To follow up on last month’s post, I checked in with a wide range of middle-school- and high-school-age readers and asked them to speak directly to young adult authors. I wanted to hear what they particularly love–and hate–in the young adult novels they read. For the record, I decided to include some middle-school-aged readers because they are definitely reading YA these days, as evidenced by the regular emails I get from readers in the 11-13-year-old range. Also, these ‘tweens will soon be teens, so they are our “future” target audience if they’re not already reading YA. But first and foremost, I think we need to remember that YA/teen fiction is for …well, young adults and teens. So we want to write stories that they want to read, right?! So… what young adult readers want… in their own words:
“I love books with a good mystery – something to get my teeth into. If a book is too transparent or simple I won’t think of it as a well-written book, and a good character should have some skeletons in the closet too. If you have a pretty, shallow heroine, the only thing that could make her relatable is having (for example) divorced parents, or a parent with an alcohol problem that she has to help deal with. Something that you find out at the end of the book shows fore-planning by the author (eg the hints that you can find in JK Rowling’s work when comparing books 2 and 7).
Things that I hate in YA are soppy characters with no substance that you can’t relate to and love triangles with no purpose. If you have either 2 boys who you find pathetic or 1 boy you definitely root for then it isn’t a good plot device. In the case of ‘The Hunger Games’, the love triangle used helps reveal Katniss’s inner thought, and causes he to worry. She genuinely doesn’t know who to pick. Some books however mis-use love triangles and just add them just for teen girls to fancy. I respect an author far more if they create strong characters that I either love or love to hate.” –Georgina
“I need some more real life in my supernatural. Even though I find a girl falling in love with a werewolf fascinating, I can’t relate to it. However, I can relate to a girl who is having difficulties with her friendships. A nice mix of the two would bring more balance to the genre.” –Alessandria
“I abhor love triangles. I’m okay with like, a minor love interest that has absolutely no chance. But no earth-shattering choice – that’s awful.” –Alyssa
“I’d like more fantasy adventure with a little romance thrown in. Saving the world is a great premise. I’d like to see more mermaids and shapeshifters.” –Anonymous
“No insta-love unless it has a reason (like a character is under the effects of a spell.) That’s the biggest problem I’ve seen in a lot of recent YA releases, especially PR. It completely destroys the verisimilitude of the story.” –Kayley
“I hate it when all the characters in a book are exactly the same. At my school, some kids curse, some don’t. Some are snarky, some are sweet. Some are dependable, some are careless. If you populate your book with a bunch of clones, it isn’t realistic.” –Gina
“I hate it when it’s obvious that the author is trying to teach us some kind of moral lesson. Don’t preach to us. Just tell us a story!” –Nicole
“I hate it when every character is a book curses, drinks, and has sex. Not every teenager does, you know.” –Bethany
“I like characters I can relate to, sometimes when a character is my own age. Also, I like when a story takes place in another time or place that I can learn about throughout the story. I don’t like it when an author has the beginning of a story very slow, then all the action packed into the end. I like when there is suspicion and plot development right at the beginning.” –Max
“YA fiction shouldn’t have too much cussing, but should be moderate.” –Maddie
“A few of the things I like is when there are not long periods of nothing interesting happening. Also, sometimes the first chapter of a book will have a long introduction-ish thing like “I will tell you about Harry Potter. He was born in 1281. His parents died when he was little,” which I think is annoying and gives away the first part of the book. Also, if there is an evil character, I like when there is a chapter or two on everything from the evil character’s point of view, so they are a person with feelings and not just the ultimate bad-guy.” –Ian
And there you have it, what young adult readers want! I think it’s a good reminder that our young adult “target audience” is a smart and sophisticated bunch with strong opinions. It’s also a good reminder that you can’t possibly please *every* reader. Still, I think we can find some commonalities in the above responses as to what young adult readers want.
But more than anything, I urge you to get out there and *meet* teens and pre-teens. Talk to them. Ask them what they’re reading, and start a dialogue about those books. Do that, and you’ll be on the right track.
Kristi’s YA debut, HAVEN, was released by Simon Pulse in Feb. 2011. She also writes adult fiction (historical romance) as Kristina Cook and Kristi Astor. Visit her online at www.kristi-cook.com.