Problem With Young Adult Books?

The New York Times discussed how “Dark” young adult novels have become and that they were “rife with depravity” and “so dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things.” This caused a huge battle-type discussion on why young adult fiction is really “Saving lives” for tweens and teens.

Young Adult Authors also defended this notion by claiming their readers can learn from their books. Authors felt that young adults enjoy reading about real problems in their life and how to deal with those problems.

I think the New York Times and young adult authors were fighting for no reason. The problem is not the content. If you are a young adult author, just tell the press, “Hey, it was for young ADULTS, not middle school and high school kids.”

On the other hand, I’m sure young adult authors do not write their books while thinking, “I’m really going to educate the youth of America and save their lives.” I would think a fiction author of any genre or age group has the mindset of, “I’m really going to entertain the reader and give them an escape from the real world.” So playing the “Educate the reader,” card is a weak one. Fiction novels should entertain.

Another problem is that many young adult authors, publishers, and public relations  departments have stretched the young adult genre to tweens and teens. This then brings validity to the New York Times Article, because teachers, parents, and libraries are concerned about what books the youth are reading.

Mark Twain had this problem. Here was his argument. “I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them.”

This means that Twain’s books had been stretched to another market and it caused problems. Twain also had an opinion on why it is wrong to allow youth to read books that were not meant for them to read. “The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience…None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave.”

The main point I think that can be made is young adult authors are not wrong with the content they write and stories they tell. Furthermore, it’s hard to blame publishers, public relations departments, and even mass-market stores for selling young adult books to tweens and teens. There are perfectly logical reasons why this is happening.

Confusion on the age’s of tweens, teens, and young adults.

Young Adults: 18-25

Teens: High School

Tweens: Middle School (And fifth grade)

Young Adult Authors are not in the wrong if they are writing for eighteen and up. However, it is wrong for teens and tweens to read books that are written for an adult; even if that adult is young.

If I stood up at any middle school or high school and discussed kidnapping, pederasty, incest, and brutal beatings, I would be kicked out and never permitted to speak in schools again. So why are books discussing those subjects defended?

With little other choice, young adult books carry down to teens and tweens. 

Go to the book section of my favorite store, Target. There is a huge section of books for children under seven. There is a small selection for age’s seven to twelve. Then filling up a complete row, is young adult books and emerging new authors. The next of course is adult fiction and non-fiction authors.

Evaluate what I just said in that paragraph. There is a small section for seven to twelve year olds, then it jumps to young adult. What happened to the thirteen through seventeen?

Confusion on where to market and sell books.

You could say the Twilight series covers the teen market. But remember that Twilight breaks the rules for teen fiction, because each book is over 130,000 words. Originally, it was a mistake that Twilight even made it through the submission process. Even so, Twilight should be placed in a teen section, not young adult.

(Quick note. It is acceptable for anyone to read a book that was originally written for a younger group. It is not acceptable for someone to read a book that was originally written for an older group.)

As for Harry Potter, it is probably the most perfect book series for teens, with a little stretch down to the older tweens. However, it is stuck in the young adult section.

John Grisham has the opposite problem. His new Theodore Boone series should be in a tween section. (Middle School.) Conversely, it is being sold in the elementary section, for kids under twelve.

The bottom line is that the selection of appropriate content for tweens and teens is limited. 

Placing books correctly increases book sales.

Because the young adult fiction pretty much dominates all youth fiction down to twelve-years-old, it is a huge problem to find an appropriate book for your child in middle school or high school.

If middle school students (and their parents) could walk into a store and see books just for their age group, those authors would sell more books. Tweens would feel appreciated, because those books were written just for them. They would be able to relate to the books and be entertained.

You cannot expect a parent to give their middle school student a book like Hunger Games. Before I say another word, let me tell you that I love Hunger Games. But I’m also an adult. As for my children in high school and middle school, they do not like Hunger Games, because of the dark violence. To them, being killed with acid or a graphic scene of a young girl being stabbed is not entertaining.

Success as a tween, teen, or young adult author.

I believe that there are plenty of young adult authors that should adjust their content to fit in the tween or teen market. This would be a great idea, because that market is huge and the competition is slim. The tween market is even slimmer. If you are having trouble succeeding as an author, this may be your solution.

Nevertheless, you need to write appropriate books. Here is the best way I can describe how authors should be writing for elementary, tween, teen, and young adults.

Imagine a line. On the left side is white. As the line moves towards the middle, it begins to turn gray. From the middle to the right, it goes from gray to black. Based on the image, here is how youth novels/books should be divided, considering how “Dark” a plot or storyline should be.

The white part of the line is books for elementary students; third and fourth grade, with slight movement to fifth grade.

Light gray is for most fifth graders, all middle school, with slight movement to freshman in high school.

Dark gray is for some eighth graders and all high school.

Black (Dark) is for anyone eighteen and older, with strong support with eighteen to twenty-five years old.

If you write about vampires and you want to sell the tween market, remember that no dark subjects will be tolerated. Is it possible to write about vampires without being dark? Professional and experienced authors will know how stay in the gray area.

Flip this example. Is it possible to write about wizards, but give it a darker gray feel to reach a larger market? Harry Potter is a book that fits in the gray to dark-gray, but does not reach all the way to black. (Dark.)

No author in the world should ever be persecuted for what they write about. However, every author and publisher should be held accountable for which market they go after.

Here is a rule to live by. If you cannot stand up in front of a classroom and discuss the worst parts of your book, then you are in the wrong place.

Ron Knight 

Invest in marketing.

Ron Knight

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  1. Thank you Ron for the clarification. You are a gem!

  2. Ron,
    Good discussion and analysis of the current situation. The age groupings is something that many authors and publishers either don’t know or consciously ignore. Follow the rules and all is well – blur the lines and confusion reigns. Bottom line – greed wins out.

  3. This was an excellent piece, there’s so much confusion put in place by authors and publishers themselves and then pushed on to the reader. Thank you!