Are YA Books Stuck In The Past? Discussion

A couple of weeks ago I wrote what has been my most successful discussion post so far: Where Are The Parents In YA? There, I talked about how parents seem to be missing from a lot of YA books, which is pretty unrealistic of real life. I loved going through the comment section of that post and seeing people’s thoughts on the reason for this.

One comment that caught my eye was from Carrie from Carrie’s Book Reviews, who said that her parents were much like the parents of YA, and she’s just from a different generation.

I’ve thought about this more, and I’ve realized that life for a teenager growing up these days is drastically different than it was years ago, or when our parents were growing up. Teenage life has changed–but have books about teenagers changed with it?

 

Getting A Driver’s Licence

Most teenagers in YA books have a driver’s licence and a car at 16. We see this all the time with them driving their selves and their friends around. In reality, while this seems to have been much more prevalent in the past, it’s really not very realistic anymore. In the last 20ish years, the percent of high school seniors who can drive (17 years old) has dropped about 15 percent! (PBS). One reason could be stricter graduated driving laws (50 hours practice before you get a licence and then for the first year no driving anyone under 20!). Many teens don’t find all the work worth it to get a licence. Another: Uber! And other ride sharing apps/services. It’s SO EASY to get around places now without actually being able to drive.

Man Inside Vehicle

No Need To Hang Out

Yet another reason that teens don’t seem to get driver’s licenses anymore is another thing of the past all by itself; teens just don’t need to hang out anymore. Increasingly, communication is all becoming online via text, facebook, snapchat, etc, and with so much entertainment at their fingertips, many teenagers don’t seem to hang out with their friends like they used to. Of course some teens still spend all their time out, and most teens go to the mall every now and then, but they don’t seem to be spending such a crazy amount of time together as they do in books.

Three Woman Sits on the Ground of the Playground

Call Me!

This one is fairly small, but it seems like in YA books, when teenagers want to communicate, they usually call each other. Sad as it may be, actual human contact is decreasing. Most teenagers who I know would MUCH rather text/message someone than call them. It just seems pretty unrealistic to have all these teenagers so happy toย talkย to people and call them.

Selective Focus Photography of Black Rotary Phone

Prom Dates!

It seems like in books, getting a prom date is SUPER IMPORTANT. From what I’ve heard, this may have been the case in the past–either you go with a date or you don’t go at all. This seems so ridiculous to me now–SO MANY people go to prom with a group of their best friends, no date necessary! Just reading the books where what seems like the most stressful thing in a girl’s life is having a date to prom is crazy, and while I get that this may be because most contemporary books have a romance focus, it really such a big deal that it makes it out to be! In fact, I think I’ve felt more pressure to have a prom date from BOOKS than I have from real life!!

 

So to me, it seems pretty clear that times are changing, and YA books aren’t changing with times. Of course it could be me just living a sheltered life, or being misinformed (thanks to YA!) about the past!

But say that YA books do seem to be stuck in the past; I think the reason for this is pretty obvious. Most YA books are written by adult authors, who are probably referencing their own youth, and what it was like for them going to high school, being a teenager, etc, and writing about that. In addition, since many adults read YA, they can relate to the situation that other adults write about “teens,” enjoying these books, giving them good reviews, and promoting other authors to write more like them.

I have nothing wrong with adults reading YA. I think it’s wonderful that people of all ages can bond and relate together over our mutual love of books. I love YA fiction, and hope I continue to love it as I grow older. I love that there are adults who love YA just as much as me!!

HOWEVER, I strongly believe that YA books should be written for teenagers. The books are about teenagers; it should be the teenagers who can relate to them most. I mean, we are the ones dealing with the horror that is high school (terrible teachers and food included), the stress of testing and trying to get into college, the excitement of getting to stay out later and maybe drive, the giddiness of teen romance, just like our favorite protagonists.

I think that YA books are staying in the past because of the adults who are reading and writing them, but taking their target audience into mind, I really really think that authors who are writing YA should really do their research on what being a teenager in 2018 is really like! What do you think?

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40 thoughts on “Are YA Books Stuck In The Past? Discussion

  1. Yes! Definitely agree with all of this. I always thought that ya focused too much on the cliches of what teenage-ness is like, rather than what actually happens, however, I usually just assumed that the stories portrayed a realistic image of what it was like for people in another country (i.e. the US where a lot of ya is set). Great idea :).

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  2. I understand what you mean, a lot has changed over the years so some aspects you no longer can relate to. In saying that, a lot of authors still want teens to remember the fundamental parts of growing up. Is snapchat really that important? Yeah it probably is but that’s something to move away from. When you’re a teen your phone, laptop, tablet and the internet are your access to the world. As you get older they become a reminder that it’s the world’s access to you. Not every part of that is good. I guess adults just like nostalgia ๐Ÿ˜‚

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    1. I’m glad that you understand ๐Ÿ™‚ And I definitely think that teens can act immature and get way too hung up on insignificant things, but that’s just part of realistically being a teen ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. This is so true! Even YA books published this year don’t feature teenagers constantly on there phones (No shade, I’m old and always on my phone too). I’m 24, but even my teenage experience seems very different from the experience my cousins are having in high school now, but books haven’t caught up. I only knew one person in high school who had a car, and everyone’s parents even if they were divorced were pretty protective. So much has changed, but I can also see why it would be hard for the writers who are well into adulthood to keep up with the teenage experience now.

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  4. I agree, I feel like some authors still have the mindset of what highschool or what their teenage lives were like, are still the same as present day. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but yes, sometimes it can be glaringly obvious like it is in the whole “prom” situation.

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    1. I’m glad you agree! It definitely doesn’t always matter, but it can get annoying to read book after book of high schoolers stressing about prom when irl people don’t care

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  5. This is a great post! I always feel like YA novels take place during the time I was in grade school, but my high school experience was so different. I would never call a friend on the phone now, unless something was really wrong. If I see a friend on caller ID I think immediately there’s an emergency.

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  6. What a great post! I think you make some amazing points about how YA isn’t changing with the times. But I think that sometimes it’s hard for all YA books to do so. Not everyone experiences the same things growing up, so even if it does follow the current trends, it may not be relatable to everyone. I think there should be a better mesh between the old YA and new YA trends so more teenagers are able to relate to the books they read.

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  7. That’s really interesting! I like the idea that it’s because adults are writing the books. I just always thought is it because I’m from the UK that I can’t relate to this USA teenage lifestyle of everyone having a car and getting drunk all the time and prom being such a big deal haha

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  8. Great post – and some really interesting issues covered! I think it’s really important for YA books to relate to their primary audience, but we also want to see a wide range of concepts and a lot of creative freedom to reflect different experiences.

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  9. This is such an interesting post, I had never considered the fact that authors are adults writing about high school from their own experience and how that is a different gen and stuff before and it is such a valid and interesting point! In my own YA reading I feel like I am seeing more and more use of things like technology like text messages and DM especially but there are definitely still a lot of now old fashioned tropes that are regurgitated a lot! Great post! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. Just some more food for thought on this subject…. I think not only have things changed over time but even at the present things would be very different for teens even living a few miles from one another. Take for instance income levels, a lot of today’s teens are not parented very well and do end up on the streets and getting into trouble with gangs etc, I see this on the nightly news. You see a lot of this coming from poorer areas it would affect the rich too at times. It would certainly be a totally different upbringing just on what is available to different teens. Then location would play a huge roll not only from other countries but city to city or town to town in the US. Teens are going to be different growing up in the country as opposed to the city and then there’s the in between in the subburbs. Really there would be no way to ever make a book that would relate to every teen out there no matter how hard an author tried. The idea though of a teen closing themselves off and only texting friends and not going out (unless the parents drive them because they don’t have the license or car and parents are too strict remember?LOL) to actually have adventures doesn’t sound like a very appealing read if you think about it.

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    1. Teens these days definitely have different situations, I agree; however, I’ve read tons of books where the protagonist seems to be from a fairly similar background (where they live, what their social class seems to be, etc) but they seem to have these crazy different experiences! I definitely don’t expect to be able to relate to everyone! Someone above said there should be a mesh, and I definitely agree with that–while some books with wild adventures are wonderful, there’s something amazing in reading a character who seems to have the same boring situation as the reader still having a great story ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. I think even in my time just thinking of my classmates and friends there were just so many different families and situations back then that I’m sure it’s even more wide a range now so I still think it would be hard to cover every situation. Then again maybe there is a book out there that has a protagonist in your exact situation and you just haven’t crossed paths with it yet. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  11. Really great list! I think so many of these things have changed and I wonder about the reasons for books not changing them. Some things, like prom dates, really could be updated. I do understand why authors make teens communicate more in person though- it can make for a more dramatic interaction face to face- although I am seeing more use of phones and texting in books, which makes sense. Anyway, great discussion!

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  12. This is such a lovely discussion! I love your posts so much, Kay! One thing that I have definitely noticed thatโ€™s different nowadays is the lack of teenagers who want to drive. Many of my friends didnโ€™t get a license until they were out of high school, because the price of insurance is high and the integration of Uber in society, has become a great convenience. Awesome post! โค๏ธ

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  13. This post was super interesting to me because I’m Australian and most YA novels are set in America so they’re a real way that a lot of people learn about American culture. Prom dates always seemed weird to me because my school had dances all through school where most people didn’t take dates unless they were already a couple and just went together by default, or it was the end of year 12 type dance (in which case dates were assigned for us!!) so I’ve always been really interested in what other people do there. Also YES to the hanging out in person thing, I think thats a big way things have changed! Great post!

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    1. Thanks! I’ve seen a lot of people online saying that they thought American culture was different from books, and I’m here living in America and wondering where the book culture is lol

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  14. A balance would be better… I know I like to read from different genres so I wouldnโ€™t want a particular genre to be closed off for me. They can write about realistic contemporary teens and still have adults reading it. The issue more lies with authors writing from their perspective, their own truth and certainly we can ask them to meet these demands by perhaps contacting publishers directly but we also need to allow authors to write what they want to write. I wouldnโ€™t want to silence someone, it is a profession, yes, but writing is a personal thing too and I wouldnโ€™t want to encroach on that.

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  15. This was a very interesting discussion and I completely agree with everything you say!
    I’m from India and we don’t have prom here and so YA led me to believe, until a few minutes ago, that having a prom date is very important. But I’m so glad that people have moved on from that fixation and they go to prom with their friends because that seems more fun anyway!
    ~ Reet

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