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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens


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!

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark


  1. Karyn Silverman says:

    Wait, but didn’t you defend the YA published Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers when I complained about the entirely too adult perspective over at Someday? That book is laced with nostalgia, which I agree is too often deadly, although I think there are some books — like Kate Morton’s neo-Gothic cozies — that use the nostalgia in order to transport readers and that do have teen appeal. (Then again, the places where the perspective is more teen are also the places where it’s more flashback than nostalgic, so maybe nostagia IS always bad.)
    What did you think of Prep? I usually point to that as a prime example of the looking back voice that can make a novel about a teen not a teen novel.

  2. @Karyn – um, oh yeah, I guess I did. I think the difference for me was that even though the narrator of DTKY was nostalgic for his own youth, Karl and Fiorella existed in real time, not as memories for the narrator. So even though he wanted to compare himself to Karl, Karl was his own person. In the type of story I’m talking about here, the narrator is narrating his own life and therefore is able to imbue his own actions with the weight of what came later. Or something. Nostalgia is deadly, but it comes in at different levels. Also note that I still recommended CANADA and supported KINGS OF COLORADO for this blog, so I didn’t think it was enough to sink them, just to make my personal nostalgia meter run high. YMMV.

  3. Mahnaz Dar says:

    @Karyn, I haven’t read Kings of Colorado yet, but as soon as I saw the title, my first thought was Sittenfeld’s Prep. On the surface, it sounds so perfectly YA–girl going to boarding school, dealing with feelings of alienation, etc.–but the book is really more about capturing the awkwardness and pain of youth that I don’t think most young people are really aware of, because they’re so in the moment. Teens often feel lonely/depressed/unhappy but I don’t think they always know exactly why. Sittenfeld lays it out so perfectly through her character Lee Fiora but I think she does so in a way that will resonate more with adults than with adolescents.