecessarily cruel things.

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  2. ok the font change in wordpress is driving me NUTS so i’m glad i’m the only one who thought it was annoying
    yess i would def agree! as someone who falls somewhere on the younger age of the ya protagonist age-o-meter (aka not yet peak ya age 16/17/18) i find it so annoying how younger characters 14/15 are portrayed! like y’all. they aren’t seven!! oof and the audiobook voice going higher is just the icing on the disaster cake eek. yes! i’d love to see some more teens in the mid teen range that are above middle grade but not the average ya protagonist age yet. the only ones i can think of with protagonists that age are my eyes are up here and recommended for you (i’m like 87% sure that both mc are 15) but i’d love to see more!hah! morally great characters are always fun but they def veer the furthest from the whole teenage-esque thing with murder or whatever other morally grey shenanigans they get up to. but honestly that can apply to any fantasy book where shady stuff goes down or they are at war or something! anyway! i really loved this discussion! finding the right balance of teenishness (yes that’s a word now) and def be a struggle (especially if the author has obviously not spoken to a really life actual teenager since the freaking renaissance) love this post!!

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    1. Haha and the font has changed again (or at least it had, last time I checked), now it’s, like, ariel or something, ew. Also helppppppp wordpress changed its whole home page thing majing and it’s freaking me outtttt what do I dooooo haha. I mean, it’s not bad, it’s just super different.
      Yeah, I can’t remember the last YA book that I’ve read with a fifteen year old protagonist. ooh, I’ve heard of My Eyes are Up Here but not that other one! I think I saw another book that isn’t yet published that has a 15 year old MC but I refuse to touch it because the title led me to believe that it was about an aroace protagonist and it isn’t and now I’m just annoyed haha (the title is something like ‘Love is for Losers’). Haha yeah honestly morally grey characters are entirely their own category. They defy all book-teen character descriptions. Man, that sounded a lot better in my head but I couldn’t get the words out right, darnit. Ah, it’s true, anyone who’s fighting in a war does their fair share of killing. Ugh I hate when authors don’t know how to write teens at ALL but do it anyways.

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      1. i am a creature of habit, so even if the font is tolerable it still drives me NUTS arggg. ahaha yea they really are far and few between. ooo i’ve heard of love is for losers, but didn’t know it had a 15 yr old protagonist hmmm. ahaha yesss defying all the laws of teen-book characterization right? a person who who hasn’t spoken to a teen in the last decade honestly should not try to embody them lol. but sometimes it still comes out very entertaining because it’s wildly wrong ahaha

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      2. Yeah, exactly. It’s all weird and squished and ick. Yeah, I belieeeeve it does? Honestly, I may be wrong, little bits of stuff get stuck in my head, like I remember small things but sometimes I completely mix them up haha.
        Aaaah yes those must be the words haha.
        Ha yes definitely. I feel like only teens, people in their twenties and people who have teen children should write YA–but then again, people with teen children might not do that well either (like, imagine your parents trying to write from your point of view??? weird???). Ooh, haha yes when it comes out super wrong that’s funny lol.

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      3. Haha yes.
        Oh my gosh now that I’m thinking about it for real, it really would be. Life has changed a LOT since parents were kids.
        “Today, after going to the mall, I called my friends for an hour. We talked for a very long time about all the cute boys at school…” okay, I’m gonna stop, that was so cringe-worthy that I’m gonna go hide now.

        Like

  3. Love this topic! I didn’t even remember the characters in SoC were supposed to be 16/17 they definitely seem older. I think 11-13 year olds are definitely viewed as little kids in YA – like even in The Hunger Games Prim seems much younger in the first book. Maybe it’s partly because she is looked after by Katniss and just seems soooo innocent. She could’ve been made to be 8 years old and it would’ve been a similar story really. In that case I think it comes down to whether the main character(s) had a tough life or have gone through something traumatic that forces them to harden. If those factors are removed I think it would be different.

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    1. I’m so glad that you enjoyed! Yeah, the SoC characters are definitely the best example of characters acting older than they are…definitely didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the book, though! Oooh, yeah, I didn’t even think of the Hunger Games, Prim was what, 12? Something like that? You’re right that she did act extremely young. Yeah, I think that POV is definitely part of it, since Katniss was the storyteller and she’s Prim’s older sister she really wants to protect her from the world and stuff. Yeah, I totally see that! Oooh, that’s actually a really good point. Awesome points!

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  4. Phoenix! Oh my gosh my apologies I have been sloppy on catching up with everyone’s posts but I’m so delighted that you wrote another discussion post! 🀩

    Truly this is a topic that is so prevalent, and I 100% agree with you, younger teens are often potrayed so much younger and older teens so much older, kind of defeating the purpose of YA. You definitely raised an interesting point on the amount the character’s ages or “ages” influence one’s enjoyment of the book.

    Ahaha yes Six of Crows, the 17-year-olds who seem like full-fledged adults, I still enjoyed that one nevertheless probably because in a fantasy, it’s easier to believe the vastly different behaviours of characters based on all the crazy circumstances… but you’re right, we do want some realistic portrayals especially to empower us youths today!

    This was such a thoughtful discussion Phoenix, I would rate it as highly as your incredible wrap-ups!! πŸ€—

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha it’s totally okay! I hope that your break from blogging is treating you well!

      Yes, super young teens being shown as SUPER young is one of my pet peeves of reading haha.

      Yeah, I totally agree that Six of Crows was still an amazing book! I oftentimes don’t pay too much attention to characters, especially in fantasy either. Yeah, that’s totally true that sometimes books based in fantasy environments can make it easier to believe how old the characters seem despite their ages.

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed! Haha wow high praise given that my wrap ups are like the heart and soul of this blog. Good to know that even when I haven’t blogged all week and am rushing to write a blog post to post it that it can still be pretty good! Thank you for stopping by!!!

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  5. I love this post and 100% agree!! Whenever there are younger ya protagonists, they’re usually very childish and immature. But then skip ahead two years and they’re like the most mature people ever??? When I was younger I never thought my grade was immature or mature. It’s definitely a mix, but I feel like it’s always over exaggerated regardless of what end of the spectrum one’s on. (I hope this makes sense haha.) Lovely post, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts!! PS; One new ya novel I’ve heard does a good job is The Girl On The Ferries Wheel. The protagonists (one boy, one girl) are 15 and seem to come with diverse personalities.

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