Why I Didn’t Read YA as a Teen

It was all bad.

Sending magic your way…

…okay, there’s an actual blog post coming. I promise. 

As an adult, I have read far more YA novels than I did as a teen. Part of that is the difference in the world in the past 10 years (I did not have a QWERTY phone until I was 17, for example, and accessing the Internet on your phone was something you accidentally did and got slapped with a $1 fee for doing). But part of that is because… there was nothing I wanted to read out there. 

I was, and am, an avid reader: I read every Rick Riordan I could get my hands on, got books as gifts my entire childhood, and worked at a library during high school. Back then I didn’t use the term YA – our bookstores were divided along different lines. There was the books for 9-12 year olds, or the MG, and then books for teens, which is now YA. I’m not sure if we were just slow on the uptake here, or if YA was still a new term, but either way, as I became a teen I was like “huh let’s go check out these TEEN books”.

And oh, how I hated them. Do you know what teen was code for? Het love triangle stories. The terrible tales of generic white girls who have to choose between two generic white boys, sometimes with apocalypse settings, or supernatural beings, or gods, or something. Yeah, I was a teen during Twilight. I despised it. Simply put, I was not into romance. I did not want to read romance. I wanted stories that had romance, sure, but if that was the main conflict, I would rather die.

The worst betrayal ever solidified my desire to never read a YA novel. When browsing, a bookstore employee recommended me a story that she promised had “no romance”, as she, too, didn’t like it in novels as the main plot. I was excited! I bought the book. You’ll never guess what the main plot was. 

I will never forgive you, random Indigo employee. N E V E R.

If you picked A BORING HET ROMANCE IN SPACE… congratulations! You win! Because that’s what it was. Whoever you were, minimum wage employee, I remember this horrible experience and I cannot forgive you for it. Like, seriously. You were an adult. I was 16. That was honestly pretty cruel. But congrats, I guess: you made sure I never tried YA books except to laugh at them! 

So… what’d you read instead?

I found refuge in another genre, which you may have heard me mention once or twice. Adult fantasy novels called to me: I read an entire L.E. Modesitt Jr. series because one book’s title had a name slightly similar to an OC of my friend’s. I thought RULES OF ASCENSION had the coolest cover, like, ever, and it took me until University to get a copy of the last book in that first series since the bookstores stopped carrying them (another shoutout to technology: I found it on eBay and my friend got me it as a gift). I read every single Jennifer Fallon book that came out here in Canada.

Was I old enough for these books? Nope! But they were exactly what I wanted: stories with romance, but not about romance. I found myself drawn to the multiple POVs, the complex political plotlines, and the haphazard, sometimes poorly done (and definitely always side character featuring) queer representation. 

You may have guessed where this is going.

It was the het you didn’t like, wasn’t it?

Ding ding ding!

I didn’t know that was my problem with it at the time but honestly, that’s at least half of it. I’d still rather not read a book that’s entirely romance, but if that romance is gay? I’m 100% there. There’s no way to know if having these books would have changed my feelings on YA as a teen, since I doubt I would have realized my own orientation by then regardless, but damn. It could’ve helped, huh?

There’s still the fact that these love triangle stories were huge then. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it regardless, considering how many white authors were writing the same love triangle that I already did not care about. What does make me glad, though, is that today teens can read those books or books with other plots, actually intended for their age range.

And for me? Well I’m glad I can read some good teen books, finally. And I’m also pretty glad I found adult fantasy. You can pry this genre and its own queer renaissance away from my cold, dead hands.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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