I’ve been thinking about this question over the past few years and even more so in the last few months. Why? Well, I haven’t really enjoyed reading Young Adult fiction as much lately, so I have to ask, am I too old for YA?
As I’m writing this, I’m 22, so not too much older than most YA characters who are usually around 14 to 18 years old. But it still feels like a significant age gap and a huge barrier that has started to form due to it.
What’s Wrong with YA?
There’s a reason why I’ve started to read way more New Adult and romance books than YA contemporary in the last two years. It’s because it’s becoming harder and harder for me to relate to characters in YA books. This isn’t a problem by itself, but it can significantly impact my enjoyment of a novel when the genre is usually character-driven. When a book relies on the character to sell the story, I feel like the reader needs to connect with the main character somehow. It doesn’t necessarily mean I have to like the MC, but I have to, at the very least, understand or be willing to put up with her. But I feel like as I’ve gotten older, the disconnect between a teenage MC and me has become harder and harder to disregard. And that makes it so much harder for me to read and enjoy a book.
I’m not saying, “oh, look, I graduated from college, and now I don’t understand those silly teenagers.” It’s more like I’m older now and their worries and main motivations seem a little… inconsequential. So what if that cute boy doesn’t like you back? Or you don’t have a date for prom? I currently have bigger problems to worry about, like finding a job and doing taxes, and deciding how much longer I can go without washing my laundry. And to be completely fair, I can still relate to some of the issues YA MCs face, like dealing with peer pressure or deciding what college to attend. But those are all deeper issues than the surface level problems that tend to be blown out of proportion in a lot of YA books. Girl, the world is not going to end if he doesn’t text you back.
Mature Characters, Please!
Interestingly, this disconnect caused by age is more applicable in YA contemporary versus YA fantasy. And because of that, I think it’s not so much the age of the characters that is the problem, but the maturity and storyline that occur as a result. In most fantasy/sci-fi books, the main character has to grow up fast, take ownership of her actions, and, overall, be a leader. Lives are at stake, sacrifices and tough decisions need to be made.
Some contemporary characters aren’t written that way.
They’re more innocent and sheltered, and that annoys me makes them harder to relate to now that I’m more jaded. Take To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, for example. One of my biggest problems with that book is Lara Jean’s naivety, but I don’t think I would have minded it as much if I had read the books a few years earlier. I’d probably like her more and find her more endearing when I was still in high school versus when I was dealing with the stress of college and living on my own.
And I’m not saying I don’t enjoy YA contemporary anymore; it’s just that I tend to prefer books with MCs that are more responsible and mature. All my favorite YA contemporaries feature characters that are about 16 or older, for instance, Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry, Magnolia by Kristi Cook, and Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett.
I Need a Strong Connection
I guess the real question isn’t whether I’m too old for YA, but rather how important it is for me to be able to connect with the main character of a story.
Because there’s another question, I can ask: am I too young for adult fiction? For a while, seventh grade (12 or 13-year-old) me didn’t think so. I happily devoured Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series (Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, Strawberry Shortcake Murder, etc…) and even some of James Patterson’s romance books before I realized that I was definitely too young to be reading those books. It wasn’t so much the content, but after a certain point, I just could not relate to the characters that starred in them — I lacked the life experience to. A woman who’s getting pressured to “settle down” is not someone 12-year-old me could connect to, no matter how hard I tried.
So maybe it’s not so much about being too old or too young to read a certain genre. But instead, how my age affects my perspective and how that perspective affects my ability to connect to characters.
What do you think?
Do you think age can affect your enjoyment of books?