This was a pretty consistent and hot topic on Twitter and so, of course, we decided to share our two cents over here. Ladies, gents, panel of judges, we hope we manage to convince you and not confuse you in our
battle to the death debate!
Topic: Is it right for books for teens to be rated lowly in reviews by adult readers if they read like they are for a younger audience?
Good day readers. Panel of judges (😉). My stance on this debate is No. It’s a very common sight on Twitter and Bookstagram where we see adult readers rate/review a YA book lowly because it reads as too young, and it’s not one I particularly agree with.
As an adult who writes and avidly devours YA, that’s a hard NO. The only time I’ll fault a story that isn’t written for me as a demographic is when I feel it has editorial or structural issues. Otherwise, if you go into a book for teens expecting them to speak/act like thirtysomethings, that’s no fault of the book.
I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and say Yes – because when it comes to book ratings, I think it should be fully up to the reader to decide, even if it’s for seemingly ridiculous and unreasonable reasons like not liking the MC’s sweater colour! There could also be valid reasons why a reader expected a YA book to read a little more mature – for example, because the book was pitched as a crossover, or because of the way the back cover copy was phrased. Reading is a highly subjective matter (sadly, as those of us who’ve been in the querying trenches will know), so I don’t believe in policing anyone’s opinions about any book. Authors – just stay away from the ratings and reviews for the sake of our own mental health!
I had this discussion with a beta reader about one of my books and it made me change my perspective. Previously I would have said hard No. But after she read a piece of mine, she told me the premise read upper YA with crossover and felt like the characters should be talking more maturely. That’s why as an author I understand that is all about the reader’s experience so I will go with Yes.
I’m a huge fan of reading reviews—even though I abstain from reading mine!—and I especially love long reviews that dissects a story. One because it’s interesting how eloquent some readers have become as writers from years of reading and just how intricately they catch every piece of a story, and reading their views is just stunning. However, each time I see that comment that a YA book reads as too young, I feel it’s really unfair to the author. What is it supposed to read like? Old? I’ve seen many recently where the readers say they are outgrowing YA or falling out of love with YA hence the foundation of the low rating. And it’s often crazy because when you do see the comments from actual teens, they LOVE these books. So is it really right going into a YA book with the expectation that you actually want to read a story for adults staring 18-year-olds? And I’m not being biased on this because my YA novel reads more like a crossover and could easily serve as adult too. I’m still fairly new to reading the YA genre, and while I favor reading adult more, I don’t go into a YA book expecting teens to act mature and put together, or to sprout wisdom like Uncle Iroh from AVATAR. Not when I was the queen of drama myself as a teen.
I can see the argument when it comes to where it fits in the genre. Upper YA (edging on NA), younger/clean teen, even down to micro-genres within fantasy or sci-fi. You want your story to be consistent in tone so you’re not losing your audience by making your college-aged MCs sound like Disney Channel characters. I think it can be a double-edged sword in that regard. On one hand, you’ll encounter people who leave 1-star reviews, stating they’ve “outgrown YA.” That scenario is unfair to the author because it’s 100% on the reader who chose to pick up the book, knowing immature teens are part of the package. On the other hand, I’ve read YA contemporaries with enough spice, that I couldn’t recommend them to a younger reader in good conscience. I’d never rank them lower if it didn’t deserve it though, I’d merely point it out in my review. Unfortunately, if you want the latter reviews, you’ll also have to endure the former.
I think the issue is in differing ideas of what a review/rating actually means. To many readers, a rating is simply about personal enjoyment. How much did I enjoy reading this book? And there are many subjective factors influencing whether or not someone enjoys a book. For me, I prefer commercial to literary works, which means if I read a literary-leaning book, I’m likely not going to enjoy it and might give it a low rating. But it doesn’t mean the book is bad – it just means it’s not for me! If I choose to pick up a YA book because it sounds interesting, but then after reading it realise that I’m not enjoying it as it’s too “young-sounding”, hence I rate it 1-star – again, it doesn’t mean I think it’s bad writing, it just means I didn’t enjoy it for personal reasons. I think many readers don’t consider the author’s POV when giving a book rating and don’t intentionally mean to put down an author’s work. It helps to remember that reviews/ratings are about the reader, not about the author!
The thing is when authors come into the picture, we often view reviews/ratings as appraisals of our work, hence we sometimes take poor reviews quite personally. And it hurts. We also worry that poor ratings means other readers won’t want to pick up our book – which is totally valid! I think we should trust readers out there to make their own judgements after reading all these reviews though, and eventually our books will still be able to reach those who love them 🙂
I think like everything in publishing, ratings are super subjective as well. I have read reviews were a book was given 3 stars and when I actually read the review there was nothing really to me that made it 3 stars. I have met people that when they review a book, for them to give a 5 star review, the book has to be close to winning a Pulitzer award. I usually give 5 stars reviews to books that become comfort books or are super easy to read. Maybe that is the reason why I think the reviewer can leave their thoughts freely in the review (Every reviewer has a different standard…there is not really a guideline for reviews), regardless of the outcome. The only thing I sometimes struggle with my own point of view is that at the same time a reader is most likely going to pick a book that has 4.5 stars vs 3.5 stars without actually reading the reviews. It is a double edged sword.
I have to disagree that many readers don’t mean to put down an author’s work when leaving reviews. Most might not, but a fair amount leave negative reviews on Bookstagram and Twitter, and make sure to tag the authors so the authors can see them. I’ve seen plenty of authors tweet (into the void) that readers can express themselves but should please stop tagging them in scathing reviews. Usually this is because in the reviewers minds they want the authors to see what they think said authors should fix in their books—and so when this review is saying that a story reads too ‘youngish’, they want the author(s) to write more mature YA characters going forward.
I totally agree with Amber though that reviews are for readers to express their feelings over a book. But my hill is that when adults decide to read a young book, they should expect first that this book is gonna read like a teen book. It might not—but it most likely will. Bad decisions will be made, MCs will pout, there will probably be a love triangle, and sudden waterworks. It’s the teen experience and the audience are majorly teens. Wouldn’t it be so funny/puzzling if we read reviews to Adult books where teenagers rate a book 1 star and says ‘ugh, these characters speak so maturely and have their stuff together, it’s unbearable to watch!’ 😂 Anyhow, adult readers constantly putting down YA for being YA has put writers of the genre in an uncertain space where they aren’t even sure who their target audience is anymore, or how they are supposed to write. Because the truth is that audience opinion does affect/influence the industry.
I think one of the things that can be confusing is how broad YA can be as well. I do not want to open a can of worms but the tone and the voice of some books for some reviewers can be considered New Adult instead of Young Adult and that has been mentioned as well (Similar to what Sarah said). I think the spectrum of YA has grown so much that it can be a gray area on reviews. New Adult is still a new frontier and I think that might be another reason why the lines between YA and Adult can be easily crossed especially in romance and fantasy. I also think some disagreeing reviews can help other readers to know what to expect and if it is something they want to read or skip. I also believe that if the reader did not DNF the book and is actually pointing out the voice and tone of the book, the author made the reader feel something even if it is annoyance! Sorry this is me saying everything has a silver lining.
Speaking of the breadth of YA, here’s an interesting bit of information I discovered from my agent. Did you know that the YA category doesn’t quite exist in the UK publishing world the way it does in the US? If you look at the Sunday Times Bestsellers list, which is the UK equivalent of the NYT list, you won’t find the “YA” category there. Your YA book will either be categorised together with all the Adult books, or it’ll go under Children’s. It goes to show how fluid category definitions can be, even among publishing professionals! Ultimately I think it boils down to expectations – what do you expect when you pick up a book? Sometimes these expectations might be misaligned, and readers get disappointed. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not anyone’s fault. Let’s all just practise a little kindness when it comes to giving feedback!
Alex and Amber, you’re so right about how broadly YA can stretch, which is what also influences the expectations about how it reads. In the end though, I hope readers of the genre can put all of these into consideration when deciding to read YA books! Based on some authors of YA tweets, the low rating of YA for reading young really affects them.
As closing comments, I appreciate the different perspectives and I am just glad people keep reading books!
Hang in there authors! I know it’s hard when we get negative reviews of our work for whatever reasons, but it’s impossible to please everyone so let’s take it in our stride and remember that there are tons more people who love what we’ve written 🙂
We hope you enjoyed our debate! Share with us in the comments what you think about this topic!