I've been working on this post for over two years. It's something I've thought about a lot recently and something I've had a bit of a hard time grappling with.
Today, I'm talking about what it's like to grow up in YA. To grow from YA's target audience to outside of it. To realize that the characters you identified with, loved, hated, cheered for, are suddenly younger than you. Because, when I first started reading YA, at fourteen, they were almost always older. And then as a got older, the same age. And as I entered my 20s, it was a hard thing to realize the characters didn't age right along with me.
It all started with Silver Shadows by Richelle Mead.
When Bloodlines was first released, I was seventeen. Sydney Sage, the narrator, was eighteen. I liked that we were so close in age. As I was aging up, I liked reading older narrators.
When I was reading Silver Shadows, the fifth book in the series, I realized something that startled me. In it, Sydney was nineteen. That took me aback. I was used to reading Sydney when she was older than me. She was always mature, responsible, clearly older than my I-can't-even-figure-out-how-to-do-the-laundry self. But...she wasn't. By the time I was reading Silver Shadows, I was actually two years older than Sydney. How the hell did that happen? (Okay, logistically I know how that happened but really how the hell did that happen).
Not long after the Sydney incident, I couldn't sleep. So, I picked up one of my favourite books, Stray by Rachel Vincent, in hopes that it would help me relax. It's not a YA book, but it really drove home what had been nagging me these last couple of years.
I remember when I first picked up Stray. I was doing what fifteen-year-old me did best: searching my library's catalog endlessly for a new read. Stray sounded really interesting, in the same vein as the books I'd been reading but also really different. I brought it home and promptly read the entire thing in basically one sitting. I didn't know it was an adult book at the time just that loved it completely. It sucked me right in. Even all these years later, it still does. As I was reading the beginning this time around, a sentence set off alarm bells in my head.
"In my entire twenty-three years, I'd never heard of a stray getting this far into our territory without being caught..."
Faythe was twenty-three. When I first read Stray, I thought Faythe was...well...old. She was eight-years older than me. At fifteen, I couldn't even imagine being twenty-three. Faythe was in grad school; I was in grade ten. Faythe had two guys after her; I'd never even been on a date. Faythe was independent; I was not even slightly.
In less than two months, I will turn twenty-three. I will be the same age Faythe was at the beginning of the series. And it's jarring. My image of Faythe is altered because now I see her as a peer, not as an adult. I don't have the same perspective on the story as I did at fifteen.
Growing up in YA is just weird. You go from being younger than the characters, to the same age, to older. But it doesn't feel like that. It feels like you're still their age when you read YA.
YA has always been around in some form, but during my early teen years YA BOOMED. My book store went from having a couple of YA shelves to having entire walls. And I devoured it. There were so many books I could read, so many worlds I could enter. It was my sanctuary when I needed it the most. It became the thing I revolved my life around. And it still is. I want to work in YA (in whatever form that ends up taking). I want to keep reading YA. I want to champion and sing YA's praises from the rooftops.
But, YA isn't my space anymore. Not really. It's a space I get to enjoy, a community I have my roots in, and something I care so deeply about. But, I'm not a teen anymore and YA should be written for teens. There's been a lot of talk recently about how adults needs to respect teen spaces, particularly in the YA community. It's important to remember that YA is for TEENS, not adults. And I understand. I understand how hard it is to let go of this space, to understand that as much as I enjoy it, as much as I will never truly leave it, it isn't being written for me anymore.
My bestie and I were talking about this and she said that since we were around for the YA boom it feels like it's ours. It's something we don't want to give up. And we don't have to. We don't have to stop reading, loving, and championing YA. But, we have to acknowledge our place in it. Which is, in a sense, outside of it. I'm not going to pretend its easy, cause it's not. It breaks my heart. It feels like I've lost something, even though I really haven't. But, I'm slowly coming around to it. Because I'm getting an entirely new perspective on YA, in a sense. And dammit, I can read whatever the heck I like.
I'm not good at growing up. I never really have been. I hate birthdays and age questions and not being the youngest in the room (long story). And I know I'm not the only one. And I know I'm probably not the only one having this weird how-did-I-get-older-than-these-characters feelings. It's a hard thing to acknowledge, but one I think is incredibly important.
I'll never stop reading YA. I just need to find my new place in it.
- Ciara (Lost at Midnight)