For a long time, I wasn’t interested in the Young Adult genre. After a lifetime of reading Stephen King and short horror story collections, it just never really suited my taste. It was only after the recent Covid-19 Pandemic that I found myself unable to really enjoy YA anymore. Sure, before I could occasionally enjoy an average YA novel every now and then, but it started to get… well painful for me. The romance, the heroes, and the momentous tasks and achievements completed by teenagers all seemed cool and fun when I was 12, but once I became the same age as these characters, the more it made me feel less than.
I’ve always been the type of person to write characters who weren’t my age. When I was 10, I wrote about 13 year olds, and when I was 12, I wrote about 15 year olds. I’ve now found comfort in writing characters who are in their late teens to early twenties, and as I approach that age myself, I’m sure I’ll move onto older characters. For me, it’s quite strange to write about people my age doing… well anything. It’s easier to imagine that it’s possible to save the world and go on adventures when you’re an adult rather than my age, where I’m currently writing a blog article and quietly watching the world crumble around me. The point is, when I’m the same age as my characters, it makes it harder for me to imagine that someone my age could do something novel-worthy, so I separate myself from that. I just pretend that someone a bit older than me could do it. Then the cycle continues.
tw: mentions of the Covid-19 Pandemic
Now this may seem weird to you, but this has always been my rational train of thought when writing characters. However, not everyone follows the same rules. In fact, most authors of YA fiction write about characters younger than them. This is by no means an uncommon thing, or something that should be considered weird or scrutinized (after all, anyone can write characters of any age and this is something I’ve done before), but it really got me thinking recently. The simple question is: why teenagers? Why is specifically being 16 or 17 seen as the peak age to be a leader, to find yourself, to fall in love for the first time or save the world from the villain because out of everyone around you, you happen to be the best for the job? Out of all the ages out there, we chose teenagers?
Personally, being a teenager (although not for much longer) myself, I have failed to see all the hype. When I think of being a teenager, there’s not much good that comes to mind, in fact, I don’t like teenagers very much. But we as a society have come together to dub this age as the pinnacle of youth and a pillar of excellence. Funny isn’t it? Ah yes, the age where your skin begins breaking out, you have no idea what you're doing, you're stuck in treacherous high school, you have limited freedom and will most likely look back at everything you’ve done when you were still ‘finding your true identity’, and cringe… a.k.a the best years of your life. Sounds absolutely amazing to me.
Maybe I’m just a crude pessimist, but I’ve never seen much point in all this excitement over your teenage years. When you’re little, you’re told that highschool is a dream come true. After all, that’s where all the movies take place don’t they? Everything is this beautiful fantasy where your classmates can secretly be werewolves or superheroes, or maybe you’re an undercover agent, or maybe you’re wearing men’s size 6 Nikes in junior year and a handsome blonde dude just transferred into your class, who knows? It's amazing, it’s fun... but it’s really not. You still have work to do, you’re still very stressed, and if you’re anything like me, you're studying hard to get into a good university and not much else. Going out with a friend(s) will probably be the most exciting thing to happen to you.
Because of my (mostly) underwhelming high school experience, I began to become detached from YA fiction. Watching Spiderman when I was little was fun, because I was taught that teenagers are the coolest, most powerful people ever. They were the protagonists of all the stories I read. Of course they could save the world! But now, being a teenager and watching Spiderman knowing that Peter Parker has been a superhero since he was fifteen, is astonishing and mildly concerning to me, because you never really realize how young these ages are until you pass them.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have much of a problem with this before we went into the covid pandemic. Ever since my graduation and prom got cancelled, I said a short goodbye to my friends and stopped seeing them so often, and had my whole life uprooted and put online, things became very different for me. That highschool experience that I had been clinging to and hoping to eventually feel like a ‘real teen’ was now permanently over and I had to move on to adulthood and university without much of a transition to give me solid footing in my new life. It made it hard to read about characters doing simple things, like graduating and going to football games or having a school dance without feeling left out and even a bit hopeless. This important part of my life that had been hyped up for years and that I’d been told would stay with me forever, had been ripped out of my hands. I’d never get it back. But you know who got to experience all my dreams? Every fictional character I read about. And that hurt.
Overly sensitive as I may be, this did get me thinking more about things in YA. 17-year-olds lead gangs, 15-year-olds swing around New York City, and 16 year olds do simple things like falling in love with their undead classmates. This is fiction however, anything can happen, and that’s one of the wonderful things about fiction. Our collective imaginations have no bounds, and although some might say there is no such thing as an original idea, unique and out-there projects are created everyday that can surely stand on their own. Fiction doesn’t have to be realistic to be relatable. My problem with YA more leads into the false expectations it can unintentionally project onto readers, rather than the content itself.
Before I end here, I’d like to say that I don’t read a lot of YA novels so I am definitely not an expert in the genre. This is simply my opinion on it, and why I find it hard to read, especially nowadays. I’m not sure if anyone else had/has a similar experience to me, but I’d like to believe I’m not the only person out there who feels like this. I think that being in your twenties is probably the coolest age to be, but who knows how I’ll feel when I finally get there? I’d love to see a more diverse range of age groups in the media. Write about an old woman who finds her long lost vampire love 40 years after they first met. Write about a six-year-old who discovers they have telekinesis. Write about a 20-something struggling in college instead of highschool.
Life doesn’t start and end at 13-19. There’s so much more to explore without putting these false expectations of a grandiose life for what often are, some very brief years. Sure being a teenager is important, but so is every step that leads up to it and after it. Remember that.
is a Canadian-Jamaican student, slowly making her way through the writing world. She aims to not only write, but be impactful and play her part in making the world a less judgemental and more accepting place for people everywhere.