Young Adult All The Way

I’ve recently started reading a novel by an author who has previously written for young adults. I loved the young adult book because it had a good premise, excellent world-building, relatable characters and unpredictably. I was fully expecting the adult one to contain all these things but on a bigger scale.

Instead, I found none of these things. What I did find was bizarre and somewhat pompous language selection. Reading the novel made me aware that the author must have “dumbed down” his writing style for the young adult book. But why? The adult book was at times incomprehensible. It made me feel stupid. It almost seemed to mock me and my inability to work out what was going on. And thanks to the surreal writing style, the dialogue came off as entirely unbelievable. I struggled to relate to the main character (who is more-or-less the same age as I am and works in an office like I do) when I have no problem relating to post-apocalyptic heroine hunters.

The experience has made me consider what young adult really means to me. Why am I so much more satisfied with a young adult novel? Why do I choose to read a young adult novels over adult novels? Why do read them (and lots of them) with un-flagging attention while I struggle to stick with an adult book to the end? Here’s some of the ideas I’ve come up with:

1. Clear Writing

I’ve never been made to feel stupid by a young adult novel. That’s not to say they don’t stretch me. I’ll still reach for the from time to time, but the process is enjoyable, it’s a learning process. I’m rarely presented with a situation where my mind boggles, where I can’t work out what the characters are doing. That’s not to say I’m necessarily happy with where the plot it going but I can, at the very least, understand it. (And no, before you ask, I don’t have any problems with reading!) More importantly, I’m made to feel included. The author wants me to get what’s going on. There’s no pretentiousness. The ultimate result is that I can move through the plot without having to re-read passages to work out what the hell's going on.

2. Well paced / fast-moving plots

If your local book shop is anything like mine, the adult novels are grouped by genre whilst the teen novels are grouped together simply for being for teens. I like sci-fi, but selecting a novel from the sci-fi section gives me no indication as to how it will be written. Is there action or is it long and arduous? Are there going to be huge long descriptions of technologies and political systems? Will the novel start with a long back-story laying out all the world-building facts I’ll need in the back of my mind if I hope to understand anything it’s on about? It’s hard to know. But if I selected a sci-fi from the young adult section, there’s a very high chance that the story will start right where it needs to and not a moment sooner, any descriptions of technologies and political systems will be woven throughout and only if necessary, and yes, there will be a hell of a lot of action. Why? Because that’s what agents take on. That’s what agents believe will sell. And does that stuff sell because teens have shorter attention spans? Or is it because, like me, they want to consume as many stories and messages and ideas as possible? There’s not enough time to read every book in the world and I tend not to pick the one where I’m playing catch-up with an author’s imagination. I tend to choose the one where the author’s made sure every last word is relevant.

3. Not really feeling like a grown-up

This is probably the most significant point and the one that is most young adult specific. We do a lot of learning when we’re teenagers. We start becoming who we want to be, rather than who we’re told to be. We leave our learning institutions, some of us for ever. But it’s not easy. It’s been several years since I stopped actually being a teenager, but the person who emerged out of those formative years is still me and I still need and want coming-of-age messages. I don’t have life figured out and neither do the teen protagonists I read about. In fact, through the vast array of young adult books you can read, this is one of the most common threads. By seeing how other characters deal with that transition, I can help myself with my own (rather lengthy) transition. You don’t really get that kind of help from grown-up books.

What do you think makes young adult novels so great? Do you agree with any of my points or does young adult mean something different to you entirely? Please let me know in the comments section.