Booktalk: Reviewing YA

The other day, I watched a video on YouTube in which she had the 14 year old version of herself review Girl Online by Zoe Sugg. The idea behind it was that as a 19 year old, the book no longer appealed to her, but she would have loved it at 14, and seeing as that was the target audience it seemed only fair to review it from their perspective. After watching the video, I started thinking about my recent review of Does My Head Look Big In This? I really enjoyed this book as a young teenager (around 11 or 12 I think), but as a adult I found it simplistic and underdeveloped. But seeing as it’s a book aimed at younger teenagers, perhaps it wasn’t fair for me to hold it to adult standards.

All of this got me thinking: How should we (as adult readers) review YA novels? Should we hold them to the same standards as novels aimed at adults, or should we have different expectations seeing as they were written for a younger audience? 

Honestly, I don’t know the answer (I don’t really think there is an answer). What I can say, though, is that there’s a lot of YA fiction that I really enjoy, even as an adult. Yes, occasionally the age of the protagonist gets irritating, or I side with the parents more than the teenager, but on the whole they’re still books I love to read. There are a lot of incredible YA books out there, but there are also a lot of not so great ones. And I don’t think it’s fair to readers, or to the great YA, to lower our standards (or adopt different standards) for YA.

I think it’s easy to assume that teens and children need ‘easier’ fiction than adults, that they’re not quite ready for complex or difficult plots. I think this is bullshit. Obviously, there are certain themes or plot points that aren’t exactly age appropriate, but on the whole I think there’s a massive underestimation of the abilities of children and teens. The Hobbit was originally marketed at 5-9 year olds, and yet now it sits comfortably in the adult section of most bookstores. I read plenty of ‘adult’ books when I was a young teenager, and instead of confusing me they helped shape not only my reading, but my personal development throughout that period. Teenagers and children are perfectly capable of reading well written, well though out fiction, so why should we lower the reviewing standards for YA?

Obviously, books are subjective. You might hate some of my favourite books, and I might think some of the books you like could be better. There are always going to be differences of opinion. Literature is personal. But I don’t see the point in reviewing a YA or middle grade book any differently to an adult book.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic, because I think it’s one that isn’t talked about enough.


2 thoughts on “Booktalk: Reviewing YA

  1. Hi!
    Thanks for sharing your opinion on this topic! It is also something that has been on my mind as an adult who read YA. I agree that we should keep in mind that these books are written with a younger audience in mind, who may have different concerns and values than us as adults. This may mean that they are more concerned about popularity and acceptance by peers than, say, paying mortgage and investment. But I also agree that this is not an excuse to write bad fiction. Characters should still be multidimensional, they should still have flaws. I see too many YA fiction that have perfect characters who are absolutely beautiful. I think we should be teaching our YA audience that it is acceptable to be different and not perfect.
    Love this topic 🙂

    1. Thanks Sophie! I definitely agree that fiction can focus on different priorities whilst still being ‘good’. I read predominantly fantasy, which I think has a slightly different focus from literary fiction, but the same still applies. I definitely think it would be nice to see more flawed YA characters, particularly ones who are flawed without it being a major plot point. 🙂

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