Fast food restaurants are famous for doing market research to pinpoint their customers’ needs, but what teen consumers are looking for in a novel is sometimes obscured by assumptions on the part of Young Adult writers.
Most authors know that teenagers like to read books about kids who are a few years older than themselves, and that girls will read “boy books,” but boys don’t usually like to read “girl books” (at least in public). Beyond that, many writers seem to think that if their protagonist is a young adult, the manuscript qualifies as YA.
In fact, there are numerous aspects to consider when penning a developmentally appropriate novel. Teens usually enjoy works in which they can identify with the protagonist, but in situations that are out of the ordinary. They like to see how a character tackles a problem, and then reflect on what they might have done in a similar situation. Coming-of-age stories are always popular, as are stories where teens somehow best the adults, or prove themselves through adversity, or fight and win an underdog cause, or find out that something they’d been led to believe isn’t true. Good vs. evil and the suspense of a character making the “right” choice instead of the “wrong” one seems to hold a particular fascination.
“Young Adult” is currently defined by the American Library Association as ranging in age from 10-25. Many writers informally classify their work as “Young YA” or “Mature YA,” because of the disparity in emotional development within that age group.* Ignoring this aspect of the genre can actually be detrimental to the reader. One of my sisters, a pediatric nurse, recently attended a lecture given by a psychologist who said it is not uncommon for teens to experience intense anxiety and other problems because of reading material that they aren’t emotionally ready for.**
There’s a lot to think about when authoring content for that diverse group, and writers need to make sure that their product is suitable for the target market. Fast food chains are coming under fire for providing what kids want at the expense of what is healthful. No one expects them to serve broccoli, but with a little creativity, they should be able to come up with something nourishing that also satisfies the palate.
*See my previous post, “Considering Asychronous Development in Book Selection.”
**Victoria Mixon just blogged about this topic on June 15th, and it’s worth a read.