Do teens still drive Young Adult literature?

Here’s a speech Justine Larbalestier gave at WisCon, which she posted on her website. She’s not asking the question about whether teens are driving YA; that’s my question after reading her speech. Here’s what Larbalestier says:

Most of the top-selling SFF books in the USA are YA, not adult. Many YA books sell millions of copies all over the world. Not my YA books, alas. Can’t have everything.

YA, of course, could not be this huge if only teens were reading it. The Hunger Games trilogy sold far more copies in the USA than there are teenagers. Adults are reading YA in huge numbers. Adults are making YA super profitable for publishers.

But it was teens that started the YA explosion. They were the ones who pushed the Harry Potter, then Twilight, then Hunger Games series on their parents and teachers and other adults in their lives. Pretty much every mega-hit YA book starts out that way.

This strikes me as totally true. I’m just wondering whether it’s still true today, now that YA is so popular with non-teens? Not only do lots of people my age and older enjoy YA, obviously many of the teens who pushed Harry Potter have grown up and are no longer teens, but probably lots of them still read YA. So now what age group will drive the uber-popularity of the next YA megahit series? I just wonder.

This speech is also focusing quite a bit on the societal tendency to disregard or dislike teenagers. While an interesting point, I don’t think a society-wide dislike of the young is necessarily focused on teenagers. We also see a lot of that directed at younger children.

I read an article or book once that discussed how this kind of dislike can be aimed at a particular generation, sparking a lot of “Rosemary’s Baby” kinds of movies when the generation is composed mainly of infants and then tracking that particular generation through time with movies like “Children of the Corn” and finally bad-teenager movies. Maybe that was in Straus and Howe’s GENERATIONS? Anybody happen to recall?

Anyway, Larbalestier covers a lot of ground in this speech — society’s current dislike of teenagers, the way teens today never get time to hang out without tight supervision and how that might be a factor driving them toward social media — it’s a wide-ranging speech.

I will add, I hated, HATED the set up in Larbalestier’s MAGIC AND MADNESS where using magic turned you evil, but refusing to use it made you go mad — or something like that. Some kind of dreadful catch-22. I haven’t read many other YA (or adult) fantasy novels where magic was intrinsically terrible, and it is so not my thing. Well written trilogy, though. I’d have liked it a lot if not for the background worldbuilding pertaining to magic.

Anybody read anything else by Larbalestier? What did you think?

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4 thoughts on “Do teens still drive Young Adult literature?”

  1. I have to agree on Magic and Madness—I even HAVE the book, but think I only read it once because I disliked the way magic worked.

    Personally I like YA for being both (generally) more tightly-focused than a lot of adult books I’ve read, plus having less sleeping together (although that varies depending on the book in question). I know there are adult books that fit that criteria, but it’s so much harder to FIND them that it’s not usually worth the trouble.

    What would be excellent is a rating system for books like they do for movies/games so you can get some idea of the content level going in. That would help me find more adult level books that I might enjoy.

  2. If I recall, using magic shortened your lifespan – it didn’t make you evil. It was an interesting idea, but didn’t quite work for me.

    Larbalestier’s book How yo Ditch Your Fairy was cute, if a bit lightweight. Liar got a pretty good critical reception, but I don’t remember connecting to it strongly. (Too long ago for me to remember exactly why.)

    I’ve generally had better luck with her husband’s books (Scott Westerfeld).

  3. Sarah, right you are, that was it. Die young or go mad, those were the choices. Still very much a catch-22.

    I didn’t know she was married to Westerfield — I have one of his on my TBR pile right now.

  4. Megan, I would particularly like a romance rating for SFF novels: zero romance, sweet romance, angst-ridden obsessive romance . . . though it’s true I would have missed Daughter of Smoke and Bone that way. But I enjoyed that series despite, not because of, the high-octane angsty romance.

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