Saturday, February 13, 2016

Are YA characters actually young adults?

Happy Saturday all my book blogging buddies!! I hope everyone is having a fantastic weekend! And just in case you don't have enough going on, I have a little something to get the gears in your head going (because you obviously haven't done enough thinking all week). You're welcome!

I've been thinking about something lately and the more I think about it the more it bugs me. Are any young adult book characters actually the ages they claim to be? I mean, obviously if a character tells me she's 17, then I guess I have to take her word for it. But do they ever actually ACT their ages? Admittedly, it's been awhile since I've fallen into the "young adult" category, but I'd like to think I can remember it very clearly.

When I was between the ages of 16 - 18, I was working as a cashier at a local grocery store and generally being pretty sheltered from life. I didn't know much about what was going on in the world and I didn't care at all about trying to solve problems outside of how I was going to get my hands on the new Extended Edition Lord of the Rings movie. I spent a lot of time at the library and building crappy websites. I didn't really do much dating and when I did I was awkward and pretty terrible at flirting. I went to prom with a group of friends and went to Waffle House afterwards and most of the people I knew were in the same boat as I was. It was just kind of the teenage way to be.

And you know what else? My parents were always aware of my comings and goings. Where are all the parents in YA? Granted, I do read a lot of fantasy and dystopian fiction, so real world rules need not always apply. But even when I read contemporary fiction the parents are nowhere to be seen nine out of ten times. Where are they?? Has there been some kind of plague no one told us about that decimated all of the parents? When I was a teenager my parents never would have let me, oh, I don't know, go on a weekend vacation with a boyfriend, for example.

When I finally left my parents at the ripe old age of 19, I joined the military and I deployed to Afghanistan at 21. Even then, at 21 years old, most of my peers were just doing a job - doing what we were told to get through to the next weekend when we could go to the market to buy knock-off copies of the latest movies and binge on ice cream. I may have met one person while I was deployed who was actually gung-ho about saving the world.

So I have to wonder, where do these YA characters come from? Where are all the awkward teenagers? How do all of these SEVENTEEN year olds get so wise and badass and good at romance? Did I miss something during my formative years?? I mean, I've already admitted that I was kind of a sheltered teenager, but some of these YA heroines are more mature than I am now (and I am no longer 21)!

But (there's always a but, isn't there?) I have read a few YA novels with characters who act probably closer to their actual ages, or at least how I probably would have behaved at 16 years old. One that comes immediately to mind is Asylum. It has awkward romance, some questionable decision making, and people who are genuinely afraid of things that are scary. The characters in that book irritated me to no end. I gave it a two star rating, and never looked back.

So this leads me to think authors know exactly what they're doing. Maybe it's just that reading about the way an actual 16 year old would most likely respond to an issue wouldn't be nearly as exciting. This is why we read isn't it? To escape reality? None of this is to say that 16 year olds are inherently annoying. But maybe it's much more interesting to read about really mature and badass teenagers doing things we wish we could or would do ourselves in their situations?

I'm curious to hear from readers in both camps - those who (like me) read and love YA as an adult, and those who are actual young adults. Do you think that you would respond to things the way that the teenagers of YA fiction respond? Do you think you'd rise to the occasion? Teenagers, do you feel like you are accurately represented in YA fiction? Am I just plain wrong?? Let me know what you think!