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). 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.I 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.