YA authors, have you ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a Young Adult (YA) reader? I reached out to eight readers and asked them ten questions about the genre and what it means to them.
I initially approached this project hoping to get three to five participants. I ended up with eight–two Trishas, what are the odds?! Today, you’ll hear from: Becca, Samantha, Liz, Trisha D, Thompson, Trisha K, Regina, and Ryan. (Linked names are authors/book bloggers/podcasters) Without further ado, let’s dive into the mind of a YA reader. These are their answers. *Law & Order Sound*
1. How old are you?
Trisha D: 45.
Thompson: Let’s just say I’m an adult most of the time. Not telling my age, but I’ve been around the block!
Trisha K: 29
2. What is your favorite genre?
Becca: I read everything, but if I have to pick, straight up literary fiction.
Liz: Speculative Fiction and Fantasy.
Trisha D: Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Thompson: My favorite genre is contemporary with a twist of humor; smart dialog, quick comebacks.
Trisha K: Fantasy.
Regina: Urban Fantasy.
Ryan: Science Fiction and Fantasy.
3. What do you like about Young Adult (YA) novels?
Becca: I like that they’re easily consumable and have relatable themes.
Samantha: I’m able to find more things that I’m interested in when I visit this section of the bookstore–lots of whimsy but also heartwarming stories of overcoming obstacles. There’s just more range of subject matter, it seems.
Liz: I love that there’s often a coming-of-age aspect, because I believe you can come of age at any age, and that’s why these stories continue to be so relatable. I’m also a sucker for those love stories. 9 times out of 10 there’s an awesome romance to root for, and unlike adult romance novels, these stories leave a lot more to the imagination which is more exciting for me.
Trisha D: The engaging characters.
Thompson: YA has so much going for it. It’s fun or dark, funny or dystopian. I like characters at the age of big decisions. Teens learning about the world and how they fit into it. Finding their strengths and voice.
Trisha K: The stories tend to move quickly and have less intricacies that the reader has to figure out for themself. Not to say they are predictable, but there is less flipping back and forth comparing details and trying to work out what is happening between the lines.
Regina: I like the character development.
Ryan: They bring simplicity to complex ideas and complexity to simple ideas. My reading comprehension is maximized and my connection to the story and characters is greater than other levels.
4. What are some trends you see in YA?
Becca: There is a trend toward diversity (YAY!), especially LGBTQ stories.
Samantha: Lately I have noticed a lot more strong female lead characters.
Liz: Right now I see a lot of fantasy worlds inspired by other cultures and histories, and many of those are Own Voices stories. I think this is a really special, interesting new lens to view fantasy through.
Trisha D: Strong female characters!!!!
Thompson: Less dystopian, more high fantasy. Any book with Queen or Prince in the title. More mysteries getting even darker. More books with twists and turns, whodunits, multiple viewpoints. Strong female characters who save themselves.
Trisha K: There are a lot with young characters making rash decisions that the reader knows are going to cause problems later.
Regina: Engaging and fun stories.
Ryan: An emphasis on friendship over romantic relationships. This is very refreshing after reading so many love triangles in series like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Matched, but it also leaves me wondering if the building relationship will lead to romance. YA tends to have optimistic endings, if not strictly happy endings.
5. Are there particular character types you are drawn to?
Becca: Quirky anxious girls (haha, I wonder why).
Samantha: I am a sucker for an independent female character. While she has friends and family and maybe a romantic interest, she doesn’t rely on them to solve her problems.
Liz: Give me all of your Depressive Demon Nightmare Boys (the opposite of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl). I don’t care if it’s been done to death. I always want one more. [Kaytalin: I second this one.]
Trisha D: I like characters that have a strong moral center.
Thompson: Funny, smart characters–boys or girls. Sarcasm is a plus for me!
Trisha K: I love a strong female lead. Someone who isn’t defined by her love story. Most YA I’ve read involves a love story in some way, but I particularly hate seeing a female character who can’t possibly function without her love interest.
Regina: Coming of age stories.
Ryan: Smart, yet flawed outcasts. Characters who know the right thing to do but can’t or won’t because they are too proud or jealous or frightened.
6. What are some overused/tired elements in YA right now?
Becca: I haven’t really read much of it because it doesn’t appeal to me, but whenever I look at the YA section of Overdrive, it seems like there’s a lot of the Twilight/To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before thing— “He was too ____ (dangerous, popular, rich, whatever) but deep down he’s the love of my life” thing.
Samantha: I feel like a lot of the novels I start reading try too hard to comment on our current society, and while that’s definitely important, it would be really nice to just read more things that were written for the sake of telling a story.
Liz: Honestly, the Depressive Demon Nightmare Boy but I’m not over it yet and I don’t think I’m alone. Something I do think I’m tired of though is the need to shoehorn in a love triangle. I’m also not really into the “chosen one” trope unless it’s got an interesting, fresh twist.
Trisha D: Post-apocalyptic settings.
Thompson: I’m tired of speculative fiction and science fiction space operas! Also, Disease of the Month books. Every main character does not have to fight dying to be a great read.
Trisha K: See my last answer. Haha. There is this idea that young love is meant to be irrational and females just can’t live without making bad decisions around men. Also, why are most YA about heterosexual relationships? That is also tired…
Regina: Vampires. Totally over it.
Ryan: This is genre specific: I quickly grew burnt out on fairytale and folklore retellings. I will appreciate the writing and the pacing and the tension, but the plot is naturally predictable and the characters are uninteresting. Exceptions to this are retellings of fairy tales and folk lore of non-Western European origin, like The Star Touched Queen and Children of Blood and Bone.
7. What would you like to see more of? What would you like to see less of?
Becca: Even more diversity! More books about friendship. More incorporation of social justice themes (like The Hate U Give).
Samantha: I would love to see more series where you can follow a character’s progression–I find a lot of short series or single novels.
Liz: Would love to see more “unlikable” female leads. Let the lady be the depressive demon nightmare boy (girl?). I want to see fewer love triangles. I love a love story, but so many triangles feel forced, like you’re just trying to get a hashtag trending for each “team.”
Trisha D: I would like to see more stories with an emphasis on platonic relationships and less romance. I would like to see a continued trend of minority representation in major characters.
Thompson: More strong friendships, even a strong mentor or parent who is witty is appreciated. I’d like even more murder mysteries, more terror/suspense with mystery.
Trisha K: I want more female characters I can look up to. I remember as a teenager being so obsessed with Harry Potter and loving how he wouldn’t have survived without Hermione’s brains. I think we could all do with less over sexualized women.
Regina: Always want more female antagonists.
Ryan: More ensemble based stories like Six of Crows. Less use of the peril of underdeveloped family members to raise the stakes and create tension. I want to know the mothers/fathers/sisters/brothers that are put in peril so I can care that they are in peril.
8. Who is your favorite YA author?
Becca: Hm. It’s cliche, but I do like John Green a lot.
Samantha: Probably Cassandra Clare, the author of The Mortal Instruments. I’ve read several of her series and I love her characters and style of writing.
Liz: Victoria Schwab.
Trisha D: Rick Riordan.
Thompson: Andrew Smith because of MEMORABLE CHARACTERS, funny dialog, quick witted teens.
Trisha K: This isn’t a fair question! I guess I’m the most devoted to JK Rowling.
Regina: Cassandra Clare.
Ryan: I just finished A Torch Against the Night, so at the moment, Sabaa Tahir.
9. Who is your favorite character? Why?
Becca: Are we calling Harry Potter YA? If so, I guess I should change my answer to the previous question. Hermione. She’s quirky, she’s smart, she’s brave, and she’s a perfectionist.
Samantha: I just finished rereading The Mortal Instruments so right now I would say my favorite character is Isabelle Lightwood. She is a fiercely loyal friend, but she doesn’t hesitate to go after what she wants. Her confidence and general badassery is what inspires the series’ main character to embrace her life as a Shadowhunter.
Liz: In all of YA, I’m still Team Katniss forever. She was one of the first complicated, angry, grounded female protagonists we had in this genre and she still holds up.
Trisha D: Hermione Granger, because she is a smart and logical female character who has emotions but is not (usually) ruled by them.
Thompson: Ryan Dean West (Winger by Andrew Smith) so memorable.
Trisha K: Well now all I can think of is Harry Potter, so I’ll stick with the theme. Luna Lovegood is probably one of the most underrated characters in the wizarding world. She is genuinely kind and can see through any facade. I love her honesty.
Regina: I like Zoe from House of Night but I got tired of that series overall.
Ryan: I can’t pick one. Characters stand out for good reason: Hermione Granger, Valentine Wiggin, Tiny Cooper, Eleanor and Park… but I can’t say any one of them are my favorite.
10. If you could jump into any YA novel world, which would it be? Why?
Becca: Again, does Harry Potter count? If not, maybe Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I love stories that explore connections between characters in different time periods (haha, maybe that’s why I’m writing one), and this one is unique in that it has storylines in the past and the future! The switch between historical fiction and speculative fiction is cool.
Samantha: As much as I love the series, I would not want to jump into The Mortal Instruments’ world. I would much prefer the world of the Waterfire Saga, by Jennifer Donnelly. Here, girls work together to build each other up and bring out the best in each other. It’s a little idealistic, but I love the society that she built. I have also always wanted to be a mermaid.
Liz: Right now I’m reading Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan and even though it’s terrifying in every way, the violence has a certain beauty to it and I’d love to experience this world and all its rich, complicated history!
Trisha D: I would like to enter Camp Half-Blood. I find the intersection of mythology and “real world” fascinating and would like to explore further into other mythological realms.
Thompson: There are so many novels that it would be hard to choose. Maybe FAT GIRL ON A PLANE for the fashion and NY trips.
Trisha K: I feel like this one is obvious. Haha. I would kill to witness even a tiny part of the wizarding world.
Regina: I don’t know if I like any of the YA worlds enough to live in them.
Ryan: The Peculiar World from Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children. Definitely creepy and dangerous, but even if I didn’t have peculiar powers, I’d want to explore the time loops and the history of Ymbrynes.