When I tell people I write romantic thrillers they are usually intrigued. Impressed, even. When I mention I write about teenagers, though, everything changes.
I can see the psychological walls go up. They look embarrassed. Oh, their eyes say. I thought you were a real writer.
The question I have is “why?” Why are novels targeted at 16 to 19-year-olds valued less than other books?
It seemed to begin with film adaptations of books like Twilight. While hugely popular with film-goers, it received contemptuous reviews in the UK, mostly from male adult reviewers. That corrosive reception trickled down to the book level, resulting in a widespread snobbishness. It is simply accepted by many adults that there is nothing worth picking up in the teen section of a bookshop.
Certainly, crossover reading is a much bigger phenomenon elsewhere in the world than it is here. Studies estimate in excess of 80% of YA readers in the US are over the age of 21. This results in much higher sales figures than we see in the UK. In the US, the Twilight and Hunger Games series acted as gateway drugs, introducing adult readers to YA. Once they were in they were hooked. It’s easy to see why: there’s huge diversity in the writing. In the YA section you can find gritty contemporary tales, imaginative fantasies, dark crime, stomach-churning horror. And all of it so fast-paced as to be almost dizzying.
The same phenomenon didn’t happen here, though, and some of the fault may lie at the bookshop level.
On a recent trip to Dallas, Texas, I visited several large suburban book stores. In each, the YA section was right in the middle of the fiction section, brightly lit and spacious, with long rows of bookcases and a few tables.
In the UK, the teen section is almost always hidden away or tucked in a dusty corner. It usually consists of no more than a single bookcase.
It’s also usually near the children’s section, which can make for uncomfortable shopping. As an adult male friend of mine once said, “Whenever I browse the YA section, I expect Operation Yewtree to sweep down on me at any second.”
The issue is frustratingly simple: if you want people to buy books, don’t make them feel bad about the books they buy. If people are too embarrassed to go into the YA section, how can they discover books they might like?
C J Daugherty is the author of the YA series Night School, which is published by Atom