Back when I asked our reviewers what they look for in terms of teen appeal, Sarah Flowers said something intriguing that I couldn’t fit in that post, but I’d like to talk about at greater length. Here’s what she said:
“Is there an important teen character or characters, and do they sound like teens? That is, does it feel like an adult looking back, with adult concerns/knowledge/perspective, or does it feel like a teen perspective?”
For me, this is a really crucial question, but I know that many disagree with me, so I want to tease it out a bit. First, let me give a couple of examples from books we’ve reviewed on this blog. In David Hinton’s The Kings of Colorado, the opening and closing sections of the novel take place in the present day, with the narrator now in his 60s, looking back on the main events of the novel. In Amy Cheney’s review she noted that these sections take up very little space, implying (correctly, I think) that if they had been any longer they would have fatally undermined the novel. Even as it was, the heavy nostalgia present in the last chapters was enough to take me out of the novel entirely, even reading it as an adult novel.
Meanwhile, in Richard Ford’s Canada, the entire novel is suffused with what I called in my review the “narrator’s dual perspective as teen and old man”. I noted in that review the connection with Kings of Colorado, and also Mal Peet’s (YA marketed) Life: An Exploding Diagram, as evidence for why I thought teens might connect with Canada, and I think that that dual perspective worked for what Ford was trying to accomplish. But again, for me as a reader, I found the “old man looking back on his life” aspect distracting at best and pathetic at worst.
In other words, I agree whole-heartedly with Sarah’s statement, quoted above, that a novel with a teen protagonist should feel like it is written from the teen’s perspective. To be honest, I’m sort of allergic to nostalgia of all kinds, so perhaps I’m not the best judge, but I find this particular type of trope to be insulting to teens. Perhaps when I get a bit older I will change my perspective, but as of now I find myself more and more appreciating the perspectives of children and teens and highly suspicious of attempts (even my own) to second guess those perspectives. As I said, I know there are many people out there who disagree, and who loved one, two, or all three of the novels I’ve mentioned in this post. Is it just a matter of taste, or am I way out of line? Come on – let me have it!