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!

A Trope That Never Bothered Me Before

So I finally sat down to read Save the Date by Morgan Matson. I’m going to preface this post by saying that Morgan Matson is one of my all time favorite authors and I will read absolutely anything that she comes out with. I also used to be quite obsessed with her Top 8 series the she wrote under the alias Katie Finn.

Warning you now that this post will contain minor spoilers for Morgan Matson’s books.

MorganMatson
I got this picture off of Morgan Matson’s website in case any of you were wondering 🙂

I’ve read every single one of her books multiple times (except Second Chance Summer, because 1. It makes me sob and 2. I don’t have a physical copy of it) and until reading Save the Date I never realized that there was a common theme in her books that now really bugs me.

In almost every single one of these books, the main character is a high school student (I think every single one is said to be 17) and the love interest is in college. As I was reading STD (yes, I am going to refer to it as that for the rest of this post, sorry!!) I kind of figured that Jesse was going to be a scumbag, it just made sense that Charlie had to have her little crush shattered by the person she thought was her “dream guy”. It made me so uncomfortable that Jesse is a sophomore in college and he’s trying to have a casual hook-up relationship not only with his best friend’s sister but also a high schooler.

Matson’s main characters are all romanced and a few are even implied to have lost their virginities to these college boys. To me this just screams inappropriate. I get that a lot of these are very innocent, I mean apart from scumbag Jesse, the farthest Charlie goes with a guy is a kiss on the cheek from Bill at the end of STD. There’s also a whole lot of underage drinking and other shenanigans… Like in The Unexpected Everything Andie was almost caught drinking at the age of 14, yep FOURTEEN! And okay, maybe I did spend my entire high school career reading books and staying up too late scrolling through Tumblr and taking too many AP classes but I still feel like 14 is really young to be out partying.

When I first read Matson’s books I was in high school and I never thought anything of an age difference or even a lifestyle difference but now that I’m older and have gone off to college and just been in the “real world” for a while I can’t even begin to imagine wanting to date a high schooler. Now I do think it’s different when someone continues to date a younger boyfriend/girlfriend when they leave for college but I also don’t feel comfortable with people who do things like date a freshman when they’re a senior. And yes, most of the characters are just finishing up their first years of school (or in Clark’s case, not in school at all) but that’s a whole year of being an adult and they’re deciding to be with high schoolers.

And you know what, maybe I’m crazy in developing this dislike for the pairings that are developed in these books but I just feel like no one who has moved past high school should be dating someone who is still 17. I’m in no way condemning Matson’s books, but I also don’t want impressionable young girls to read these books and fall for the Jesse’s because it’s “cool” or “exciting” to be in love with a college guy. Trust me, young girls reading this, college guys aren’t that great… Honestly, most guys aren’t that great. Read your books and wait to find someone who actually cares about you!

On a similar note, I also have never found myself interested in books where college students fall for their professors. I just think it’s a storyline that doesn’t make sense. There’s a power difference there that makes me uncomfortable and I don’t really think that there needs to be as many stories involving this storyline as there are.

As I’m working through Morgan Matson’s books again this spring, as I tend to do, I have to wonder how many other odd tropes I’ve just looked over in books before. Like I mentioned in my Rereading Old Favorites post I have to take a step back from a good chunk of my old favorites just because there are so many issues in them now that I completely brushed over in the past.

I really do like Matson’s books but I do hope that girls don’t romanticize dating an older boy because of the couples that she creates. When I was first reading her books it never occurred to me that this could even be an issue, I didn’t know any older boys and honestly I know that not a single one would’ve looked my way anyways. But I know that there are other girls out there that would and still will catch the attention of older men and I genuinely worry. I know that high school relationships can be awkward but that doesn’t mean that we have to glorify dating older people because they’re “mature” and “experienced”.

All in all, I don’t want to just brush this off but at the same time I have to wonder just how influential these relationships might be… I mean, maybe I’m reading too much into things and it means nothing. But I just got that nagging thought after reading STD and had to sit down to write about it.

Do any of you have thoughts on this? Or know of other YA books that have this trope? I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head but I’m sure there are others out there.