Hi again – Happy Friday! Hope you’re all having a splendid start to your weekends.
Earlier today I was scrolling through my Twitter feed (as one does, too often), and I saw some people retweeting posts from the #YANeedsMore tag. This is an old tag that’s really just been ongoing for awhile now but surges back in popularity every now and then. I then began scrolling through the tag, having fun reading the opinions of other YA fans while simultaneously agreeing with every single one of them. In case you’re not sure what the #YANeedsMore tag is, let me quickly explain. It’s mostly self-explanatory, listing off all of the things that the YA genre seems to be lacking.
For example, the one I wrote:
#YANeedsMore three dimensional, complex female friendships, functional families, and strong female protags who aren’t robotic/have no fears.
— Veronica Lloyd (@veronicalloyd_) July 24, 2015
You get the gist.
It quickly became apparent to me that many of us share the same thoughts. Which is what prompted the rest of this post, a
plea letter to YA writers and publishers. Because it really has become a problem that should no longer be ignored.
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Dear YA writers and YA book publishers,
I am twenty-one years old, but I love to read young adult. I read it because the characters can be relatable, because it can provide important messages, because sometimes I’m not in the mood for an adult historical fiction laden with extensive descriptions, because it got me back into reading when I went through my Harry Potter only phase, because it’s everywhere, because I just want to.
And it’s because of my love for YA that I have so much concern for what the genre is becoming, for the fact that it seems more about which books will make the most money, which will become the next Hunger Games, which has the potential to be a blockbuster hit, than it is about writing and publishing a unique and authentic story. And we the loyal readers have noticed. Not only have we noticed, but we ask for more.
I do not want the next Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fault in our Stars – I don’t want ripoffs of already successful novels. I don’t want characters that lack complexity. I don’t want writing that sounds like everything else. I don’t want characters whose happy endings can only involve romance. I don’t want many things that I see too often in YA.
I want the things we don’t see. I want readers’ voices to be heard. I want change in YA.
We need more.
#YANeedsMore people who recognise it as a genre for EVERYONE of any age or gender. YA readers aren’t just 12-year-old girls!
— Jack Cork (@ReadingWithJack) July 24, 2015
#YANeedsMore endings were the girl/boy aren’t in a relationship with there true love or any relationship at all.
— Hannah Kaye Tindale (@HannahLoveBook) July 24, 2015
#YANeedsMore male characters that are good and not toxic. Especially in a relationship.
— Bekah AwesomeBookNut (@AwesomeBookNut) July 24, 2015
#YANeedsMore new authors writing the books they want to see themselves. And see themselves in! Bring your glory.
— Patrick Ness (@Patrick_Ness) July 23, 2015
#YANeedsMore focus on what a book means to readers, and less focus on how much it sold for or how many copies are in print.
— Lauren DeStefano (@LaurenDeStefano) July 23, 2015
#YANeedsMore recovery. The other side of mental health crises and addictions. Picking up the pieces.
— Katherine Locke (@Bibliogato) July 23, 2015
#YANeedsMore groups of girls who are close friends and support each other instead of it being a toxic mess that the MC breaks away from
— Kayla (@the1000lives) July 23, 2015
#YANeedsMore queer kids being heroes in a story that has nothing to do with their sexuality.
— Tristina Wright (@TristinaWright) July 23, 2015
#yaneedsmore exploration of first love not being the end all, be all. of figuring out you aren’t compatible, not them dying. second loves.
— hi im meagan (@mgnwrites) July 23, 2015
#YANeedsMore Plus sized girls who have exciting romances with no justification/magic. Because in the real world, bigger women DO FIND LOVE.
— Julia Ember (@jules_chronicle) July 23, 2015
#YANeedsMore minority characters who are main characters and not just “token” friends of white/straight protagonists
— Brigid Gorry-Hines (@BrigidRose) July 23, 2015
#YANeedsMore complex parent-teen relationships that aren’t propelled by divorce, disease, or some sort of crisis.
— Saba Sulaiman (@agentsaba) July 23, 2015
#YANeedsMore authors who know what they’re doing when writing about mental illnesses
— courty (@ronunlynch) July 24, 2015
#YAneedsmore characters who READ YA. Not all 17 year-olds read Wuthering Heights over and over every week and then feel above their peers.
— Regan Baudelaire (@SpookyRegan) July 24, 2015
#YANeedsMore disabled characters who get to be heroes in stories NOT about disability.
— Kody Keplinger (@Kody_Keplinger) July 23, 2015
And these are just a few of the many aspects lacking in YA. The one thing all of these complaints have in common is that they reflect realistic aspects of life. Reading is about finding yourself in a book or about reading from a new perspective. For many, this isn’t possible.
We can have strong female protagonists who are also flawed and actually have emotions. We can have characters who don’t magically recover from their mental illness because of a boy/girl. We can have guys and girls be just friends. We can have LGBT+ characters who don’t feel comfortable coming out by the end simply because a boy/girl made them feel validated for the first time. We can have protagonists who struggle with doing well in school and who don’t read constantly. We can have plus-sized protagonists who don’t have body issues and whose stories don’t revolve around weight. We can have characters from around the world and settings that don’t take place in a U.S. high school located in a small town where everybody knows everybody. We can have diverse protagonists. We can have disabled characters. We can have no love triangles. We can have failed relationships. We can have all of this and more. And guess what?
Readers will still love YA. Readers will rejoice. Readers will be able to relate to characters more fully because the reality of the teenage population will be more accurately represented.
Writers, be excited about your content. Hope to reach out to people and not just create “the next big thing.” It’s not about the money for us. It’s about the authenticity of the stories we are fed. YA is bigger than ever right now, and if you are looking to take advantage of its audience, if you’re looking to be noticed, come up with something the world hasn’t heard. Something risky. Something that will touch your readers. Something that you feel called to write, not obligated to because you want to see your name on a best-sellers list. Be bold.
Publishers, elevate your expectations. Think about what you’re looking for in a novel and don’t accept anything less. Don’t take your readers for granted by assuming anything goes. What happened to the art of language? To creativity? Or are those not valuable skills anymore? I tell you to also be bold. Be distinct. Listen to your readers.
Find an end to this trend of repetitiveness. Find a beginning to a trend of diversity.
Until then, readers, keep talking. Don’t stop using #YANeedsMore until YA has more. Hold writers and publishers accountable. Think about the thousands of readers who don’t ever see themselves in the pages of these books. Keep reading, always keep reading. But never stop questioning. Never stop demanding better. Because even if “the best” will never exist, “better” always can.
A reader who thinks YA needs more of the good stuff.