Discussion: Why Are YA Characters So Young

I just read Strange The Dreamer (or rather, listened, but that’s not the point) and I was so shocked by the fact that Lazlo was 20 YEARS OLD.  He wasn’t a teenager, even though it was a YA book.  And it made me so freakin happy.  I mean, I’m so used to reading books about 14-16 year olds saving the world, so it was a nice change to have someone that was older than me as the protagonist.  When you’re working on your fictional crush list and realize most of the guys are years younger than you, it’s a bit disappointing.  That’s why today I wanted to talk about a problem that I only just recently realized was a problem: young characters in YA.

Obviously, young adult books are meant for teens, so it makes sense that the protagonists are teenagers themselves.  But I don’t understand why there aren’t many upper teens, or 17-21, which is still of an age that teenagers would be able to relate, but is perhaps more realistic to, say VENTURING OFF ALONE TO SAVE THE WORLD.

At 14, I wouldn’t have been able to cook myself dinner, never mind run away (I can’t even drive a car?) in order to spend weeks with the love of my life saving the world.  Speaking of, the romance is also WAY TOO SERIOUS.  Nobody Not many people finds the love of their lives in high school.  So why do all fictional characters find theirs? It also sets up unrealistic expectations for what you will find in high school.  Very unrealistic.  And I think that’s probably bad for kids 11-15 who are reading this and expecting their life to be that grand when they get just a little bit older.

Also, isn’t college still sort of YA? I mean people aren’t a real adult when they’re in college, I know I’m certainly not.  So there should either be more college characters in YA, or a new “fake adult” genre should be started, asap.  Because it’s not fair for those of us who are faking adulthood by going to college to be forced to read about young high schoolers or old adults.  (I’m planning a protest, who’s in?!)

Obviously, the books wouldn’t be as interesting if they weren’t so unrealistically exciting, so maybe there isn’t a problem at all.  I don’t know. I’m having trouble putting this into words, so I apologize for the super short post.

Basically, I just wanted to write about how excited I was to have a fictional boyfriend that’s older than me, and I turned it into a fancy shmancy discussion post to hopefully get more replies and find out about other people’s opinions!!!

so

Edit: I’ve heard that Strange is actually an adult fantasy novel, so oops for mentioning it in the content of YA.  It read a lot like  a YA novel in general, so I assumed.  Also, I realize “YA” is supposed to be 13-19, but there’s no market for 19-25 year olds at all, and since they are still young adults I thought that they should be contained in the YA genre

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Do you think YA should have older characters? Did books give you unrealistic expectations for what your high school experience would hold? Are all of your fictional boyfriends (or girlfriends) wayyy younger than you?

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Author: Joce

I read and I write about it. If I'm not online or with my nose in a book, I can probably be found at the basketball court.

20 thoughts on “Discussion: Why Are YA Characters So Young”

  1. This is such a great post! I can see this sparking so many discussions and a bunch of different opinions!

    In my opinion, anything over 21 is too old for a YA leading character. Once you get older than that, you are no longer a Young Adult, you are a fully grown up adult type person who is completely responsible for themselves, and often responsible for others too. Sure, it can take an adult a while to find their way, but they are still an adult. Also, YA is so driven by emotions, because most of what is happening is happening for the very first time. First loves, heartbreaks, betrayals, failures, and mistakes. Everything you feel as a teen is so passionate, and often over the top, whether it’s about a crush, a book character or a new band. That passion is what really drives a YA story.

    A YA story doesn’t quite work with older characters, because although they feel things just as strongly and can be just as passionate, they deal with it and express in much different ways to teens. If a character over the age of 21 did half the stuff a 15-16 year old character in a YA novel did, it could get pretty cringe-worthy (just my opinion as someone in their twenties, haha)

    The younger characters is what makes YA appealing for me, as an adult. It’s nice to read about characters who are so carefree and feel things so deeply. Who are able to just jump in the car and head out on a road trip to solve some crazy mystery, because it’s summer break and they have so many less responsibilities. Characters that are experiencing so many things for the first time, it makes me feel like I am experiencing them again for the first time too.

    I do however totally agree about acting their age. In my mind, if main characters are 14 and under it’s not really YA. I wouldn’t call kids I know who are that age ‘young adults’ and when I read about a character that age acting way older, it will put me off the book. I feel like once you start hitting 15, 16, 17, it’s much more realistic. I also agree that there are not enough YA with characters on the older end of the scale. I would love to read more YA characters around 18, 19, 20, as they are still in that YA category, but they are feeling the pressures of crossing over into full-fledged, responsibility-filled, Adulthood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this comment!!!!!

      I can totally see what you mean about 21+ being too old for reasonable YA books… but I feel like the “jump in the car and road trip” in high school is also sort of unrealistic, because in my experience most high schoolers wouldn’t even know what to do away from home, especially the frosh/soph/juniors which normally make up YA stories. age 18-20 would make far more sense for that to me personally.

      I can see what you mean about them feeling things more deeply, and it definetly does open up better avenues for the author to take.

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

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  2. Omgggg YES HOW ARE THEY SO YOUNG? They’re so young (older than me lol) and can do SO MANY THINGS??? Heck, characters who are MY age can do all these crazy things and I can barely cook a full meal. XD I do think that because YA is aimed at teenagers, they’re ABOUT teenagers? Also, there’s New Adult, which is in between YA and Adult, but there aren’t that many (good) books at that level. Great discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah new adult is super weak or very romancy. I need some SFF New Adult maybe! I like the way many YAs are written though, so maybe just (slightly) older characters every once in a while

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think YA books should be aimed at actual young adults (19-30 even), instead of the sort of “YA” books we have nowadays which are aimed at teens and not young adults at all (I’m sorry but a 13 year old is NOT a young adult. He/she is barely a teen at that point!).
    So yeah, I think there should be a teen book category where the main characters are teens, and a separate Young Adult category where the main characters are actual young adults…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You have a very good point here that I have been noticing recently too! I have been reading books where the protagonists are between the ages of 12 and 14, but they are basically acting like older teens or adults for the majority of the book. This does not work for me, and I am tired of it.
    Either make your protagonist older, or make them act their age.

    Personally I find books about people in a wide range of ages equally interesting. I think there should be books in all genres about all different ages of people, and there are, but there could be a lot more, especially in YA, where I think the age range is particularly slim. Teenagers don’t just want to read about teenagers. (At least, I don’t think they do?) Not all of them anyway.

    If the characters are engaging and relatable I will like them no matter how old they are. But maybe that is just me. I am simultaneously ten and fifty in my heart, and maybe that is strange.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. haha I love your comment!!
      I feel like people love YA because of the relatability, and when you make your 12 year old give philosofical statements rather than like, making fart jokes, it’s kind of annoying.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve seen the idea of college-aged characters in YA come up a few times recently, and I’m not opposed at all. I totally get that YA means anything from 13-18 (right now), but I think there could be a place for some college-focused books, as well. After all, I think that’s a subject that even younger readers (high schoolers about to go to college in a few years) would be interested in reading about.

    I’ve also seen a lot of grumpy people just go “That’s what NA is for!” But, frankly, NA is still pegged as erotica, and I don’t see that changing quickly or envision NA becoming a large part of the market like YA. In terms of pure marketing and getting books to readers who would want them, I think some books about people who are 19 or 20ish could do well in the YA category. (Because, yeah, these books could also go in the adult category but…people who really like YA may not find them there.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you seem to agree!! I also feel like a lot of college kids only read YA still, and so they deserve to be represented as well. And you’re totally right, when I was in middle school I loved reading about high schoolers, and so as a high school kid I feel like college books would be interesting.
      Even NA books that aren’t about erotica (Liane Moriarty for example) are always about mid life crisises that I can’t relate to

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    1. I didn’t realize it was marketed as adult because so many YA bloggers I follow read it!! Personally I read both so I don’t look into it very much. I’ll correct it!!

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  6. I understand where your coming from…some of the ya books I’ve read have 13 year old couples and i can’t relate to them at all which is frustrating. But at the same time I agree with Ilsa; our own age plays a very large role in what characters we can relate to the most and read about without cringing every 5 seconds x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yeah you totally need to read about people your own age most of the time, I just feel like when you read about, say, a 13 year old, sometimes they read like they’re 17 year olds except for the fact that they txt lk ths, which is weird.

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  7. This is an interesting topic. I think that technically to be YA the characters have to be between 13 and 19, if they are older it falls more into NA, but I really think that are about the same thing. I love YA, I’m a little bit outside the age range that I think most YA books are targeted to, but I enjoy the innocence of it, how when you 16 you think that there’s nothing you can’t do. I think as we get older that idea kind of dies. So a 35 -year-old inside the same kind of story wouldn’t work quite as well. Holden Caulfield as a middle aged man isn’t a good book. Holden Caulfield disillusioned teenage boy is a book that will hold up through generations. Same with the crew from the Outsiders who I believe are a little older. I think Johnny and Ponyboy are the youngest at 15 or 16 it has been a while since I read the book. And many many other books.

    I would *love* to read more books about people in college. There is so much there, and those characters would have more “freedom” than a 16-year old that is teetered to their parents/school that they have to show up to or they get in trouble. There does seem to be a gap. The post high school pre-midlife crisis crowd seems to be under-represented in what I’ve read.

    I’m interested to see the discussion on this, I’ll have to check back and see what other commenters are saying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for commenting!!

      I agree that normal YA is targeted for teens, and it wouldn’t really work if they were much older. So I suppose I just need another genre for 19-25 or something like that lol!!

      That age range does work really well for innocent, “I can do anything” type thought process, so I guess that’s why the books are so good.

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  8. I’m still a smol pancake teen so I like having the age ranges below say 19 because otherwise I just don’t relate at all. BUT LAZLO is my son and I DO relate to him but it’s fantasy! Also i felt Strange The Dreamer read more as an ‘adult book’ and it’s not just me; other reviewers are saying this too. All the same, in contemporary I like the characters below at least 20 because of my age obviously

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes complete sense, and I agree that there should still be tons of YA books with teen characters because that’s the main audience. But 19-25 is SO UNDERREPRESENTED in lit, because they’re not quite adults but not really teens, and so that gets annoying.
      It makes sense that Strange read like an adult book when I think about it, because I adored it wayyyyyy more than I thought I would, and loved the writing style, and that’s normally what’s missing for me in YA books.

      Like

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