Tuesday, July 7, 2015

15-Year-Old Protagonists Confuse Me | YA Talk

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I can't be the only one who noticed this. Suddenly you're a twenty-something and go back to your favorite novels as a teen, maybe your even starting a new YA book.

The protagonist is a badass space avenger, fighting for the rights of cannibalistic aliens on a planet that's on the verge of being destroyed by an evil overlord.

They're great at combat, a feared assassin and know no mercy to anyone who comes in their way. They're also fifteen.


Maybe I'm just old, but when I look back at the time when I was fifteen - I didn't fight evil alien kings. I awkwardly tried to make it through high school. I would've probably peed my pants if somebody handed me a gun, even though I would have loudly proclaimed that I would shoot all the bad guys given the opportunity. I never would've gone through with it though. It could be that this was just the mentality of my generation, but I always cringe when I notice how YOUNG the protagonists of popular YA novels are.

I don't get why common themes, even in contemporary YA fiction are love, sex and civil uprisings, when you've got a fifteen year old protagonist on the loose.

Is puberty even a thing in YA?

It's funny how I haven't read a single YA novel featuring puberty without being only about that.

  • Badass assassins don't seem to struggle growing a beard (I mean, we all know, 16-year-old guys all look like twenty-five and can grow full beards within a week at will)
  • 17-year-old girls are masters of seduction and have every guy at their feet because they could pass for twenty as well
  • No body insecurity in sight. 
  • No acne. 
  • Flawless skin and good hair days all the way!
  • Everybody is ready and interested in sex at the same age
Sign me up for living in that world.

You're 18, you're an adult now, right?

I understand that teenagers want to read about people their age going on magical adventures and exploring new worlds.

Every time I read a novel with protagonist 5 or even more years younger than me I'm baffled at how little most novels deal with problems of people who are ACTUALLY that age. They're little adults.
Think about Caelena Sardothien from "Throne of Glass". Think about Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games". If you'd put a real-life grown up in their position, they'd probably pee their pants. 

This is even more unsettling if you consider the fact that YA literature is still frowned about these days, when basically, it features characters that could've been ten years older and nobody would have noticed. Of course there's YA with super immature characters as well, but there doesn't really seem to be an inbetween category in the majority of novels that I read.

Who cares? It's only fiction.

Is it? My whole life I thought that by eighteen I would have figured my whole life out and would probably have experienced a lot of amazing things already. The bitter truth is, you're not even remotely an adult at eighteen and those YA novels I read my entire life didn't really prepare me for that.

Of course you can't argue that fiction reading is the cause of that, but it surely should contribute to your positive development as a "young adult", shouldn't it? The problematic thing about this is that those novels really reflect badly on young, impressionable readers. At least I think that.

So what should we do?

I'm not saying we should stop reading YA with young protagonists saving the world and not batting an eyelash. Representation is key.

I want more novels with heroes and heroines that:
  • Don't want any part in saving the world and flat out refuse
  • Are scared to death every time they're faced with life or death situations
  • Think dating their crush is more important than the fate of the universe
  • Are stubborn, immature and stupid, because we all go through phases like this
  • Simply don't care.
  • Let their mom/dad deal with it
  • Are the sidekick. Not everyone has to be a hero. Not even main characters
I'm sick of reading about teenagers making the right and wise decisions. I want realistic portrayals. 

Maybe you know novels like that and can give me recommendations?

What do you think about unrealistically young protagonists?

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  1. This is a FANTASTIC post. I swear, I've had every single one of these thoughts at one point or another. I completely agree!

  2. Lol, I love this post. I was the most awkward teenager ever. I never could have saved the world.

    I think YA contemporaries do a much better job of showing accurate teenagers than YA fantasy. I thought Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Eleanor & Park both had realistic teenagers.

  3. I was way too self centered for that as a teenager to be honest :D
    Yeah, you're absolutely right. I noticed that, too - well, but I'm not a fan of Rainbow Rowell's books either. The characters are realistic, but the plot is just sooo dull.
    I recently read "Landline" and it was terrible. Haven't read "Eleanor & Park" yet though but I've heard that the issue with that is extreme romantization of asian features. I'm not sure if I want to read that one.

  4. I love this post! It's pretty accurate :) Now that I've not been a teen for a few years already, looking back on YA books that I used to read and love, I can't help but feel a bit weird about the fact that these super sexy and impossibly badass characters are now, in fact, younger than me.

  5. Oh my gosh, I love this post to no end. Honestly, I've wondered the same about YA speculative protagonists - how (and more importantly, WHY) are they all so perfect?! Authors, I hate to break it to you, but none of us are battle-hardened warriors. Getting our hopes up is doing nothing to soften the hardships of being a real-life teenager, zits and all. ;)

  6. I remember when I was fifteen I was so focused on school and friends that if someone asked me to save the world my response would have been something along the lines of "Sophomore year is the most important time for getting into college. My grades and extracurriculars this year will determine my future. I need to go study, sorry find someone else."
    Also, books rarely talk about how sweaty they get when they save the world. Do these characters not sweat? Or use the bathroom?

  7. Well said! It absolutely got the hopes up too high for me.

  8. Nooo, bodily functions are completely irrelevant and non-existent if you're a YA hero, didn't you know? :D

  9. Konstantina PapazoglouJuly 7, 2015 at 8:30 PM

    I agree with you. Maybe this is the reason why I am a little picky with the YA novel I actually read. Being a teenager is awkward, I was no different when I was that age. But I would recommend Slam by Nick Hornby, Doing It by Melvin Burgess and Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, I found all of those books very realistic.

    Aeriko @ http://thereadingarmchair.blogspot.com

  10. Oh! My bad I forgot when they accept the mission or something changes then the magical fairy comes and takes away the need for bodily functions!

  11. Grace @ Rebel Mommy BookBlogJuly 7, 2015 at 9:37 PM

    Wait you WEREN"T saving the world at 15?? Just kidding totally agree. I totally want to see all the things you listed - It would be so refreshing. Great post!

  12. Bunnita @ Worth Reading It?July 7, 2015 at 10:04 PM

    I'm glad I came across the posts and comments. I'm was bother but teens who are childish in the books. I've only have a problem with teens acting too adult when they speak like 30 yrs olds especially when it comes to their relationships.

    Looking grown, guns, and sex well that doesn't really strike me as unbelievable.

  13. Noted, I'm adding all these on Goodreads! Thank you!

  14. I'm a late-bloomer, my time to shine will come :D

  15. It doesn't? I can just tell from my experience and I was a really awkward teenager. Of course it really dependents on each individual person, but ALL ya teenagers are super grown and mature, especially in dystopian lit.

  16. Never apologize for a long comment! Thank you for taking your time to write this!
    You're absolutely right, YA lit has a certain target audience in comparison to adult lit, but I think it just sets unrealistic expectations. The only book I ever related to growing up was The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, and only because the MC Mia is a super awkward teenager.

    I think we're talking about two different things here. I don't consider myself a teenager anymore, so in retrospective I'm thinking "what the heck" - but as a teenager of COURSE you want to read about people your age saving the world. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's super realistic. And reading those books growing up didn't prepare me for anything adulthood has to offer, because they make you believe you're already as grown up as these book characters are at 18.

    I think the key solution is again: diversity. I think the market is too flooded with perfect superhero-like characters in their teenage years. That's okay, but I'm not exactly fond of them. I read a lot of YA and I have only ever encountered realistic teens once or twice.

  17. Bunnita @ Worth Reading It?July 8, 2015 at 7:05 PM

    I grew up in a urban setting with shootings and police chases. Many of the kids I went to high school with looked like adults including me. And as for sex, there were kids having sex in the school during school hours. So those are very believable for me.

  18. I couldn't agree with this more! It really feels like YA protagonists are getting younger, not just their actual age but also their emotional age, but maybe that has something to do with me getting older ahahah. A lot of the time I find the protagonists being fifteen pretty unrealistic, they're making huge ass decision that I, at twenty, would struggle to do. Where have the young teens gone who stay in on a Friday night to watch the Disney Channel premiere of High School Musical *cough*me*cough*. I agree with all of the points you make and if definitely read a book like that!! Bring back the realistic teens in YA fiction! xx


  19. I definitely see your point, though I would argue that sometimes teens want escapism. Is it realistic that a teen saves the world? No - but it's fun and it's a sort of fantasy fulfillment. I do wish there was a little more realism in contemporaries, though. I find it laughable that there are so many teen heartthrobs with washboard abs in books - did you know ANY boy in high school with washboard abs? Um, I'm pretty sure I didn't. And I definitely agree with you that the lack of acne, awkward first kisses and schoolwork is lamentable. While complete realism might not make for amazing reading, I sure would like to see it sprinkled in a bit more!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  20. Thank you! I actually think it does have something to do with getting older as well :/

  21. This is all so very true, but at the same time...
    I'm not sure that I personally would enjoy reading a book about someone who refused to try and save the world or just didn't care or left it to their parents, unless maybe it was meant to be humorous. (In fact I tried to read a book called Blart: The Boy Who Didn't Want to Save the World, which was meant to be funny, but I couldn't get through it). I just feel like those sorts of books couldn't be taken seriously.

    In saying that, I do like it when there are awkward characters or ones that don't have clear skin etc., because it's relatable for me aha. And I'm a lot more inclined to like a contemporary/realistic fiction book if it has those sorts of things.
    I don't know, I guess it all depends!

  22. I have rarely encountered any books about this and I'd be thrilled to read them just for the sake of seeing something new in the genre. Of course this may not be for everyone, but mixing it up a little can never be wrong. ;)

  23. I always wonder about the same things upon finishing every YA book. I'm now 16, and when I read about 12 years old saving the world, or 16 years old discover she is a lost princess, or 18 years old trying to kill the king of the lands, I feel odd. I am lucky that I don't have that pressure, and not living with the enemy, or running away, or facing life or death situations. But still, I feel that I'm not as smart, strong, beautiful, and brave as they are. Or that I am not needed to fulfil greater purpose or whatever.
    But still I LOVE reading YA. And I think I'll will forever and beyond, MG is great, too.

  24. I'm sure you are. You have to consider that these characters are only wearing YA-costumes. They're adults pretending to be young so they can go on adventures. That's exactly the problem, that it makes teenagers like you feel like this.


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