A rant begins to brew

So I just stopped reading an ARC I was given a few book shops ago. It’s a YA by an author who’s only written for adults previously—it sucks. I’m sorry that’s as polite as I can get. The writer seems never to have read any other YA or ever met a teenager. The main character is very like this writer’s other main characters only dumber and way more obvious.1 I did not believe in this character. The book is patronising, annoying, and, frankly, boring.

Why do so many adults assume that writing for teens or children is going to be a doddle and turn off nine tenths of their brain to do it? What is that about? Why do they assume teenagers are stupid?

I hasten to add that there are adult writers who are a natural fit for YA. Alice Hoffman is one. Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth Knox are also splendid. But the vast majority of YA by adult authors makes me very very cross indeed. If I were not in a mad hurry I would write a long detailed rant about it.

  1. The character is so dumb and obvious that if they were meant to be a five year old it would still be insulting. []


  1. Lizzy-wa on #

    really? so, what was the book called? who was it by? are there adult books good? i’ll have to read it to make sure it really does stink. that way i can make sure non of my friends read it. i hate it when an adult athor decides to rite teen or kid books and they are like ten million times as bad as there adult books. *sigh*
    it was fawesome seeing you last nite Justine-la! cant wait to read your books. gotta go finish EXTRAS so i can start on yours. bye!
    -LIzzy-wa OUT! 😛

  2. Dawn on #

    I actually think that it’s harder to write YA, mainly because if teens hate a book, they’ll openly say so. I think that they’re much less likely to keep reading something that isn’t interesting, and far more likely to tell other people about how they feel about particular things.

    Teenagers definitely aren’t stupid!! In some ways, they’re far more perceptive than adults.

  3. eric luper on #

    The other thing i hate is when people come up to me and say, “oh, you’re a young adult author? when are you planning on writing something for grown ups?” like writing for teens is somehow a stepping stone to someday writing for adults.

    like being a pediatrician is a stepping stone to treating adults.

  4. Tim Walker on #

    your faithful blog readers are willing to wait for the long, detailed rant. take your time. rants are often best when fully marinated, slow-roasted, and then served cold on a bed of freshly cut righteous indignation.

    now i’m just making myself hungry . . .

  5. ktbuffy on #

    I can’t wait to hear which book this was. Can you give us any hints?

  6. eric luper on #

    I like my rants served hot, but…mmmmmm….righteous indignation. Yum!

  7. Adrienne Vrettos on #

    maybe people get all wistful about their teen years being a ‘simpler time’. they forget all the angst and the heartache and the way as a teen you laugh and love harder than you ever will again in your entire life. when you forget all that, ya books must seem super easy to write.

  8. janet on #

    Ursula Le Guin, circa 1973:

    Sure it’s simple, writing for kids. Just as simple as bringing them up.

    All you do is take all the sex out, and use short little words, and dumb little ideas, and don’t be too scary, and make sure there’s a happy ending. Right? Nothing to it….

    If you do all that, you might even write Jonathan Livingston Seagull and make 20 billion dollars and have every adult in America reading your book.

    But you won’t have every kid in America reading your book….Kids will devour vast amounts of garbage (and it is good for them), but they are not like adults: they have not yet learned to eat plastic.

    Unfortunately, I think that in the intervening years, some kids have learned to eat plastic under the pressure of relentless marketing, but I think the basic point stands. And “just as simple as bringing them up” is absolutely my favorite statement about the difficulty of writing for kids.

  9. sherwood on #

    i strongly suspect that some editors are to blame—saying to well-known authors they think might sell big, “Oh you can do it, nothing can be easier! Just channel your inner kid…I’ll hold your hand through the process…’

    The other culprit is agents who say, “But YA is so big right now. You can do it—nothing easier, and watch the gigantic advance. Channel your inner kid, and I’ll hold your hand through it…”

    I’ve come to this conclusion after seeing several blogs, conversations, interviews and other embarrassed references from authors, “Oh yeah, well, I jumped on the YA bandwagon. I mean if Rowling can do it, how hard can it be?”

  10. cherie priest on #

    Oh dear … perhaps this was a *bad* day to send you that email …

  11. Dara on #

    uhh you’ve probally already noticed this, but in magic lessons the editor missed the typing error, “Reason took took.”

  12. hillary! on #


  13. hillary! on #

    I agree with Adrienne Vretos. And I want to know !WHY! we feel things so much more than adults? WHY do emotional things hurt more? WHY?! I don’t understand my feelings anymore!

  14. serafina zane on #

    i read the dreamhunter books by elizabeth knox. they were pretty fawesome.

    and that reminds me of a certain book which i will leave unnamed here to prevent this comment getting deleted.but in it, the main character was just a horrible teenager. she made all these quote unquote witty observations about teenagers and cliques and bad fashion in a way that i suppose was meant to be sarcastic and amusing, but to me just seemed cruel. and i am one of those people who spends a lot of time laughing the misery of my enimies—i’m not all over-sensitive about cruel-but-funny. but this book was just sad. she made all these horrible observations about all her brand-new “friends” that she supposedly liked. and they weren’t even genuinely funny. just like a mean girl looking for stuff to mock. wow, long rant. but i also note that same obnoxious heroine was also rather out-of-touch with current culture and mysteriously unaware of her own flaws.
    and another thing i’d like to mention is that, as a proud ya and ya reader, most of the people i know don’t read at all. not the ones i hang out with, but the majority of people in my school have forgotten what a book is. and while there are a lot of people chewing on plastic such as a certain name-dropping series whose letters alliterate and a certain other serieses (is that a word?) set in unrealtistic high schools in la, most people i know will put down books they hate. i think it’s such a concious choice for them to be reading, they take a lot less crap. and not to generalize but it seems like adults are far more likely to pick up and stick with a book because it’s a best seller, even if they don’t like it. no offense, quality-first readers.

    wow, this comment is far too long. back to westerblog before i come up with another rant topic.

  15. Kadie-Wa on #

    i don’t like those kind of books either. teachers don’t understand why alot of the kids stop reading books so much. it’s only because you can’t get into them!!

  16. capt. cockatiel on #

    I have to agree with Serafina zane on the point that adults seem to read a lot of books just because they are bestsellers. Or picked by oprah or any number of other things which have made the book a little more famous. And even if they don’t like it they read the entire thing anyway. I mean, I understand that to criticize a book and make good points of why it’s bad you might want to read the entire thing — but really, who wants to read a book that isn’t interesting or well-written? I’m more likely to put it down and find a new one if I get bored or if I don’t like it.
    It just seems to me that a lot of adults read books by the same author, or only that author, or books that are seen on TV shows or on bestseller lists. Sure, I’ll read books like that, but usually I go and look for books that seem interesting. If a bestseller doesn’t sound the least appealing I’m not going to read it.
    And as for writing books like teens are stupid, I just don’t understand it. Just looking, generally, at a good YA section in a library or bookstore supplies anyone attempting to write YA with so many well-written and smart books to look at and see what teens will read and enjoy. We’re not stupid and all too often I find books which make us seem that way. Urgh. It’s just so annoying!
    Ooh. That’s a bit long, isn’t it?

  17. Patrick on #

    Are you being mean to Dan Brown? is that who’s book you have?

  18. Maggie on #

    I *so* agree with you! What makes me even angrier, though, is the publisher who publishes the book. Surely to god the editor *knows* the book is drek. Why then doesn’t said editor help the author make it better? Or better yet, say *no* to publishing it?

  19. shloopy on #

    Here’s a good analogy:

    an old teacher of mine got moved to the high school to teach. Her mother thought that she had got a promotion. (You know, moving up.)

    But, either way, it isn’t a promotion if you stop writing YA or you stop teaching middle-schoolers and you go up a different level- it’s just a different job.

    I’ve read too many books where the teenagers act like college students and think like 5-year-olds. It’s really awful. First you get mad at them for doing things way above their age, and then they make horrible, horrible decisions to cope with their overblown lives. It’s as if the author wants to use ‘oh, they’re teenagers’ as an excuse to further plot developement. However, the real thing is that it’s the cheesy, soap-opera plot that’s developing, while throughout the whole book, non of the characters develop at all!!
    Personally, I think that every teen in those types of books have major personality flaws. They all know what to do (except for the cheesy ‘which guy should I choose?!’ twist) and just worry, while the whole point of teenagers is that they’re awkward! As a teenager myself, growing up is awkward! Don’t just make things happen! Give us reasons, secrets or magic! ‘Things happen just because’ is reasoning coming from someone who doesn’t know what to do!

    Make these authors immerse themselves in teenagers! Do the research before trying to be something you’re not. If you’ve done the research, chances are that most of the readers will enjoy the book.

    (on the plus side, I just bought a book by Alice Hoffman yesterday. Freeeaky.)

  20. Dess on #

    i agree with capt. cockatiel. most of the adults i know won’t go to a book store the day it comes out for that long awaited book after staying up till midnight to watch the countdown stop. i’ve only done this once people. and im not insane, im an insomniac. 🙂 they only read one or two authors or only read self-help books or stuff like that whereas yound adults will read anything they find interesting. i think writing ya lets you write a wide variety of stuff and it will still get read because thats what we like, a variety of good books.

  21. amanda coppedge on #

    I often hear a further extrapolation of this–people find out I like to write YA and middle-grade and say, oh, why don’t you write picture books, too? I’m sorry, I think writing a picture book is even harder. I have read many, many awful picture books and many great ones. I don’t know if I’m a good enough wordsmith to write something brilliant in 32 pages.

  22. sylvia_rachel on #

    ironic, because i recently got a rejection letter — a really lovely one, by the way, which i was happy to get, in one way — from an agent who said s/he thought my ms sounded great but didn’t think the writing would fly in the ya market. i am forced to wonder whether having suited the language to the setting (early-nineteenth-century britain) has made the book unsellable — not to readers, i mean, but to agents and/or publishers.

    drecky ya is an enormous pet peeve of mine (as is drecky kid-lit — i have a five-year-old, you see). publishers should not market dreck to readers just because they’re not yet old enough to vote; there’s certainly no shortage of *good* ya and kid-lit out there, so why?

    to be fair, however, an awful lot of dreck is published for adults, too…

  23. winchester grey on #


  24. penni on #

    Some excellent comments here. Love the pediatrician analogy, and that ursula le guin quote is utterly perfect. I read a YA book this year by an extremely successful, internationally renowned adult writer, and I couldn’t quite get over just how dreadful it was – I kept going waiting for it to improve but it didn’t and in the end I stopped reading. the main character was just so blank and boring and tedious, as if being young is simply being an unformed adult, an empty vessel into which a personality is yet to be poured. Someone should have held her hand better that’s for darn sure.

  25. Diana on #

    “You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children.”
    — Madeleine L’Engle

  26. joanna on #

    I’ve often felt that adult writers who publish YA are doing it for the market. YA is hot now and teens will spend money to purchase a book. I was worried about Sherman Alexie’s new book – thankfully it’s awesome. But I do have to say as much as I loved Francine Prose’s AFTER, I’m not liking BULLYVILLE.

  27. joanna on #

    whoops! I flubbed my url.

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