If Today’s Teens Aren’t Like Us, Then How Do We Write About Them?

Identifying and understanding the major trends in teen or young adult literature is imperative for teachers, librarians or parents, trying to find books that will speak to the teens in their schools, libraries and homes. Karen Coats brings up a point in her article Young Adult Literature: Growing up, In Theory that adults today had a completely different experience as teenagers, than today’s teens will have. Coats suggests that teens today are completely different, with a different style of language and different understanding of the world than teens even ten years ago.

My question is, if this is the case and writers of teen fiction need to be in the now in order to write relatable characters, with voices that today’s teens will understand, then what happens to all of the teen fiction that was written for teen voices of the past? What happens to the Ponyboy Curtis’ (The Outsiders), Holden Caulfields’ (The Catcher in the Rye), or even the Jonas’ (The Giver), Jerry Renault’s (The Chocolate War) and Macy’s (The Truth About Forever)?  All of these novels were written at least eight years ago – does that mean that they are out of touch with today’s teens? And what about the teens ten years from now that presumably will have another new and completely different voice?

While I completely agree with Coats that creating a character whose voice is relatable and understandable to today’s teens is extremely important, I would argue that there is longevity in characters that veer away from the expected. Novels like The Hunger Games and Divergent are creating worlds that do not need to represent the world of a teenager, but an entire different world, with different types of characters, different voices and experiences that can speak to many different types of people. Within these kinds of setting maybe writers do not need to be as sensitive language or replicating the voice of today’s teens.

I believe that there is still a place for ‘classics’ like The Outsiders, we just may need to be more inventive in finding links between Greasers, and for instance, computer geniuses. I’m not suggesting that Coats is implying only books that represent the voice of today’s teens will be successful – but I think that an author trying to replicate a voice that they do not understand, versus creating a character with a voice of their own, is bound to fail.

I found this article extremely thought provoking. The idea of the typical or the popular just made me want to go out and find the innovators.

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