Are YA Books Maturing Too Fast?

The Giver by Lois Lowry.  Just Ella by Margaret Haddix.  Spying on Miss Muller by Eve Bunting.  Pawns by Willow Davis Roberts.  All of these books were published in the 1990s, and all were considered young adult reads.  Today, however, I wonder if we would not market them as middle grade.  And I wonder what changed.  Did YA simply blossom, creating a more mature section for older teens, while books like The Giver began to occupy a nebulous space between MG and YA?  Did children become more mature?  Or are the mature audiences reading YA dictating the maturity of the content?

I won’t pretend that YA wasn’t always kind of edgy. Even in the past, it dealt with things like sex and violence.  Teenagers wondering about their bodies, about boys,  who were worrying about their first kiss, wanting to experiment–it was all there, even in the 1990s books I have mentioned.  But, somehow, these books still feel a little more innocent to me, for two reasons.

First of all, I don’t think YA books of the past necessarily ended up with the characters having sex, though I fully expect that to happen in 99.9% of the contemporary YA books I read today.  In Pawns (1998), for instance, the main character has a crush on the boy next door.  Maybe they hold hands, if anything.  In Spying on Miss Muller (1995), a kiss is the most exciting action the protagonist gets, though she hints that more might come later.  (But I still got the sense she wasn’t thinking “all the way” just yet.)  In Gail Carson Levine’s The Wish (2000), I only remember kissing, as well, though perhaps my memory is poor.  In fact, if my memory is not poor,  I think kissing was the old sex.  That was the defining moment for the teen characters of the past, the one where they knew they were “in love,” the climatic moment they were aiming for.  In YA today, however, a kiss is nothing.  Maybe it’s a prelude to sex, but it’s not going to be the end scene.

Secondly, I don’t remember YA books being as explicit as they are today.  In Spying on Miss Muller, for example, much of the sexual activity is only hinted at or written in “coded” language.  If readers know what sex is, they’ll know what the characters are talking about.  If they don’t, they’ll either have to piece it together or just remain ignorant.  I remember this being the case for many books.  The sex was there.  It just typically wasn’t described.  Now, a steamy sex scene is pretty much expected, so much so that readers are now wondering if Sarah J. Maas’s books didn’t go a little too far for the teen section.  (I haven’t read them, so  I won’t comment on that.)

But it is not only the sex that has gotten more explicit; YA books seem more violent than before, darker, grittier.  For instance, people are killed in The Giver–I will not pretend that the book is not dark and disturbing.  But somehow it still seems different from a book like Six of Crows.  Set in the Barrel district where thieves con pigeons out of money at the gambling halls and offer them their choice of woman at the brothels, the book and its sequel constantly dwell in vice and violent.  Both are marvelous books, ones that shed light on issues like human trafficking.  But they also feel like books that blur the boundary between YA and adult fantasy.  People are constantly being killed and maimed in grotesque ways, ways that make violence seem creative and exciting, a game that only the most skilled can win.  This is a far cry for the horror readers are supposed to feel at the killing depicted in The Giver.

Much has been written on whether YA books are really being written and marketed for teens, or if they are being written and marketed for the adults who are buying them.  I won’t go into that discussion today.  However, I think it is interesting to note that the boundaries seem to have changed.  Even though I see a lot of bloggers hesitant to read MG because they think it’s “childish,” I would argue that upper MG is actually YA and that YA books are increasingly becoming adult–at least according to old standards.  Upper MG often has danger, violence, death, drug use, gangs, and even a little romance. It’s hardly “childish.”  It’s just that these topics are not usually written in an explicit manner.  For a MG couple, holding hands might be the “big moment”–just as it was for a few teen heroines back in the 1980s and 1990s. At least, that was true.  Now I’m seeing books like Hillary Homzie’s Pumpkin Spice Secrets hit the shelves (part of the Swirl novels) and, though I haven’t read the series, the blurbs read to me a little like Hallmark Channel rom coms with middle school characters.  I expect we’ll see MG books maturing even more as time goes on.  Meanwhile, teen books are  also becoming increasingly dark and increasingly explicit as MG books move into their old territory.

I won’t say that this trend is necessarily good or bad.  I expect that, regardless of what label we give to books, readers will continue to find what they want to read and to self-censor.  If a teen reader or a middle school reader doesn’t want to read an explicit scene or a graphically violent scene, chances are they will stop and find something with which they are more comfortable.  Still, I think we should challenge and reconsider the labels we give to books.  For instance, if a MG book is moving into YA territory, why are so many readers ashamed to be seen with MG?  Why couldn’t high school readers still enjoy MG books if they don’t want to read anything explicit?  Is the writing level truly that different in many cases?  After all, “MG” and “YA” are simply marketing labels that reflect the demographic publishers imagine will buy the book.  They do not necessarily reflect on the sophistication of the content or the writing.

Also, we should consider what the labels mean since educators, librarians, and parents often use them for shorthand.  Right now they tend to assume that anything in the YA section is “teen appropriate.”  But teen readers are often considered sixth grade to twelfth.  Is an eleven-year-old ready to find an explicit scene?  Can educators and parents feel confident handing any YA book to any teen reader just based on the age designation, if the age designation is shifting in ways we haven’t fully addressed?  (After all, even the best of teachers or librarians can’t have read or heard of EVERY book that is published.)  What happens when a librarian blithely recommends a new YA book that got good reviews, only to have an enraged parent arrive, yelling that her thirteen-year-old wasn’t ready to read about date rape or self harm or something else that was dealt with in “too much” detail?

Perhaps over time YA will settle into a more mature place and everyone will acknowledge that YA is now far edgier than it used to be, and that MG has moved into the place YA used to occupy.  When that happens, I expect parents and educators won’t be as shocked as they are now.  And perhaps middle school readers and even high school readers will feel more confident being seen with MG books, rather than only with YA.  They’ll know what to expect.  In the meantime, it’s worth admitting to ourselves that the boundaries seem to have moved and that we might need to reconsider how we are perceiving and recommending books.

What do you think?  Does YA seem more mature to you than it used to be?

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131 thoughts on “Are YA Books Maturing Too Fast?

  1. Book Admirer says:

    I totally agree. There are so many times I go to the library searching for a book in the regular section only to find out that it’s in the “teen section”. To save myself trouble now I go to the online catalog so I’m not pulling my hair out

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    • Krysta says:

      I see confused adults ending up in the teen section all the time. (For some reason they seem confused there IS a teen section?) There can be overlap between the two, which I think we saw with Harry Potter and His Dark Materials, when adults started reading children’s books (and got “adult” covers at the same time). But I think it’s also true that teens are reading adult books. Ready Player One, for instance, was marketed as adult, but seems to be crossing over into the YA audience.

      It shows just how arbitrary marketing labels can be. I remember reading years ago that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was almost marketed as a children’s book. I can’t help but suspect that it would have received fewer accolades if it had been labelled a children’s book.

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  2. karathehuman says:

    YA can be WAY mature, and though I’ve noticed this a lot more as I’ve gotten older, I’m not sure if it’s really changed, or if I just didn’t realize how mature they were when I was reading them at the time. I remember reading a book when I was about 14 or 15 called Cut (by Patricia McCormick, published in 2000) that was about a girl who self-mutilates, and that was considered a YA book. And you mentioned The Giver. And there’s The Hunger Games. And The Monstrumologist series. The last two are more recent (late 2000s), but they’re all considered YA, and there are some CRAZY intense stuff happening in those books. Honestly, with a lot of YA books, I really think they’re given that label not because of the content but because of the main character(s). I feel like if the main character is no older than 18, it will probably be considered YA, no matter how mature the topics in the book. Which is crazy to me considering the content of some of those books, especially the dystopian ones.

    ANYway. Sorry for the rant. I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing a lot lately and had to jump at the opportunity to join in on the conversation. Great post, by the way!

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    • Krysta says:

      I know what you mean. I know that there were mature books being published in the 1970s-1990s period. There was sex and violence. But it still seems to me that there is a general trend where the majority of YA is becoming darker and more explicit. Meanwhile, books I might have considered YA in the past (such as the Lockwood & Co. series) are now “upper MG.”

      You’re right about the age, though. My understanding is that a character who is 13 will probably be shelved in the YA section, even if the book is more of a MG read. (I have seen one rare MG with a 13yo protagonist, but the book was about finding one’s place in one’s family so it got marketed as MG. Wish I could remember the title.) And I wonder if that’s why Ready Player One, marketed as an adult book, has crossed into the YA audience. The protagonist graduates high school in the middle of the book. So he’s technically an adult, but some people are probably assuming it must be YA if he begins the book in high school because that’s how the labels tend to work.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kay Wisteria says:

    I agree that’s some authors like SJM seem really heavy on sex for YA. But I feel like for the most part they’re fine—I don’t think 99% of what I read has sex, and teenagers are exposed to edgy talk anyways lol. Also, sadly, I don’t think high schoolers care about being seen with MG/YA books—being seen with any book is weird and I know so many people who don’t even do the required reading (spark notes) much less anything else (I’m a high schooler)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I will say that a lot of the sex is not described graphically (SJM still seems like an exception), but if I pick up a YA, especially a contemporary, and there’s a romance, I don’t ever assume that they’re going to end the series with a chaste kiss anymore…. Just offhand I can think of Alex, Approximately; Three Dark Crowns; Grave Mercy…. The scenes aren’t really described in detail, but I’d feel naive if I thought that the characters were going to be content with their first kiss. In fact, some of these books seem almost like the romance is going backwards, like you start with sex and then work your way into figuring out if you like the other person and if you want to have a relationship. Other books have steamy kissing scenes/touching that I fully expect to lead into sex in the sequels, so. :/

      That’s interesting. I imagine how people feel about what they read varies from person to person and place to place. Most of the middle schoolers I know are looking to read YA, so you have eleven-year-olds reading stuff like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent. (Yeah, they’re old, but these children are discovering them for the first time.) I don’t know how a sixth grader would feel if I tried to recommend an upper MG to them; they seem like they’re eager to read ahead, generally.

      It is true that, statistically, fewer people read as they age. I should see if there are more recent numbers, but a 2014 Common Sense Media report reviewed the literature on children and reading and the report showed that in 2012 53% of nine-year-olds reported reading every day, but only 19% of 17-year-olds reported reading every day. So it’s definitely true that a teen reading is a bit of an oddity.

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  4. flora_the_sweaterist says:

    Thank you for addressingt this issue! Yes, YA (and even children!) books get way too graphic and even improper on occasion. I think it has something to do with our glorious modern culture. I was lucky to grow up with a mom who spent a lot of time with us, answering our questions, etc – but I know that many children are left to themselves all the time, being given a TV or computer to pass the time with. Through those devices, they have access to mature content way too early. I think that books only try to keep up with the general tendency of letting kids grow up too fast. They are accustomed to action, violence, mature content, and may lack the patience to get through a book which has none of those. I wish kids and teens of today had the same kind of upbringing we had before: the kind of upbringing that lets them be kids and enjoy themselves without the necessity to be confronted with adult content.

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    • Krysta says:

      There may be something to that. I know that there are thirteen-year-olds who know words and, uh,…behaviors…that I have never heard of. They have access to everything on their devices and sometimes seem to stumble onto content that they should never have to see. I think maybe the desensitization is widespread, though. I will have parents who ask me for recommendations for their child who “can’t handle violence” or “gets scared easily.” They want a “safe” YA novel. But their child has, 100% of the time, read The Hunger Games. They do realize that The Hunger Games is about children killing each other? That there is discussion of forced prostitution? That The Hunger Games is a fairly mature book? But apparently this is nothing to them because we’re just used to all this stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      • flora_the_sweaterist says:

        Exactly! And at the core of the problem are parents who are not ready to admit that something is wrong. I’ve known parents whose kid (9) saw things she wasn’t supposed to see at that age, and instead of dealing with the situation, they just denied it. It’s easier to do than facing the real problems.
        It’s also sad how books (and movies) help to spread “knowledge” that’s not age-appropriate. Kids have access to more things and more easily than when I was young, and I think that the content is not so well scanned by parents or adults. The Hunger Games is a perfect example of that!
        But I’ll say nothing more because I would soon arrive to “humanity is in decline…” 😛

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        • Krysta says:

          Yeah, I think I read that the average age for a child seeing porn is 10. I suspect that the majority of parents are in denial about this. And, if they do happen to realize that their child has seen something and has questions or is uncomfortable or confused, they might not be prepared to handle it. They probably weren’t expecting the topic to be sprung on them so early!

          The same with educators. Some of my teacher friends teach elementary and middle school children and are convinced their students are as innocent as the day they were born. I keep trying to tell them that their students have, statistically, seen a lot more than they think, and they should be prepared to deal with that. They don’t listen to me, though. It’s easier not to deal with it. :/

          And, yeah, the problem with not dealing with this sort of thing is that children don’t always understand that what they are seeing is real life. If they’re seeing violence sexualized, for instance, and that’s all they’ve seen and all they know, they may come to think that those sorts of behaviors are normal, when they’re not. I think we need to be more proactive about discussing what children have access to and how the adults who care for them are going to address it.

          I’m not sure if humanity is in decline. But I do think we have a problem that no one wants to address because it’s super uncomfortable for a lot of people to discuss it. :/

          Liked by 1 person

  5. ivysbooks says:

    Well said. I agree with your blog. I also think teens are in general more mature now than I was at the same age, and I think the main reason for that is the internet and easy access to the world.

    I do believe that some of SJM books should be NA not YA.

    And to be honest as an asexual I don’t need sex in books. I’m perfectly fine with the hints and I tend to skim the sex scenes anyway, but that might just be me and my way of censoring to fit me.

    Thanks for highlighting this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I think that there is something to be said for kids maturing faster. My teacher friends tell me that their middle schoolers are all reading YA. Eleven-year-old me still loved Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Yeah, I was reading adult books like LotR and such, but I am not sure eleven-year-old me would have been ready for The Hunger Games, honestly. Now parents seem to think The Hunger Games is a tame book. Parents are always asking me for “safe” YA books for their child who “can’t handle violence.” But their child has always read The Hunger Games. Makes me wonder what they consider actual violence.

      I don’t need sex in books, either. If it’s relevant to the plot, I’m fine with the author giving me enough to get the idea and then “fading to black.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • ivysbooks says:

        Yeah I’m not surprised they do. I don’t either think eleven year old me could deal with Hunger Games. I got scared reading Nancy Drew, but I was also hooked on it. I find it weird to think Hunger Games is safe. Violence is everywhere. It’s more difficult to avoid than sex. It creates tension and a reason to run or fight back.

        Yup I wouldn’t mind more “fading to black” screens. Sometimes I prefer the movie version of the book then.

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  6. Cecelia says:

    I used to work at Barnes and Noble and my hardest customer were the parents/relatives of 11-14 year olds. These were the teens who were heavy readers, often who had exhausted the MG section and who were intellectually ready to move into YA but not emotionally ready. However I remember the meager YA section as a teen in the early 2000s, and while I didn’t tend to gravitate towards books with violence I read plenty of books that talked about sex–The Princess Diaries, Gossip Girl, and even the Alice series (which had been around for decades before that). I think the YA range has grown way larger (when I went into Barnes and Noble as a teen there was one shelf dedicate to YA and now there’s at least four) and coming with that means more room for different and more maturer topics. There are still books being published that aren’t as emotionally mature but they often get swallowed up by the hyped up bestsellers. I personally think it’s a good sign that YA books are maturing as long as violence, sex, and mental health issues are portrayed positively because I got a lot of really great information from reading novels. I wish younger YA (11-14) could have their own section with high school protagonists and similar topics but with a PG or PG-13 rating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I think what we’re seeing may be a wonderful boom in the YA industry–that has lead to an emphasis on YA books for the older crowd. A lot of times I want to recommend stuff like The Rithmatist or the Lockwood & Co. series to middle school readers. But these books are considered MG (I think of them as “upper MG”.). A lot of middle school readers are eager to read “up” and want something from the YA section, so an upper MG can be a hard sell, even if I suspect that it might be more suitable for some readers.

      You know, of all the sex scenes I can recall offhand, not many of them are what I think the average person would call “positive.” There are a lot of assaults, some sex with the other partner (usually male) unconscious, a case of sex that might be the result of a spell, a lot sex happening while the participants are drunk, and so forth. That may another way that I see YA becoming darker. Though this is all just a feeling I have/anecdotal evidence. I suppose no one has yet done a comprehensive study to see how depictions of sex and violence in YA have changed over the years.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    I love seeing this! I am not sure how much of a warranted or “educated” comment I can give as I really only started reading most YA a year or so ago, but I do see things that I struggle with. I encounter sexual scenes that I find make it hard to call it YA. But I also have always felt somewhat unclear on what the target audience is for this genre. I mean Young Adult does imply that it is an adult reader, just earlier years? So in that regard, it would be fair game I suppose.

    I do however, think readers and younger children are maturing at a faster rate. Blame media and what have you. For example, my 13 year old son would be perfectly capable of reading and comprehending books such as The Giver without a problem. But I guess that also varies with each child/teen. I just do my part by staying informed and knowing what they read.

    Is there a clear cut age audience for YA? Asking because I really do not know.

    Great post! 💕

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    • Krysta says:

      I think that may be part of the problem. YA is ostensibly for teens, so we might assume it officially covers readers aged 13-18. That’s a huge age range, even if we ignore the fact that many middle schoolers (eleven and up) are reading YA and that the largest demographic buying YA is, if I recall correctly, women in their 30s. But what might be appropriate for a high school senior is not necessarily a book that an eighth grader is ready for. Meanwhile, it seems to me (no hard evidence here, just a sense I have from what I personally read) that a lot of YA is skewing towards the 18yo end of the spectrum. Books that I think would make sense for 11-14 are actually in the MG section–I’m thinking stuff like The Rithmatist and the Lockwood & Co. series.

      I mean, that does make sense because 11-14 yos are in middle school so you would think they’d be reading middle grade. But many middle schoolers are reading YA instead, so that complicates things. Basically, there’s supposed to be some sort of overlap, I guess, between MG and YA, but…I don’t know what YA books are supposed to be in that overlap besides older books like The Giver. It seems like a lot of them are really written for the older teens.

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        • Krysta says:

          I don’t blame you! I think ideally parents are hoping that their children will turn to them with questions and for information, and not get it all from their peers or the media! Knowing what kinds of questions might come up seems helpful.

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            • Krysta says:

              I noticed once that SLJ provided two different age ranges for the same book and ever since then I just don’t know what age ranges are supposed to mean. 😆 I noticed Amazon has age ranges, too, but I haven’t really checked yet to see if I generally agree. Sometimes things get weird like reading tests that give students book suggestions based on reading level. I was a fourth grader with book lists that had books like Gone with the Wind. Maybe I had the vocabulary for it, but the test sure didn’t consider that a fourth grader learning about prostitution was maybe a bad idea!

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            • (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

              Haha that is a solid point😂 I am going to pay more attention to Amazon and see if I agree. Of course it will still ultimately be up to parents to help monitor and influence good choices. Not all kids are on par with one another in terms of not only reading ability but maturity 💕

              Liked by 1 person

  8. Morgane @ Bookworms Eat Brains says:

    I think sex is the new kissing because like you say, kisses, holding hands are nothing; we talk about sex like we talk about the weather now. Nothing wrong with that, of course! But, I wish it was less explicit, subtle in the way it’s talked about. I’m not sure these steamy scenes are really necessary for telling the story, anyway. It’s a phenomenon you can see too in TV shows targeted to teens. Which can be twice as awkward! 🙈

    I wonder if we shouldn’t open a new shelf for these books that aren’t quite YA. Like all those people who are not quite adult, but no longer teen! 😁 Oh, right! That’s a thing. NA=New Adults. But, they never used this shelf, unfortunately. 😕

    Interesting post! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      It may be reflecting new dating practices, too. From the books I’ve read, the new dating is basically that you hook-up first (most of the time under the influence of alcohol) and then figure out if you want to date the person after. Basically, dating is backwards from what it used to be. People aren’t working up from getting to know each other to holding hands to kissing and so on. They’re just going for the end goal. If that’s what teens and college students are doing, it’s perhaps not surprising that books wouldn’t depict a kiss as the climatic moment because, as you say, that’s “nothing.”

      Yeah, I agree that we don’t need the detail. If sex is necessary to advance the plot, I’m fine with the characters going into a room and closing the door or the author “fading to black.” I can get the idea without the author having to be explicit.

      I’m not quite sure why NA didn’t take off. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s because it got a reputation for being YA with more sex. People assumed it was basically YA erotica. Well, what library or bookstore is going to set aside a whole new section for that? And how many readers are going to buy those books? NA as an age range would theoretically sell more because you’d be getting audiences who like all types of genres, not just people into one genre. Your consumer base would increase a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Morgane @ Bookworms Eat Brains says:

        I’m wondering if it’s really what teens are doing now or if it’s how writers think teens are doing? Do kisses are really nothing to them? Maybe we just get it all wrong? But either way, it’s definitely written backward that it used to be.

        That’s really dumb they don’t use ” New Adult ” more often. Theoretically, it might solve this issue. But, I think you’re right, people have this idea that NA=YA With Sex. Then, how old are the characters play a part too, right?

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        • Krysta says:

          I’ve read a couple studies, books, and articles on dating and the hookup culture. Based on the interviews researchers are doing, it seems like there is a large percentage of young people who hookup before dating. And they usually get drunk first to do it because you apparently aren’t supposed to care to much about hooking up. So you show you are casual by making sure you don’t know what you are doing before you do it. I think it is messed up and very harmful. But, statistically, this is a thing. That obviously doesn’t mean everyone is doing things this way, just that there is a noticeable trend.

          I think it is hard for something like NA to take off without bookstores and libraries behind it. I am pretty sure I don’t know anyone who has even heard of NA if they don’t blog.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Morgane @ Bookworms Eat Brains says:

            Oh, alright! It’s interesting and disturbing. If you have to get drunk to hook up with somebody, that’s awful and yeah, very harmful. That’s not something I did/do, although I’m 22 years old. Maybe that’s because it’s so trivialized in movies/tv show/books that you do it to blend in because that’s supposed to be ” nothing “, right? Doesn’t matter if that’s not how you feel.

            I had not heard of ” New Adults ” books before I start blogging which fairly new. So, I think you guess right.

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            • Krysta says:

              I know plenty of people who don’t do that sort of thing, but the statistic I have seen made me realize it is more common than I thought. 😕 And it is something I see a lot in media, so I am not sure if art is reflecting life or life is reflecting art… But there is a definite sense I get from TV and films that the cool people party, drink, and hook up. I could imagine some people watch those scenes and want to be cool, too.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Morgane @ Bookworms Eat Brains says:

              Exactly! That’s what I was thinking. Maybe life is reflecting art. But, either way, it’s kinda sad that you want so much to be in the ”cool kids” squad, you mimic behaviours that you are not comfortable with because I guess that’s why they get drunk in the first place. 😕

              Liked by 1 person

            • Krysta says:

              That does seem to be part of the impetus. I guess they know they wouldn’t do certain things sobers so have to get drunk first. But, of course, it is then difficult to control exactly what they are doing. A person who is drunk to hook up might end up doing things they didn’t want to do. And it isn’t like anyone else can easily tell what where they would have drawn the line if sober. So what counts as consent? And how can the other party try to check consent if they are drunk, too?

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          • ireadthatinabook says:

            Perhaps. But do they hookup because both want to have sex and don’t see the point in considering it a “relationship goal” where they have to wait an arbitrary time first? If people feel pressured to have sex before they are ready for it it is obviously harmful but otherwise I’m not so sure. It may be healthier to ask yourself whether or not you want to have sex with someone at a certain point (whether very early or late in a relationship) rather than whether or not you have been dating long enough for it to seem appropriate. It’s not too rare to hookup first in my part of the world but I don’t have the impression that people who do generally mess up more (or less) than others. But of course you need to be sober enough to know what you want, otherwise it is clearly harmful.

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            • Krysta says:

              I think it depends on the person. Many young women indicated they didn’t like hooking up but felt they had to to get attention from guys or in hopes of a hookup turning serious later. Some seemed worried they would loss a guy if they didn’t put out because they assumed he would go to a woman who would. Those are the stories that concern me. The ones where the people feel they have to do something because everyone else expects them to. But I am sure other people hook up and are content with not having to pursue a relationship after. The cases will all be different, but the trend seems to be putting undue pressure on some people. 😕

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  9. Sionna (Books in Her Eyes) says:

    The term/phrase YA is so very subjective. It can mean high schoolers, it can mean 13-19y/o, it can mean middle school and high school students, etc. I don’t really like the phrase, to be honest.
    As for the books, I do agree with you. I think many YA writers are focusing on older teens and put out content that pushes that line between young adult/adult. While it also is more mature, I think it is because we aren’t kidding ourselves about teens knowing about/doing more than just kissing. The violence… this I think we’ve become desensitized to. Most parents care more about sexual content in a book than violence when picking books out for their children or trying to get books removed from a library.
    This caring about sex more than violence or not letting teens decide what they are comfortable reading I think is a bigger issue to me. Yes, popular YA fiction is more mature, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still authors coming out with less mature books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      That is a problem with YA. It’s a fluid term. Ostensibly it’s books for teenagers. But sometimes it just means the protagonist is a teenager. But sometimes it means the book is fast-paced and plot-oriented. Or that the protagonist is “finding their place in the world.” YA can actually mean a lot of things and people can conceive of YA differently from each other or differently depending on what book they’re talking about.

      I agree we’re more desensitized to violence. I know plenty of parents who like to monitor their kids’ reading but have no problem with their kids reading The Hunger Games. Apparently kids killing each other is not eye-raising enough for them to suggest their child read something else. But I am pretty sure they wouldn’t want their child reading a sex scene.

      I think there are authors with less mature books, but it just seems to me that there are generally more authors who are writing dark books. Meanwhile, books I would have thought on par with The Giver (such as the Lockwood & Co. series) are now being marketed as upper MG instead of YA. I’m not sure if it’s because there are no “generic” features such as the love triangle, focus on finding one’s place in the world, etc. Or if it’s because it’s just not on the level of something like Three Dark Crowns or Six of Crows.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Nicky Guerrero says:

    This topic is very dear to my heart and I also intended to address it on my blog. Just to put it out there, I am in my 30’s and I read YA and MG (actually quite a lot of MG) and while I would never call for a ban on books, there are times when I am uncomfortable with my 10 year old reading books with a more explicit sexual and violent theme. On the one hand I am glad he can read at that level but I feel like I have to constantly monitor what he’s reading. He may be reading at a certain level but I don’t think he’s ready to read a steamy love scene or about torture and killing. And while I agree it is the parent’s job to monitor, I don’t know every single book’s content. Sometimes I wish there was a label like the kind you find on movies and video games. At his age I was reading goosebumps and the boxcar children. He on the other hand has a whole lot more to choose from and may not necessarily be appropriate just yet.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Bree says:

      A label or rating that contains what a reader can expect as far as violence and sexual content on a book would be FANTASTIC for parents. I have two very young girls (3 and 5) and I’m already struggling with how I plan to monitor what they read. I’d hate to ever take a book from their hands and part of me wonders if they would self censor (I also kind of feel like the things kids learn from their friends at school when I’m not monitoring is probably worse than reading it in a book), but who knows? I’d love to read your blog post on the subject!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Krysta says:

      That’s the problem. YA encompasses such a large age range and it’s impossible to know the content of every one and if a particular book is geared more towards an eighth grader or a twelfth grader. There are some sites like Common Sense Media that try to give ratings and provide brief descriptions of content. I have used those when trying to research a book I haven’t read. It’s not perfect–after all, the context of a scene could change its maturity level–but it’s something.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Carrie @ Cat on the Bookshelf says:

    I agree with karathehuman that I’m not very sure about whether YA has gotten more mature or I’ve grown up. I think it’s possible that it’s the latter, but I tend to think it has gotten more mature. I don’t think that on sex, though, because I still don’t see a lot of it in YA. When I do see it, it tends to be in “problem” books, like This Is Where It Ends. Does it come with the territory? I don’t know. I tend to think the maturity comes with more violence. On the side that YA might have changed, I think our culture sees more violence in the media and probably in life, which would influence YA books.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      It is hard to tell. I just have this feeling that YA is maturing, but I’d love to see someone try to do some sort of study about how depictions of sex and violence have changed (or not) in YA over the years. For instance, off the top of my head, I can think of one sex scene that wasn’t weird or violent. In Alex, Approximately, if I recall, there’s consent on both sides and the guy keeps checking with the girl about what she wants to do. Other instances I can think of involve assault, both parties under the influence of alcohol, more than one case where the guy was unconscious or as good as, and so forth. So it seems like when the sex is there, it’s coupled with violence or murky consent. But I can’t be sure if this is a trend or just some weird thing where the books I pick up are the worst.

      Like

  12. Bree says:

    There are so many great points in this blog post.

    “Much has been written on whether YA books are really being written and marketed for teens, or if they are being written and marketed for the adults who are buying them.”

    “I won’t say that this trend is necessarily good or bad.  I expect that, regardless of what label we give to books, readers will continue to find what they want to read and to self-censor.”

    I 100% agree with you that YA seems much more mature now that it used to be… but teenagers also seem much more mature now than they used to be. And I use the word SEEM very strongly here. I don’t know that they are actually more mature, I think the way they dress, talk, and carry themselves is much different than it used to be even 15 years ago when I was in my teens.

    Does this have to do with the way social media has blown up and how easy it is to access content… maybe. I don’t know the answers either.

    Just like you I’m not saying it is good or bad. It is what it is. It’s not very surprising to me that marketing for YA has followed the trend.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      It does seem to me that children and teens are maturing faster. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were linked to social media since we’ve never been here before. The iPhone was released in 2007. What is it like to grow up with 24/7 access to social media? (Well, studies suggest it’s not good.) I know that there are teens who know words and names of sexual acts that I have never heard of. But it’s all accessible to them on their phones. Sometimes I’m honestly surprised that so many parents give their kids unrestricted access to the Internet all day every day, with zero oversight. I don’t want to be connected 24/7 and I’m not dealing with the pressures of growing up! But I can certainly see YA wanting to keep up with the type of content consumers are used to seeing.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. FranL says:

    It’s an interesting question. I think that there has always been YA aimed at younger audiences and YA aimed at older audiences. Books intended for older readers will have more mature content. I mean in terms of “old school” YA, Levine’s The Wish (published in 2000) is fairly chaste, but Judy Blume’s Forever isn’t, and that was published in 1975. To me the best explanation for that is that The Wish is aimed at a younger audience of kids in the 11-14 age range. Forever is intended for readers who are probably 15+. Both usually catagorized as YA. That means that librarians and educators do need to read these books (or at least read about them) and be aware of content. They also need to be aware of the kids that they give these books too. One 15 year old may be ready for a more mature book, while another might not.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      YA does cover a large age range–ostensibly 13-18–and there will always be difficulties when you’re trying to publish for readers who are pretty fairy apart from each other in terms of age and maturity. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that the general trend is for books to skew towards the 18-year-old end of the reader spectrum. I wonder if The Wish wouldn’t be published as MG today. There are books that I think make sense for the 11-14 yo crowd, books like The Rithmatist and the Lockwood & Co. series, but they are considered “upper MG” and not YA.

      Liked by 1 person

      • FranL says:

        I do think that these days MG tends to cover more than it used to. Ostensibly it’s intended for readers 8-12, but the bulk of the material appears to be for the 11-12 year old readers. I suppose it could be clarified by The Rithmatist and the Lockwood & Co. being explicitly called “upper MG” or some other name that indicates that they’re intended for a slightly older readership than MG for younger readers.

        But I think that like YA, MG in general also targets huge spectrum in terms of age, reading ability, and maturity. What’s appropriate for an 8 year old probably won’t be appropriate for a 12 year old, and vice versa. I think that these are primarily categorizations intended for marketing, but often librarians and educators use them as an indicator of who a book is appropriate for. That’s where we run into problems IMO. I wouldn’t give an 8 year old a book intended for an upper MG or give an 11 year old a book written with a 17-18 year old audience in mind.

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        • Krysta says:

          I think the difference is that MG authors and publishers have a concept for lower and upper MG (which I can see reflected in how my library labels books) so you do get more of a sense about whether a book is geared more towards a third grader or a fifth grader. But people don’t really talk about lower and upper YA. And when I look at my library’s new shelf, the YA all seems like it is on the upper side. Whereas the MG books are more split between upper and lower. I would probably be okay with grabbing a MG off the shelf and guessing its age level based on the cover, length, library label, and age band. If I randomly grabbed a YA I have more trouble guessing unless there is a shirtless dude on the cover or something.

          Liked by 1 person

          • FranL says:

            That’s true. But I think some of the confusion may also result from the covers that publishers go with. I think that there’s a tendency to pick more mature looking covers, even if that isn’t reflected in the content of the book.

            Like

  14. ireadthatinabook says:

    I guess it also depends on what we consider mature topics. I remember reading some very mature books about death and grief as a child. Indeed, one of the heavier (and best) books I’ve read on the topic of death is a MG book (Brothers Lionheart) published in the 1980s. On the other hand sex does seem to feature in more books today, although I haven’t followed the YA scene closely enough to be sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      That’s true! People have different ideas of what a mature topic is and who is ready for what kind of content. That’s why The Seventh Wish was so controversial. It’s a MG book but it features substance abuse. A lot of people argued that there are plenty of children who have experienced similar issues in their families, so it would be silly to try to “protect” them from the content of the book. But a lot of people still felt that this material was too mature for a MG book. I imagine the same can be said of death in a book. There will be some parents who worry their children aren’t ready to read about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ireadthatinabook says:

        In this particular case it may be the parent who’s not ready to read it rather than the child, it’s a much darker story from an adult’s point of view but I see what you mean. I think it is a good thing with MG that features heavy topics, just because many children will actually have some personal experience of it. However, ideally I believe they shouldn’t be something you accidentally stumble upon but something that is clearly labelled as such, and they should definitely be written on a level that is suitable for a MG audience.

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        • Krysta says:

          True. Sometimes the adult is more concerned than the child! As an adult, I am disturbed by Ronald Dahl and She’ll Silverstein. Not to mention picture books like Pete’s a Pizza or Don’t Be a Bully, Billy. But kids seem not to mind all the horrible things happening in these books!

          And that is a good point that you can write about mature content but in an age-appropriate way. The Seventh Wish deals with substance abuse delicately and focuses on the effects on the family and the experience of going to rehab and learning to trust again. It doesn’t go into detail on what the girl is taking, how she got it, what the effects are, et c. I would say it is written for a MG audience and thus is very different from how the subject would be handled in a YA.

          Liked by 1 person

          • ireadthatinabook says:

            I haven’t read Silverstein but I agree that Roald Dahl is a great example of how horrible stories can be told in an age appropriate way. I guess many of my favourite children’s books deal with scary or mature topics but do so in a way that’s adapted for the intended audience. I wouldn’t want the brilliant but somewhat dark stories by Roald Dahl, Astrid Lindgren or Michael Ende to be replaced by saccharine stories either. After all, if done well, good books are a great way to get introduced to more difficult topics.

            I see no reason that sex couldn’t be included in similar ways but it requires an author who remembers their audience and the fact that they are the adult in the conversation and should show good judgement. Not romanticising bad relationships/sex would be good start.

            Like

            • Krysta says:

              Yeah, a lot of children’s books deal with violence and such, but it is done in a way that is maybe less graphic or a way that does not romanticize violence. I imagine other topics can be handled similarly!

              Liked by 1 person

  15. What's She Reading? says:

    I think you’re totally right and the last section of your post especially resonated with me. I was raised in an extremely conservative household and I remember being recommended a book by the school librarian when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I think the book must have had a sex scene in it or something, but I just remember feeling so shocked that the librarian would recommend such a book to me! Didn’t she know I was still a CHILD and should not be reading that kind of material? Looking back on it I kind of laugh at myself, but I think it’s exactly what you’re saying. Up until that point I really hadn’t encountered that kind of content, but supposedly I was in the right age range to be reading it.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That’s basically how I was growing up. I frequently found myself shocked while reading books. I think I even complained in middle school that I didn’t think we should be assigned a book that I knew had a prostitute in it. I usually put the book down because I wasn’t ready for that kind of content. But that pretty much solve the problem. I didn’t read it then, but now I can read something like Six of Crows and not faint. 😉

      I have to admit, though, sometimes I recommend books to people and then I read the book later and I’m thinking, “I totally didn’t remember all this cursing/sex/violence. My friend is going to hate me.” Maybe I just erase content from my mind. ;b

      Like

      • What's She Reading? says:

        Haha the same thing happens to me too! I recommended a book to my sister and she asked me if it had a lot of swearing. I said I didn’t think it did but she came back to me later and was like, yeah there was a lot haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. danielle says:

    I have been thinking about the problems with the YA label for A WHILE now but was too chicken to blog about it. So glad you did! You make so many good points… as a teacher of 11-12y/os, I usually wont recommend YA unless the student is markedly more mentally mature than their peers… and I do know kids self-censor…. but I wish there was a more clear way (categories with rules? Rating system like in movies? Trigger warnings?) to make the mature topics in YA more clear. At least to teachers and parents. Then again… books are how I learned about the world as a kid, so it’s not all bad to read mature books if they’re represented in a healthy manner. 🤷🏽‍♀️🤷🏽‍♀️🤷🏽‍♀️

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Kids do self-censor, but I think eleven-year-old me would still have been happier not having to self-censor. I stopped reading a lot of books I wasn’t ready for, but I still felt a little scarred. I know that eventually the innocence goes, but I was upset about it at the time all the same. :/

      I know that there are some sites like Common Sense Media that provide ratings and brief descriptions of content. I’ve used it before, but it still always is difficult for me to make a call. Someone will tell me their kid can’t read anything violent, but also say their kid has read The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. So…where is the violence cut-off for this reader, exactly?

      I’ve also realized from answering some comments that a lot of the sex I’ve seen represented in YA is violent or questionable. Assaults, sex under the influence of alcohol, sex with nearly unconscious people (usually males because I think there’d be an uproar if the woman were unconscious.) That’s..not how I think most parents would want their kids learning about sex. I’m not saying every depiction has to be like a manual on how to be responsible and safe–that’s unrealistic, for sure. But it does seem like YA is maybe going for shock value and not necessarily considering what formative moments might be occurring.

      Liked by 1 person

      • danielle says:

        For sure. I remember reading Speak in middle school and remember being really freaked out by it. After reading the new graphic novel, I FINALLY realized that the ENTIRE book was about being a victim of rape, and I had NO idea in middle school – an adult told me it was good, so innocent me read it 💁🏽‍♀️ Totally agree with you here.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          Yeah, I definitely didn’t understand a lot of books in middle school. I don’t think reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame in sixth grade was one of my better life decisions. I couldn’t understand it the was I was meant to.

          Like

  17. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    I’m not sure how many people read the comments, but there are some blogs/websites out there that give “cleanness” ratings and such to books and mark whether there’s sex, cursing, drug use, etc. I can’t think of names offhand, and obviously these websites are not necessarily operating on some objective standards, but I think they can be a good resource if you recommend a lot of books to kids and need to know what kind of content is in them without reading them all yourself.

    Like

  18. Leigh says:

    I love your post. I’m so happy that someone has finally said something about the content of YA. I love the genre, but it’s so hard to determine whether or not the content is going to be graphic. Even now that I’m nearly an adult, I just don’t enjoy reading ultra graphic content and I agree with others who said that sometimes younger readers are startled/not ready to read what’s in some novels. Some sort of rating system would be awesome. I mean, everybody has different ideas about what’s acceptable and what’s not, but a least we’d be able to better determine if we want to read it/recommend it to others. I guess it’s just tricky because there seems to be such a gap between 13 and 18. Anyway, love what you said about reading MG. I love reading it but I always feel embarrassed telling anybody so thank you for the encouragement!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, that large age range does seem to be the difficulty. I wonder why YA doesn’t seem to have a concept of lower and upper YA like there is lower and upper MG. Some MG books even have age recommendations on them. I know these are controversial, but I think they are so small that the average reader isn’t going to see the age band and refuse to read a book out of their age range as a result.

      I doing like graphic content either and that is part of the reason I am reading less YA than I used to (along with the love triangles and unoriginal plots). It is really easy to become desensitized so I try to watch myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. oneliteraryfairy says:

    I think the line between YA and adults really blurred in like…the 2010s. Now I think of YA as books about people under 21 and adult books as more relateable to those who have lived longer on this earth. Thats about it.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Haha. Yes, it is weird that YA often means the protagonist has to be a certain age. I imagine teen readers wouldn’t mind reading about other ages. After all, we wouldn’t have Little Women or the Anne series or other classic books where the characters grow up if readers of children’s lit only wanted to read about children!

      Like

  20. saraletourneau says:

    I’m not entirely sure what I can add to this discussion, after reading some of the (fantastic!) comments on this post, which you also did an excellent job in writing and arguing your points, Krysta. Then again, last night I finished Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, which I thought was fun and imaginative and precious. But it also got me thinking about how much YA literature has not just since the 1990s, but in general. (AWiT was published over 50 years ago.) It’s definitely become edgier and more mature in all the ways you described, and depending on the book or author, that could either be a good thing (Angie Thomas’s THE HATE YOU GIVE is an excellent example of mature but realistic and relevant contemporary YA) or not so much (*coughSJMcough*). I wonder if the edginess is also a reflection of the fact that teens are becoming more desensitized to sex, violence, and other mature content they seen in films, on TV, or in real life…

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I could definitely see YA becoming edgier as a result of other media. If everything else is providing thrills and your media is tame, you maybe won’t pull in a large audience.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Katie Wilkins (@DoingDewey) says:

    My gut reaction to this post was to feel that teens can deal with mature topics and we really don’t need to worry about them. However, on further reflection and having read some of the other topics, I do think there is some utility to knowing that the content of books marketed as YA will be no more than, say, PG-13. Otherwise, why are we even bothering to distinguish YA from adult? Is it no more than a marker of character age? I also wonder if this is a result of more adults reading YA, not a reflection of what teen readers are looking for.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I agree! Teens are definitely capable of dealing with mature topics. But the question is: how do we know how the mature topic is being handled? You can talk about things like sex and drugs and death with various age groups, but how you approach it will be different. And I’m wondering if we haven’t sort of lost an age group in the YA section. While I recognize that YA has always talked about sex and so forth, it seems to me that there used to be more of a variety of age ranges that YA targeted. It is quite possible that a larger number of YA books are skewing towards the mature end because adults are the ones buying more of it. The market will usually follow the money.

      Like

  22. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction says:

    I definitely agree that YA books today are a LOT more graphic than they used to be, especially when it comes to sex. It seems to be the consensus that this mirrors our society in a lot of ways (I often hear when YA books don’t contain sex that they’re not realistic). I personally wish that sex wasn’t the automatic response in romance books—it especially bothers me when it seems like kids go from first kiss to sex almost immediately. But I suppose I’m old-fashioned.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I actually almost always find sex in YA to be unrealistic. When it happens in contemporaries, it often seems like an idealized version. My guess is that people want “positive sex,” so there are seldom moments of regret or disillusionment, but, at the same time, I don’t think most people experience a first time that unfolds like a movie. And, unless it’s an “issue” book, there are seldom any consequences that aren’t positive. The teens don’t ever get an STI or get pregnant or just feel like maybe they made a mistake or find that, now they’ve gone all the way, they’ve lost the interest of the guy. These types of things happen in real life, but seldom in a contemporary YA. Usually it seems like the narrative is, “we slept together, it was great, the end.”

      On the other hand, the fantasy books that I usually read tend to have sex associated with violence. Assaults, yes, but also sex with men who are nearly unconscious (I’ve seen this twice already), sex that may be the result of a spell, and so forth. That’s not realistic, either. Or healthy.

      And, I know this isn’t really a popular opinion to have, but there are studies suggesting that it is healthier for teens to wait. Sometimes it seems like I see positive sex advocates advocating for ways for, say, thirteen year-olds having safe sex. Well, maybe I’m a party pooper, but is there is such a thing as “safe sex” for someone that young? The mentality seems to be “they are going to do it anyway,” but I’m not so sure. Thirteen is a little young. I think that there are a lot of thirteen-year-olds who might just want to play with their stuffed animals and do other “uncool” and “childish” things….

      Like

  23. Milliebot says:

    ” Even though I see a lot of bloggers hesitant to read MG because they think it’s “childish,” I would argue that upper MG is actually YA and that YA books are increasingly becoming adult–at least according to old standards.”

    I agree! I hadn’t thought about it, but the middle-grade I read and love today is much like the YA i used to read as an early teen. You’re right, I’d put the Giver and Just Ella in that odd space between MG and YA. I feel like that space needs a name. People do judge books simply because they’re labeled MG. I feel like things are turning towards less judgment against YA and more on MG now (for those of us reading it outside the age range). Lots of MG isn’t nearly as “young” as people think it is.

    Hmm, I had a lot of thoughts on this and now I’m lost. Hahahah. Oh, also New Adult – I’m not sure if that genre is really taking off but I hear that word thrown around on Youtube a lot. I feel like it’s supposed to be a more explicit YA, but YA is already more explicit than it used to be.

    Genres and age groups are so tricky. I know we need some way to classify things, but sometimes I think they should be more fluid.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think that people who feel self-conscious about reading “childish” books like YA sometimes feel like they can justify reading YA if they point to MG as being more childish. But I don’t see YA as necessarily being more sophisticated than MG. Often MG is labelled MG because it features a 12-year-old protagonist instead of one who is 13. Or because the plot is focused on fitting in with friends and family. MG, in the end, is a sometimes arbitrary marketing label just like YA. It doesn’t have to mean the book is childish! Just maybe that a certain age range would also appreciate it!

      Yeah, NA didn’t seem to take off. I hear bloggers use the term, but no one else. I suspect because people began to think of it as YA with more explicit sex and people who didn’t want to read YA erotica didn’t move towards it. If NA could rebrand itself as an age range with all kinds of genres and not just erotica, it might have a better chance at succeeding. :/

      Yes! I agree! Categories are useful. But sometimes they can also be restricting. Kind of like when you see a historical fantasy with a mystery in the library and it has a fantasy genre sticker. Sure, maybe it’s mostly a fantasy, but maybe people who like adventure mystery would also want to read it. But if they go only by the genre sticker, they might miss it!

      Like

      • Milliebot says:

        Yeah I usually find that MG has more depth both in character and plot than YA and they often deal with more hard-hitting themes (rather than just, I love a boy and he doesn’t love me, or two boys love me, which do I choose? I know I’m painting broadly there, but still). I find that a lot of MG also delves into historical fiction, which is important,

        I also think people who don’t understand the genre tend to think that MG is limited to stuff like Captain Underpants and Wimpy Kid (actually, I loved that series). And maybe don’t realize it can contain books like Wonder.

        Also also. 😀 I think more series should grow with the characters. Much like HP, I feel like it starts out as MG and works its way into YA. I’m sure there are YA series that could branch more into adult. It’s nice to see characters grow.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          I agree. I think MG authors have felt freer to buck trends and write books that are interesting and provocative and playful. YA books seem to come in waves where they model themselves after one bestseller and try to recapture the formula that made it sell. Historical fiction seems to be making a bit of a comeback in YA, but I do agree that you see it much more often in MG.

          Haha. That may be so! Nothing wrong with that, though–readers really love both series! It’s not a bad thing to be associated with such success!

          Yeah, I haven’t seen many crossover series. I believe Fancy Nancy tried to cross over from picture books to chapter books or MG (I’m unclear on the exact target age), but I’m not sure how successful a venture that was.

          Like

  24. Andrea says:

    Amazing post, I agree wholeheartedly. This bit: “I think kissing was the old sex” is perfectly in sync with what I’ve been thinking these days when it comes to YA. I think one of the first books that grabbed my attention in regards to this was ACOMAF- that’s dubbed as YA, but I honestly think it’s more New Adult than not. As a matter of fact, I’m inclined to believe that most of what is currently described as YA should be described as New Adult.
    Just as you said, middle grade lit is way more teenager-friendly. I have to agree that YA lit is amazing and that it does bring up a bunch of important points, but most of those aren’t needed when you’ve just finished middle school. I honestly feel like most of what’s currently YA shouldn’t be approached by people under 16… After all, every book has a targeted age range and it’s really beneficial if you read it when the time is right!
    Great post!!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Sometimes people at the library ask what the teen book label means. I used to say sixth grade and up because that’s how the library typically separates the teens for programming. But at some point I realized it would be better to say “high school age.” But really I feel like it would be best to say “16 and up” just because it seems like there’s a lack of books for the lower high school grades. I think YA is still supposed to be for all teens. But it seems like the majority is written for the older teens.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dawnabron says:

        I agree that a lot of contemporary skews older so I make sure I know who the clean YA authors are. Everyone once in a while, the parochial school down the street brings their eighth graders and that teacher looks in the books and will say no if he sees a naughty word. I do also read a good amount of contemporary so that I can recommend clean YA but it is tough to find.

        Liked by 1 person

  25. dawnabron says:

    I have definitely seen a shift in the past four years. For example, in Champion by Marie Lu the characters kiss and the next day they are in bed together. One would assume they just has sex. I just read Furyborn by Claire LeGrand and there is full on oral and finger stuff and detailed sex and I was like whoa-this is YA? I’m a librarian and I will put Furyborn in my collection but if a 12 year old asks me for a fantasy rec, I won’t give them Furyborn. If a 16 asks me, I will. At the same time, if I see a 12 year old with Furyborn, I won’t say anything to them about their choice-patrons are free to read whatever they want. I used to work the adult reference desk and I’d have teens asking for Fifty Shades of Grey and I happily showed them the book. I do not have Court of Mist and Fury in my collection; after I read it I moved it to adult. I do think the most recent Throne of Glass is very sexual but I’m going to keep it in YA.

    As far as angry parents, I personally believe that reference librarians should be reading the books of the patrons they serve so they should be ready to recommend the right book. If they aren’t reading then they should do their research.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Wow. I didn’t know that about Furyborn. I was interested in reading it, but think I might pass now.

      Yeah, I think it’s ultimately the parent’s decision on what their child reads. Even if I think it odd a middle schooler is reading a particular YA, I don’t know them or what they’re used to reading/capable of handling like their parents would. So I wouldn’t tell a teen or child that they should put something down because it would feel a little like overstepping boundaries. I might make suggestions about what people should read, but I can’t think of many instances where I would want to stop someone from reading. It would probably only make them more interested in the book, anyway.

      I definitely agree and I think most librarians read most of their books. Still, my library must have thousands of titles. I can’t see every librarian being familiar with them all!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. MetalPhantasmReads says:

    Reblogged this on MetalPhantasmReads and commented:
    I found this post today and truly appreciate it. I do agree that YA is getting edgier than it used to be. For me, being a religious person, I do not read popular books that have graphic content in them for multiple reasons. It’s interesting how the demographics are changing. I wanted to share this since it has great thoughts on the subject. If you have kids that are reading more, this is a good talk to have with them 🙂 Regardless of where you sit on the subject, it is interesting for those of us who read books in the 90’s and 2000’s, how very different YA is today. I’m curious to see what you think about this.

    Like

  27. MetalPhantasmReads says:

    I love this discussion! For me I think YA is way too mature in some ways now. I’m almost 30 and grew up in the 90’s and 2000’s, where this stuff that’s being published now was much more under the radar. I still do not read certain series or even authors because of the graphic violence, drugs, sex and all that because I can have nightmares and overactive thoughts if I read or see something too graphic. I agree that libraries, teachers and parents need to be aware of books before teens. I know some kids check out more mature books all the time (they look like they’re 11) and that’s crazy to me. If you start reading something and something comes up that makes you upset/disturbed, you can stop reading it. *I know I do sometimes*
    As far as the MG, I read the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale when I was in junior high and high school. While it did move into YA because the MC got older, it’s still meant for boys and was MG in the beginning. Stand up for what you like, no matter what people think 🙂
    As a final thing, I personally think that if a book has really graphic sex scenes and situations (ACOTAR series, Furyborn and ToG for example) I think explicit details should be in the adult section and sold as adult. With porn being in so many places nowadays, I feel uncomfortable seeing those books where 12 year olds can read that stuff…same with awful violence stuff like Nevernight or Red Sister…

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think I mention Pawns in the post. It’s a YA “thriller” from the 1990s where literally nothing happens. A pregnant girl moves in and claims she is the wife of the woman’s dead son. The teenage girl living in the house feels uneasy. Obviously, everyone knows the girl was not his wife and is trying to get his insurance money. The end. That’s the thriller. The fact that this girl moved in and lied about her identity. Yes, that would be scary in real life, but can you imagine that being called a “thriller” today? There’s no violence, no physical danger, no murders. Most people today would read that thriller and fall asleep!

      And I do think that some parents may be unaware of what their teens are reading. I’ve mentioned in some of the comments that a lot of parents are worried about their teens reading something violent or mature, but are okay with their teens having read The Hunger Games. What do they count as violent, then? Or have they not read The Hunger Games? It’s all very confusing to me.

      I think moving more explicit books to an older section makes sense. I don’t consider that censorship because the books are available–they’re just more clearly labelled. When I was growing up, I loved fantasy, but quickly decided to stop trying adult fantasy because I was uncomfortable with all the sex scenes. I associated adult books with more graphic sex. But now books like Maas’s are making it more difficult for readers to know what they’re getting into.

      Liked by 1 person

      • MetalPhantasmReads says:

        Thanks so much for your thoughts 🙂 It is true. I don’t really believe in censorship, but putting them in a different section would be better. With working at a library, I get worried with teens that pick up very graphic book series, but ultimately. it’s up to them. Luckily we all have our agency to choose what we see and participate in 🙂

        Like

  28. Stephanie says:

    I would have to agree with you. I’ve had this thought in passing before. I do think there are some books in the YA category that are definitely pushing the lid and I, personally, don’t feel like books with graphic sexual content should be seated there. It’s actually one of the reasons I’ve lost some interest in the Throne of Glass series. I heard through the grape vine that it got a bit graphic and I was really disappointed and haven’t really picked up the series since. One of the things that attracted me to YA novels when I was younger was because they were the type of stories I wanted to read without the graphic sexual content that you sometimes find in the adult section. It was a safe place for me. I still enjoy it for mostly that reason but now I have to be almost careful with it as I am when I shop in the adult section. Personally, with YA’s age group being 12-18 I think graphic content like that doesn’t belong there. I’ve thought about how mature it’s gotten in just the last few years. Some great books have been published but I definitely find myself being way more selective.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I used to avoid adult fantasy when I was growing up because I didn’t want to read sex scenes. Now it seems that teens may stumble across explicit scenes in the YA section, even though they might have assumed the content would be less graphic. I do feel there is a need for books geared towards younger teens and teens who don’t want to read anything graphic.

      Like

  29. Katie @ Read-at-Home Mom says:

    You make so many good points in this post. I definitely think there has been a shift since I was a teenager in the 90s – and it’s not necessarily a shift I’m comfortable with. I used to like to read YA as an adult because the romances were tamer and sweeter than what is in a lot of adult books, but now it seems like most of the romance novels I pick up do have a sexual scene of some kind in them. And I just feel creepy reading about kids having sex! I think you’re right – today’s upper MG is what YA used to be. I can think of a bunch of sweet MG romances that end with a kiss, but most YA books I can think of that don’t go beyond kissing are older ones. Even authors like Sarah Dessen, who didn’t write sex into their early books, have some sexual references in their newer books. I can’t tell if this is because teens are growing up faster or because the YA audience is skewing older. Either way, it makes me very picky about which YA books I will read these days.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, to me, there is something a little weird about reading about or “watching” a literary couple have sex. That’s a private moment and it feels a little like the authors make the readers into voyeurs when they write those scenes. I’m okay with the author generally indicating what is happening (ex. “They went into the bedroom and closed the door.”) if it’s necessary for the plot, but I don’t need details. And I am a little sad, too, that most YA teens seem to end up into bed together. I know it’s not really popular to admit this, but studies do show that teens benefit from waiting. I don’t think we need to pressure teens or especially younger teens into a mentality where they think “everyone is doing it” or that they have to do it, too, in order to be “normal” or to date.

      Like

  30. Lydia Tewkesbury says:

    I think that kids are in situations they aren’t ready for all the time. Reading something ‘too adult’ that you don’t have the context the really understand until you’re older doesn’t really seem like the most damaging thing in the world. What’s much more damaging is children being put in real life situations that are much too adult for them.

    I also think – like you said – that increasingly age designations don’t matter any more. With streaming services, the news being on 24 hours a day and kids being able to access pretty much anything they want on the internet, the days of age appropriateness are over – but, going back to my previous point, I don’t know that they ever really existed in the first place.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That’s a good point. I read plenty of books I was probably a little young for (such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame in middle school) and a lot of it definitely went over my head. Still, sex scenes bothered me when I was growing up and I would try to avoid them when I chose literature. It seems like it would be more difficult these days for a teen to actively avoid sex scenes in the YA section if that was their hope.

      Liked by 1 person

  31. thebookwormdrinketh says:

    I just finished ‘Illuminae’ and ‘secondborn’ which are technically considered YA… they can get pretty gruesome and ‘seconborn’ contains some pretty steamy scenes!! Definitely a step up from ‘the giver’, ‘a wrinkle in time’ and ‘number the stars’ that I grew up with!!

    Like

  32. Em's World says:

    The sex scenes make me very nervous as a bookseller because unless I read every single new YA book that comes out (and believe me, I try to do that!) I can’t always know how explicit a romance plot is. To be fair, most explicit books mention on the back that it is not suitable for younger readers, but there are also a lot of books who have the same warning, but it is actually a warning for violence instead of sex. It’s also very disturbing seeing a thirteen year old pick up anything by Sarah J Maas to buy, and usually I end up having awkward conversations with parents who think I’m trying to parent their kid by warning them about the type of explicit sex in those books!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, that can be a problem. You don’t want parents to be unprepared, but you also don’t want them to think that you’re interfering in their parenting. :/

      Like

  33. The Book Family Rogerson says:

    I agree that there’s been a shift in age range. Much of YA now seems to be inching towards New Adult (think Laini Taylor, Sarah J Maas) and MG is blurring into teen. There almost needs to be a new category for 8-12s because the band is so wide.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Authors and publishers talk about “upper MG,” which is what I think is now meant for the 8-12 range. But there’s not really a separate section for that in bookstores, so I’m not sure parents or even librarians or educators are aware this concept exists. The other day I saw a librarian direct an eleven-year-old to the YA section because sixth graders are considered “teens” for programming and thus lumped in with high school students. And I wanted to yell, “NOOO!! Send her to the MG section!!! I’ll help her find some upper MG!!” But that seemed kind of weird and, um, rude so I didn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Krysta says:

          Wow, that’s interesting. The last I heard, books were usually classified YA if the protagonist was at least 13, unless the story was more MG in that it focused on something like finding one’s place in one’s family.

          Liked by 1 person

          • factfictionfake says:

            Novels are being sold like Birthday cards specific to a narrow band of people. I read what interests me with regards the storyline and characterisation and not the label on the book store self.

            Like

  34. factfictionfake says:

    Possibly so. YA may be aimed at a younger audience but are read and enjoyed by a broader age range. Personally I think this is a good thing. In fact anything that encourages people to read has to be a good thing.
    Should we be pigeon holing books and being struck with the readership.
    What may be happening is this broader base of readers is marking YA novels more viable and profitable so therefore the storylines are reflecting this. This may be good for the older reader but distracts from the intended audience.
    Meeting the needs of the young reader should remain key. Maybe the needs of the older reader are not being met so maybe a new genre is required.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I think that older readers are the ones spending the money on YA, so publishers would naturally want to target them (and their wallets). Upper MG does seem to be what YA used to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  35. Madam Mimm says:

    Now that you mention it, it does seem more mature to me… I’m not sure why either, but I suspect, like you, that it’s due to a combination of factors. I wonder if it’s a good thing though… I rather miss the innocence of it all! There’s a place for steamy sex and gritty violence in adult fiction, but my old brain refuses to believe children or YAs need to be exposed to it so early…

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, while I have enjoyed some more mature selection such as Six of Crows, I do worry a bit about the middle schoolers in the YA section. Eleven seems like such a young age for some of the stuff they will encounter! It’s just weird to six A Wrinkle in Time and Six of Crows sitting next to each other in the YA section!

      Liked by 1 person

  36. Megan @ Ginger Mom says:

    Absolutely they are! I, personally, don’t want sex in my YA. If I am after that, I will read an adult book. Kids in high school don’t need to be told it’s ok to have sex. You only get to be a kid once. Don’t waste it. Again, another great discussion 🙂

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, part of the reason I don’t read a lot of contemporary adult literature is that I don’t want to read sex scenes. I don’t need that in my chileren’s books now.

      Like

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