Please Stop Insulting Teens' Intelligence, YA Books

9:20 AM


Hello, it's me, back with more Opinions.


Me being me, I have Too Many Thoughts all at once. I have too many thoughts that bother me for a long time, until I feel like I can articulate them properly or I just get too frustrated and have to rant about them once and for all. This is one of those times. 

I have a problem with YA books and the way they present being a teenager. More specifically, I have a problem with YA books that romanticize aspects of being a teenager and make the whole thing a Big Deal, and the YA community that celebrates this and then continues to insist that we're empowering teenagers, that teenagers are capable of reading more than fluff. 

I'm sorry, but I look at the YA that's really popular right now, the ones that everyone talks about, and I'm just not seeing it. 
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#relatable

"Teenagers are smart!" we say. "We're capable! We can read and understand heavy topics and well-written stuff! We're not stupid! The YA book world is full of good, solid books that aren't just sensational fluff. Stop making us shallow!" 

Yes, I agree. As a teenager myself, I can confirm that we are smart. We're capable of more than we're given credit for. We're fully capable of stepping up and being leaders and free thinkers. We can handle and understand a lot more than some people think we can.

I don't agree that we're doing a great job of showing that in the books we read right now.

Obviously, that isn't just a YA problem. The world is full of shallow, petty books that aren't any good. Every single genre in every single age group has more trash than good books. This is true. A lot of popular adult books aren't very intelligent, either. But I'm talking about YA because that's what I know, and you know what? I have a problem with a lot of YA. It's not real empowerment, not real stories about the actual power and abilities of teenagers. It insults our intelligent. It stuffs us with love triangles and romance and Rebellion (so much rebellion) and makes us feel wild and free, but it's not giving us any real power. And that's not what we're capable of.

Feel-good contemporaries about riding in the backs of trucks on the highway and sleeping with whoever you want whenever you want and drinking and partying and sneaking out and being Hashtag Rebellious and Free and screw your parents aren't talking about the power and intelligence of teenagers. They aren't freeing us. They're leaving us stuck in the pettiness, in the one-dimensional, in the irresponsible and not okay. 

Edgy dystopias about finding love where it's forbidden and joining the Resistance-with-a-capital-R aren't telling us about how teens can handle heavy themes. They're insulting our intelligence, they're wish fulfillment, and some girl joining a rebellion and becoming leader of the Resistance and Queen of the World isn't what it's all about. 

I just...I don't know how to articulate how I feel about this, but we're capable of so much more, guys. 
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I just wanted to use this gif, sorry.
We are smart. We are capable. We can step up and lead, we can form opinions for ourselves, and we can be so much more than what we are, but those things are all hard. And not easy. And not fun.

Sometimes, honestly, it's about growing up. Stepping up and seeing beyond the petty. Choosing to do something because it's the right thing, not because True Love. Acknowledging that things don't work out and that's okay. Thinking instead of leaping first. Putting aside what we want, and choosing to do something for others. Growing beyond ourselves, and all the shallow things society throws at us, all the drama and parties and relationship issues, and deciding to be more. 

It's hard work. It's not fun, or edgy, or rebellious, and sometimes it means obeying our parents, y'know? It's not all John Green speeches about the meaning of life. It's real life, every day, and all the crap that comes with it. 

I know you're all sick of hearing about Unwind from me by now. But I really think it's a perfect example. Unwind is a book about teenagers, and about how powerful we are. But it doesn't involve wild rebellion and waving flags and attacking the society -- in fact, the kids who try to do that are rash and irresponsible and get in more trouble than it's worth. 
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(I promise there's a point.) And that point is, in the Unwind books, these teenagers have to step up. Overcome their emotions, what they want in the moment, their basic impulses, and choose to be more than that. They have to use their brains. Make the hard decisions. Sacrifice. And when they do that, when they choose to be more than what they've always heard they can be, that is where their power comes from. It doesn't matter that the adults are condescending and don't believe they can do anything, because they do do things, and those things are pretty important. 

We're capable of so much more. But romanticizing high school culture isn't what it's about, and that's not empowering. That's keeping us stuck in the same old cycle as always. 

And I'm a little bit tired of it. 

So, if we're going to talk about how we're capable and we can handle heavy stuff and it's not all love triangles and parties and drama, we're going to have to start backing that up with the books we write and read. 

After all, we need to stop acting like we're too stupid to see past our emotions and immediate impulses. 
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20 comments

  1. AMEN SISTAH. I have nothing to add. Your posts are always so spot-on.

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  2. PREACH. This is so true. And I myself have gotten caught up in the fleeting feelings of "I can conquer the world." after reading one of those mostly fluff-and-nonsense books.

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  3. T H I S. As you know, I don't read a lot of YA for exactly this reason. The focus on emotions and lack of basic common sense is what usually deters me from enjoying the genre. The thing is, we already have too many emotions, make impulsive decisions, and feel rebellious. Exalting those things does WAY more harm than good.

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  4. GAHHH THIS POST. THIS POST IS RIGHT ON I AGREE WITH YOU 100% *applauds loudly* Also I was kind of on the lookout for this post because I saw your tweet about it and I'm like YAAS I WANT TO READ A POST ABOUT THIS. <3 so thank you for writing this and sharing it with us. I CANNOT EVEN WORDS but you know what I mean. ;)

    Honestly, this is the biggest problem I have always had with reading YA fiction. I just don't understand why there aren't more books out there for teenagers and young adults that make you think about the greater meaning of life -- BECAUSE THERE ARE A HECK OF A LOT OF TEENS OUT THERE WHO ACTUALLY THINK ABOUT THIS. I want heavy themes for the depth, not for how many feels an author can trample by shedding characters' blood and talking about death. DEATH ISN'T DEEP LIFE IS DEEP. but I'm rambling. *COUGH* anyway you're right on I love this I stopped writing a blog post so I could read this and now I'm going to link this post in my post if you don't mind <3333

    lotsalove,
    abbiee

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  6. YES!!!!! Thank you for voicing what I have been feeling for a long time now! I love YA, I really do, but so much of it treats teens/writes teens as the most irrational and emotional (unless their is a death when they become emotionless) people! I am someone who is a naturally emotional person, more so than you average person, but that doesn't mean that I don't understand when I need to set my emotions aside to do the logical/right/hard thing. I wish that more YA authors wrote a variety of personalities, especially ones that are emotional but also rational and aren't just at one end of the spectrum. Here's to more realistic and capable YA characters!

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  7. Aimee you've done it again!! I am so tired of reading YA novels. I really am. For the majority of YA I read anyway, there's no substance, no diverse representation (I don't mean in terms of race alone, but personalities, values, view points), and no deep heavy themes we find in a lot of the classics. I'm not saying recreate classics, but older novels really convey truths and patterns in society and in humans that YA just fails to cover. Every time I read a book about "getting lost" and "being rebellious", I want to throw up, frankly. How does that represent teenagers that don't want to be go against the rules, because they understand how they protect people (as a response to your example about drinking, sleeping around, being rebellious, etc.)? We may all have too many emotions, but some of us understand how to overcome those emotions and make logical decisions
    I'm not sure if this deviates from your message, but I'm religious, and I have an issue with how YA sometimes portrays religious: strict, uptight, "not-with-the-program" people who have no conscience of what the real word has to offer! Like really? Stereotyping religious people as the "goody-two-shoes" who ends up rebelling and gets drunk and "lives the life" doesn't scream intelligent to me. It kind of expresses to me that the values of trying to lead a moral life are stupid and don't matter.
    Just letting you know that your post really allowed me to start my own rant LOL. Seriously Aimee, your understanding is so top-notch and it makes me so happy to read this. To be honest, most high school aged people I know don't always act on "mainstream" impulses. They understand the consequences and they don't abandon their values to look cool.
    "Be the change you want to see--" I'm not much of a novelist, but if I could, I'd try to write a book that encompasses what all of us are feeling.
    Thank you for writing this Aimee!! <3

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  8. Hear, Hear, Aimee! I totally agree with you on all those points.

    I've heard some seriously good things for the Unwind books by you and Annie Hawthorne. I really need to look into them.

    Speaking of stories that take young people (from ancient myths) and really give them relatable stories even in fantasy settings and things, I just am thinking of the BBC Merlin series which I just finished watching. I LOVED the character portrayals, and how each young character had to learn the meaning of duty, loyalty, sacrifice and responsibility but in recognition of the elders in their lives. I LOVED that.

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  9. I agree, it seems more and more YA contemporaries emphasise youth instead of the youth, if you catch my drift. Although partying and drinking do happen in teenage years, they really don't talk about the day-to-day decisions that we have to make, or what it really means to be a teenager.

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  10. Wow, I agree with this 100%. Writer goals right here. Plus, yay for the New Girl gif.

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  11. I agree 100%!! This is why I don't read much YA contemporary. THANK YOU for writing this!!

    //Emily

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  12. I CANNOT PUT INTO WORDS HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS POST. Thank you!

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  13. I CANNOT PUT INTO WORDS HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS POST. Thank you!

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  14. um...yes. YES. I agree with this so much.

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  15. PREACH!!! This is what I needed to hear. Maybe we do need to start a rebellion. But a different kind of rebellion. A rebellion against the condescending standards that society has for teenagers. XD Also, I think I seriously need to go read Unwind...

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  16. YES, YES, YES. You hit it spot on. Thank you. :)

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  17. *punches you because this is EVERYTHINGGGGGGGGGGGG*

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