Reading YA (AKA How I Used to Read YA vs. How I Read it Now)

This post was brought about by not only some discussion that I’ve seen on Twitter recently but also from an excerpt of a book I read recently. Basically I’m going to discuss how my reading has changed from ages 13-18 to now at age 23 in regards to the young adult genre.

When I was younger, reading was my escape. I mean since kindergarten I’ve loved reading but I think middle school is when I started branching out more than just reading the same few books every year from my elementary school library and repeatedly reading the Harry Potter series. For Christmas when I was 13 my grandma gifted me with two books Graceling by Kristin Cashore and Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I devoured these books. I reread them almost immediately after reading them the first time and from there out I feel like everything changed.

Now fast forward to high school. My tight knit friend group from middle school split up as half of us went to one high school and half of us went to the other. I was very quickly getting worse with my mental health as I tried to navigate a new school, constant fights with my family, and my need to continue feeding into bad habits that were only made worse by Tumblr… Honestly, Tumblr could be an entire blog post on its own *eye roll*.

Anyways, so despite the fact that my friend group split up, we tried our best to stay close. There were three of us that managed to hang out consistently; my best friend, Panda (I’m going to refer to her by her nickname for the sake of this post), and myself. My best friend went to the newer high school in our town while Panda and I went to the older one. Panda and I were essentially inseparable, we hung out constantly, told each other everything (literally everything) and I truly thought I had found my person. So when our friendship fell apart, I was shattered. I won’t go into details but it was a mess and if I could go back and change what happened, I would in a heartbeat. And what makes that whole situation worse is that I was the floater, I didn’t have the set friend group, I hung onto Panda’s, so when we stopped talking I stopped having friends. Sure I had my best friend and people from my church but more often than not I wasn’t allowed to do anything but go to work and school so I rarely got to see my church friends.

So that’s where books come in. I was a loner, had crippling social anxiety, and took way too many AP classes for my own good. I didn’t do shit. I lived my life through the books I read, it was the only way to escape the life I was living. I didn’t date, no one liked me like that. I didn’t go to dances; I was scarred by freshman year homecoming (too much grinding) and worked both years over prom weekend. I didn’t even touch alcohol until I was 20. Books were an escape. I could read about all these people living lives I wanted to live (or didn’t… ex: The Hunger Games) and I could use them to create these epic daydreams about what my life could have been like.

Nowadays I read YA for fun with more of an objective viewpoint for the purpose of reviewing. I’ve slowly grown to enjoy reading adult novels more but I still have a heart for YA, especially because the market has grown so much since I was younger. It’s been a joy to see the way that YA has expanded and to read all the new stories that have been released. It’s even more exciting to read about upcoming stories and see just how creative authors are. So it kind of sucks when I read YA that disappoints me and here’s where my critique comes in with a slight “review” of an excerpt I read for the book The Best Laid Plan by Cameron Lund. I was highly skeptical about this book after reading the synopsis and so when I had the opportunity to read a 60 page excerpt I figured I might as well give it a chance.

The writing was good but the story itself feels like it could leave an incredibly negative impact on young readers. Essentially this book is about a girl who thinks she is the last virgin in her high school graduating class and that she needs to have sex before she graduates because “being a virgin in college is like having a disease”. Yes, that is an actual quote from the book! This book could have taken on a sex-positive tone in so many less obvious ways. Honestly I’m not even sure if I would call this sex-positive… It’s basically putting forth the notion that one has to have sex at a young age to be normal. Spoiler alert: you don’t have to have sex ever to be normal.

There were so many lines that just felt weird to me and all of the side characters either slut shamed or were misogynistic in their own special ways *another eye roll*. This also has one aspect of YA contemporary that has slowly but surely made me feel uncomfortable the older I’ve gotten. That aspect being that one of the love interests in this book is in college while the main character is in high school. I wrote about this more in depth in this blog post in case you wanted to read my thoughts on this (it’s really not all that positive). It pains me to read in the synopsis for Lund’s book that the main character doesn’t want to come across to this college boy as immature. Again, this puts forth really bad ideas. Let me just put this here IF YOU ARE IN HIGH SCHOOL AND A COLLEGE AGED PERSON TRIES TO GET WITH YOU STAY FAR FAR AWAY FROM THEM THEY ARE NOT GOOD NEWS. This guy isn’t even fresh out of high school, he’s 20… Even me, who was one of the oldest people in my grade had only freshly turned 19 by the time I went to college. I just don’t want any young person reading this book and thinking that they are less than for not having sex or even not wanting to have sex, there are so many reasons for not “getting laid” in high school and I don’t think this book was doing anything progressive by making losing your virginity some sort of game.

I think that teenagers are going to do whatever they want to do or can do. It’s also incredibly important to have books out there that talk about things like safe sex or things like that. Looking back at my teen self I feel like this book would have made me feel weird about my decision at the time that I wanted to wait until marriage, granted there was a very quick sentence that mentions reasons that people might stay a virgin… Yeah, one sentence, not much of an explanation or anything because they sped past that real quick *third eye roll*. Overall I think that YA has made many strides over the years with OWN Voices novels and being in general more expansive within every subgenre. So when something like this book comes up where it’s putting forth ideas that could be potentially harmful it just feels weird. And granted I only had access to the first 60 pages of Lund’s book but I don’t think much of anything could get me to love this book by the end of it but if anyone wants to say otherwise I would be willing to hear out your arguments for the book.

I’m grateful that I still feel like I can escape into YA and I’m also grateful that I can use my very small platform to review books that I read. It’s always interesting to read about teens and get a peek into other experiences and I don’t think that’s something I’ll ever get sick of.

This post is at a marathon length now so I’m going to sign off. Have a nice day everyone!