September 30, 2013

Evaluating Books for Young Adults

Note from Jessica: Welcome to the first Monday guest post of my maternity leave! No I haven't had the baby yet. Well, I guess maybe I have, since I'm queuing this up ahead of time, ha! I'm sure I'm posting pics all over Instagram if I have. Anyway, this first post is from Jill at Rhapsody in Books - who has an awesome analysis of why she likes young adult books so much. Check out her post below, and don't forget to swing by her blog and say hi. Check out the rest of bloggers who are part of Books & Babies here.
If you stop over at my blog, Rhapsody in Books, you’ll find that I read a lot of books for young adults (“YA”), even though I have not seen young-adulthood for many years!  What’s so appealing to me about them?

Well, I like that the protagonists have such a forward-looking, upbeat attitude about life, even if they are struggling to survive in some awful post-apocalyptic or dystopian world.  I like that teens feel everything so intensely, whereas adults can be more cynical or world-weary.  With teens, everything is fresh and new, whether it’s love or pain; there is always an element of discovery.  And also, to be honest, these books are usually easier, faster reads than books marketed for adults. And there’s the key word:  marketing.  

For sometimes, there is not a thing to distinguish a YA book from an adult book except for how it is marketed.  More often though, you will find that the protagonists of a YA book are on the cusp of adulthood, so there is a “coming of age” element to the stories.   Many of them feature teens who are thrust into situations in which they have to take on adult responsibilities and make decisions with momentous consequences, with only their own internal moral compasses as guides.   There also tends to be less violence, sex, and/or “bad” language in YA books (which is possibly the result of pressure by publishers or editors).
I don’t see many problems with adults reading YA books, except for the preconceived prejudices that keep them from even trying these books.  But evaluating them is another story.  Adults do look at things differently than teens.  I have no idea how I would have reacted as a teen to the books I read now.  And even if I could remember my internal self from age 16, it would be a different internal self than if I had grown up in this world as it is now.  So I evaluate them as to whether they appeal to me, an adult.  But teens aren’t always receptive to adult evaluations. 

Adults get impatient with female protagonists who are too whiny or annoying.  Adults tend not to want stories to show certain behaviors in a good light, like drugs, or premarital sex.  Adults may want the ending to incorporate some sort of lesson or evince moral growth.  Teens, on the other hand, have objected to all of these adult preferences.  They claim they are not true-to-life.

There are certain elements however, common to all good stories no matter what the content.  Does the book keep you interested and entertained?  Do the dialogue portions seem realistic?  Is the language of the narrative trite or age-inappropriate or confusing?  Does the resolution of the story satisfy you?  Most importantly to me, did you get inside the story and care about the characters and live the story as you read it?

Now I admit, I’m not a fan of females who are whiny or “too dumb to live”.  But that’s generally because such female protagonists are also usually the love interest of at least two boys, and they also go on to save the world in some way.  It just isn’t consistent.  ...which is another element, for me, of a good story.  Do the actions of the protagonists seem justified given their characters?  And also important:  do their personalities stay consistent or changed in a way that it is reasonable to expect if there is a trilogy, and we follow them from book to book?

So those are my main criteria for evaluating YA stories.  What about you? What is important for you in a YA book?  Do you care if the morals displayed (or not displayed) by the characters are different from your own?  Do you try to read it as a teen might, or are you more interested in its appeal to you as an adult?