A Note from the Director: I don’t want to read that!

Posted on June 10, 2015 «
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I recently finished a young adult contemporary novel that I received in exchange for an honest review. As I moved through the novel, I found it hard to identify with the main character and her teenage struggles. I started to ask myself, Why don’t I get her? Is it because I’m on the far side of 30? Is it because she is a different ethnic background than me? What is it? Why do I read novels that are outside my comfort genre(s) when I know that I might disappointed? It was then that I realized that I was not this character’s contemporary.

You see, I wouldn’t have been that character’s friend when I was in high school. I didn’t run in “her crowd.” I didn’t understand her loving, compassionate family home. Not that mine wasn’t loving and compassionate, it was just more strict. When I started dating my parents were not okay with it and meeting the guy did not ease them into the fact I was growing up. My curfew was 11 PM. When my boyfriend and I went to see Braveheart we had to leave the movie early. We didn’t realize it was 3 plus hours long. The movie theatre was 45 minutes from my home. I called my parents from a pay phone (yes, I’m THAT old!) to tell them I might be home late.

I wasn’t an athlete nor did I have (or do I have) any passion for competition. I tried several times—basketball, volleyball, softball and tennis. Being shorter than average in high school and being left-handed made acquiring skills difficult as I was usually learning from a right handed coach. It’s amazing I passed Physical Education with all the skills testing we did. I am not athletic.


He’s perfect. Too perfect.

Plus I wouldn’t have dated “the guy.” He was too good to be true. Teenagers are stupid. I was a stupid teenager—not as stupid as some, but I was brighter than most, I think. And the chances of finding the perfect man or woman in high school when all those hormones are raging and brains are not fully formed seems like a real a shot in the dark. Not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying I don’t believe it happens as often as the YA contemporary romance books make it seem it does. Even the adult romance novels don’t have it right most of the time. Men, especially teenage boys, are not prefect gentlemen…all the time. Even Jamie Fraser has flaws.

 

I think these are the reasons I didn’t connect with that latest YA contemporary novel. And looking back, I think there are similar reasons I didn’t connect with Tease last year. I wasn’t the girl doing the bullying; I was the kid being bullied (short, on the Speech team, in theatre and choir, loved Star Trek:TNG, liked to read A LOT—you do the math). 13/365 (366) It’s probably why I thought the punishment for the kids in that novel was not strict enough. And that’s probably the reason I connected with Thirteen Reasons Why. While the teasing I endured was not at the level laid out in Asher’s book, I have experienced depression and feeling worthless because of what other people did or said. I have been on the side of doing something nice for someone who was feeling down because the hand fate dealt them. Now stop and think…why do you think so many people connected with The Fault in Our Stars? Answer…almost everyone in our lives has been touched by cancer.

While I think experiencing different genres is an amazing experience, as you gain experience as a reader, you learn what elements of a story draw you in and you steer away from those elements that don’t. I like strong female characters who have to fight tooth and nail for something—be it love, their freedom, their identity, their voice. I want characters with bite.Journey to Another WorldI want something predictable, yet unpredictable. Because, while I’m on the far side of 30, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I may have found love. I may have found my voice (in most situations). There is still more searching and discovery to do! Each day I experience new things, learn new things, and meet and talk to new people. I never want that to end, so while I did not connect with this particular YA contemporary novel, who knows, in the next young adult novel I pick up, I might, regardless of my age compared to hers…or his.


This post was inspired by the ladies over at ChapterBreak.net and their Chat Between Chapters post on Genre Shaming, Cait at PaperFury.com and her post, Should We Read Outside Our Comfort Zone? and Jolene Buchheit’s Best Foot Forward.


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36 responses to “A Note from the Director: I don’t want to read that!

  1. Ooh, such an interesting post! I often find myself not connecting with contemporaries because I really didn’t have an average teenger-hood (that’s totally a word) XD so the dynamics are usually completely unrelatable to me. But I get what you mean about some books just not meshing. *nods* That happens to me a lot.

    • It’s hard because some contemporary books sound amazing, but then I realize I don’t have anything in common with the characters. I need someone to root for or someone to cry with, y’know?
      Terri M., the Director
      secondrunreviews.com | @2ndRunReviews
      facebook.com/secondrunreviews

  2. Ooh I really like this post, especially where you say you are not that character’s contemporary. That must be what it is for me as well with books and characters I just can’t relate to.

    • Hanks, Julie. It was the only way I could explain it. This morning after I got a few comments I thought…well, Eleanor & Park (which I read last year) was a contemporary YA book, but then I realized it wasn’t! Oh, the days of my teenage youth when I was sitting quietly on the bus with my Walkman hoping the batteries didn’t die!
      Terri M., the Director
      secondrunreviews.com | @2ndRunReviews
      facebook.com/secondrunreviews

  3. stormi34

    I think this is one reason why I don’t read YA contemporary, cause I can’t relate. I don’t mind YA paranormal or fantasy, or UF but when it just comes to the romance and HS I can’t do it..I don’t relate. Great post! 🙂

    • There are other elements in YA fiction when you tack on a paranormal or fantasy element. The element of the unknown with the known provides the connection with characters in those types of books, I feel. Almost everyone has been in a situation like that!
      Terri M., the Director
      secondrunreviews.com | @2ndRunReviews
      facebook.com/secondrunreviews

  4. Daniela

    The post I was waiting for! worth the wait 🙂 great Post Terri
    I’m having issues relating to erotic romance book. The 50 shades of grey likes. I CANNOT stand controlling characters urggg!

    • I did read 50 Shades. I did not like it. It wasn’t the characters, it was the writing. The romance didn’t feel real and it wasn’t sexy. It’s hard to not get sucked into the hype though! We all want to fit in and belong even as we scream about our individuality.
      Terri M., the Director
      secondrunreviews.com | @2ndRunReviews
      facebook.com/secondrunreviews

  5. I completely agree with you 100%. As much as I love the contemporary genre, I won’t deny that it has its disadvantages. Not everyone has gone through the same thing the protagonist has, so it’s sometimes hard to completely put yourself in their shoes during some occasions. Thank you for writing this post!

    ~ Zoe @ Stories on Stage

    • It’s a tough position to be in! I love discovering new authors and I hate discounting an author because I don’t read a particular genre. It’s a tough line to walk as a reviewer.

  6. Great post Terri! I have to say, I think this could be why I often don’t enjoy contemporary as much. Unless the characters are similar to me or the situation is so far out there hardly anyone could relate, I have a hard time finding my place with the main characters. I agree though, it’s still good to push our genre boundaries now and again!

    • There a lot of outcry right now for books with diversity and books that reflect real life. But everyone experiences life different so that’s not exactly the answer to world peace, y’know? There’s a lot of genre shaming that happens and it’s important to know, I think, that just because you don’t like YA contemporary doesn’t mean you are a failure as a reader or reviewer. It’s important to voice why you didn’t like a particular book or genre and of course, don’t discount the genre as a whole. It’s a fine line and distinction to make, but one that does need to be stated.

      Okay, I guess the coffee kicked in because those are some really deep thoughts for so early in the AM.

      Terri M., the Director
      Second Run Reviews
      secondrunreviews.com
      Twitter: @2ndRunReviews
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  7. I don’t read much YA these days. When I did, I tried to think about it from the point of view of my 6th grade students or how my HS niece would deal with the situations. I had to call home from pay phones, too! I never had a curfew because all of my friends did, so my mother said that was one battle she didn’t have to fight, since I was the only one with access to a car. If I begged well in advance.

    • Are there even pay phones around any more? I wondering if I would still know how to make a collect call if I needed to. 🙂

      And I know what you mean about trying to place yourself in the mindset or POV of the characters. Would someone like the book I read? Definitely! I can think of a couple teens I would recommend the book to right now. But for, me, contemporary books (adult or YA) are so hit and miss that it’s hard to jump on the bandwagon and read the latest NYT bestseller.

      Terri M., the Director
      Second Run Reviews
      secondrunreviews.com
      Twitter: @2ndRunReviews
      Facebook: facebook.com/secondrunreviews

  8. Ruby J

    Great post! I sometimes have difficulty relating to characters too. Though for me it’s not related to experiences I’ve never had, but more to reactions I know I wouldn’t have. For instance, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t take an insult and keep my mouth shut. So It’s those situations where I just scratch my head at the character’s actions that make me have a hard time relating to them. I sometimes actually like reading about things I’ve never experienced

    • Oh, I like reading about things I’ve never experienced as well. One of my favorite genres is Historical Fiction set in Ancient Egypt or WWII.

      There are different elements of every book that determine why we connect or don’t connect. And it’s more than, “Well, I just didn’t like it!” Sometimes it is hard to put into words though.

      Terri M., the Director
      Second Run Reviews
      secondrunreviews.com
      Twitter: @2ndRunReviews
      Facebook: facebook.com/secondrunreviews

  9. TheSeedQueen

    This is a great post. One of the exercises we used for critiques during my design classes was we could never use the phrase, “I like…” or “I don’t like…” when looking at a design piece or artwork. It made you really think about your feelings and reactions to a piece. This crosses over to the book world as well. Why don’t I like this book? Why do I like it? It makes you go deeper and maybe learn more about yourself.

  10. I too consider myself still a young person though I am on the other side of 30 myself. There have been a few YA books through that are just TOO YA. I find that I have to go from a YA book to an adult book every now and then just to get away from the teenage hormones sometimes. LOL!

  11. Nicole Hewitt

    It’s true that we definitely relate more to characters who are like us. It’s natural that it works that way. I have been surprising myself lately, though, and enjoying more and more characters that don’t fit my typical mold – they aren/t like me (or like I was in high school) and I’m finding that my horizons are being expanded because of it – even at over 40! (That’s not to say that if you don’t relate to characters who aren’t like you, you’re wrong – it’s just something related that I’ve noticed in myself lately!).

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    • I love it when I encounter a book that I didn’t expect to relate to and surprisingly I do! It’s like discovering a new element or something.
      Terri M., the Director
      Second Run Reviews

  12. I definitely agree. I usually relate to characters (main characters) that have at least one thing similar to myself. I didn’t grow up in the US and most of the YA books that I read have been set in the US. Since I didn’t go to school here at all (I’m in the US now), I find it a little bit hard to relate to high school scenarios, although there are some that are universal to all high schools. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the books though.

    I think the times I stopped reading a book because of the characters is when they are just TSTL!

    Great post!

    • There definitely has to be some common ground when it comes to connecting with a book and with characters. And sometimes I want to stretch myself and it pays off…other times, not so much.

  13. I try to avoid YA or NA as much as I can, because I mostly can’t relate to their struggles and reactions and I keep wondering : is it because I’m getting too old or because the author wasn’t able to convey their feelings right ?… Those characters I have to be able to connect with, when they’re evolving in different backgrounds/situations, I wonder why I’m even reading this when it’s obvious I’m not fit to do this. On the other hand, I do like to read about more mature characters that are unlikeable, about situations I’ve never had to face, so I’m unsure of the answer : is it the author or is it me ? When those books use stereotypes, I know what the answer is, though 😉

  14. I rarely read YA contemporaries for the reasons you stated. I tend to only delve in the genre for fantasy and dystopian/post-apocalyptic. All romance is fantasy really.

    • I hadn’t thought of romance like that before, Kim. But you are right! Written romance is quite the fantasy, but when done well, a fantasy I do enjoy.

      Terri M., the Director
      Second Run Reviews

  15. I really agree with you, I have a problem with a lot of contemporaries for the same reasons. I was pretty much a goody-goody in high school, so any book with a “bad” kid who is being mean, or who breaks all the rules… I just cannot relate. BUT, on the other hand, when you find a connection to a particular character, the results can be fantastic!

    Also, I am right there with you on the not knowing what I want to be when I grow up (also in my 30s). I have decided that 100% have not found love. Or my voice. So I think I DO relate to a lot of the younger struggles. This is a lovely post!

    • I have the same problem with adult contemporary novels as well. I just don’t get the chick lit genre for example.

      The kids in YA novels have nothing to lose in some cases. Standing up for their beliefs doesn’t land them in a heap up trouble like losing their job so they can’t pay the bills so I think it’s easier to gain confidence from reading novels like that.

  16. Eva

    Such a beautiful post — I can identify with this so much! Sometimes you just have to realize a book (or series) is not for you because it is missing that connection. For me, I can’t identify with super bad (as in drugs) teenagers because I just wasn’t like that, at all. It’s hard for me to understand the motivation and maybe it’s a bit of being judgmental on my part . . . but I realize I can’t connect with those types of characters!

    • Thanks, Eva! I think as a blogger I’ve become more open to trying other books and feeling out genres I might have passed over in the past. It’s was a wonderful revelation to be able to put into words EXACTLY why I don’t connect with some books. There is something liberating about that.

      Terri M., the Director
      Second Run Reviews
      secondrunreviews.com
      Twitter: @2ndRunReviews
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