Dumbing Down Young Adult Fiction

So is it just me or have we dumb-downed young adult readers? 
Without sharing my true vintage, (cough) I admit that in my youth YA fiction was almost non-existent. Um perhaps, I’ve answered my own question. Anyhow, as an average teen, I struggled with mathematics and the sciences. 
Still do.
Back then if you asked me what’s ‘pi squared’ I’d have answered, “Depends upon whether it’s apple or pumpkin.” Then I discovered authors like; Robert Lewis Stevenson, Agatha Christie, Jane Austin, Jules Vern, HG Wells, JRR Tolkien, Louis May Alcott, L Frank, and CS Lewis just to name a few.
Unwittingly, I was reading master storytellers that entertained and challenged me to stretch my imagination.  And while I was imagining I was learning. Their stories were well-written prose that included creative word choices far exceeding my limited vocabulary of cool.

I hope we still have innovative authors to challenge the YA generation, but then perhaps, I expect too much.
What say you?

PS: This discussion covers ABA and CBA markets and anything in-between.

8 Comments on “Dumbing Down Young Adult Fiction

  1. Some good points. When I read St. Elmo (Augusta Jane Evans, a best-seller in1866), I had to keep looking up words and mythological references. In our sound-bite society, much has been lost. But we have a wonderful opportunity to elevate our genre, do we not?

    • Lianne, yes we can! I’ve got several YA WIP and despite the present mindset with YA and adult fiction, it’s just not my nature to dumb-down what I write. I had an agent suggest that I rewrite ‘Legend of the Emerald Rose’ in order to ‘simplify’ it for the YA audience. Although, I did consider her suggestion, I decided no. I think we need to elevate and enrich this genre with expectations. PS: I have your book, Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite, on my To-Read list! 🙂 Look forward to your touching story.

  2. Whoo-hoo. Great topic (and not just because I'm a YA author:D). I'm with Maureen on this one. Some of the newer YA pieces (Can I add WinterGirls and 13 Reasons to the list?) use vocabulary that can challenge and add to today's youthful imagination, but if we go beyond vocabulary and plot lines, today's teens are inundated with books containing difficult, contemporary issues (like eating disorders, suicide, and bullying–even in the paranormals and graphic novels). Definitely not topics for the faint at heart or the very young. IMHO I wonder if it is a generational thing (please forgive me, I don't mean to offend anyone–I'm included in that statement:). Teens of this generation have access to things that I didn't. Whether it's through TV, internet, cell phones, or ease of travel, they see and experience the world in such a way that even Huck Finn begins to look unappealing (and I LOVE Huck Finn). They think that book is too simple (can you imagine?). All that to say, their colloquialisms may be different (simple and odd to our ears–I have a couple teens, it's odd:D), but their issues and topic choices are deep and meaningful. Again, great discussion. Thanks for posting this!

  3. I think some of the YA stuff has been dumbed-down, such as the graphic "novels" that are mostly pictures and very little actual reading (why do they call them books when they're comics in a new form?). But I will also say that of the recent YA novels I've read in the past several months, I've been impressed by the quality of the writing. The Hunger Games series, The Uglies Series, Delirium (first in a series) are all pretty riveting (although Delirium does start with a sort of dumb-down voice, it picks up as the action and plot progress). The writing is different from the classics you mention – as most or all books published today are. Our attention spans are a bit shorter, since we have more choices on how to spend our time. I've also been under the impression, because of that shorter attention span/competition for how readers spend their time, that our books should naturally become shorter. However, a recent poll suggested that readers – at least a healthy percentage of them – actually like the longer reads, which I found encouraging. Obviously not everyone is on board for the dumbing-down, fast-food-style book. As a writer, I say yippee!!!Thanks for bringing up an interesting topic, Linda!

  4. Dumb down YA fic? Jingly-bells, I've been asked to dumb down adult fic! No lie. I sent a proposal for my 973 Wales book to a press I won't name, one on the newer, smaller side. They said they liked the tale but were having some issues with the language. I replied that these weren't 2011 Valley girls, so no, they didn't talk quite the same way we do. What's wrong with stretching the horizons, if only a little?

  5. Oy! Two Linda's…no make that three with me. 🙂 Okay, clearly two different opinions. I love when that happens. So how about some current authors and books examples from both sides? Yep time to name names…

  6. I hadn't thought about it. I'm thinking some of it is actually better than what I read as a teen (and that was some time ago) I guess it depends on the author and especially the topics.

  7. Well, I agree that young adult fiction has been dumbed down. I was raised on the classics also, and this is one of my pet peeves. If we feed young adults nothing but dumbed-down stories–even good dumbed-down stories–we fail to give them the mental equipment needed to appreciate the great literature of the last thousand years. I think that's a great pity. I am not yet published, but I hope to be, and I refuse to limit myself to a "YA" vocabulary.

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