Style Over Substance

The world has seen some pretty shitty books. Whether said literature earns that characterization because of a terrible plot, lackluster characters that remain static throughout the story, awful writing, or obnoxious content is irrelevant. Terrible books are terrible books. It seems to me, however, that there has lately been a huge surge in the number of terrible Young Adult Fiction in the market. When I was younger, I absolutely adored the dramatic covers and jackets – as soon as I read the first description of the handsome hero, I knew I was guaranteed to love the story. I truly believe that I have read every series about fallen angels that was published up until the year 2012. I absolutely ate it up. I adored the drama of the story but could always rest assured that everything would work out in the end. The main characters would get back together, the villain would be vanquished, and all other loose ends would be tied up.


While I will agree that this type of literature is necessary to an extent, I think the lack of diversity, or even literature of worth period, in the Young Adult genre is appalling. When I was younger, I would go to the YA Fiction section and see books of some actual substance. Granted, I skipped over them in favor of the books with kissing, but I saw them nonetheless. A few weekends ago, when I was home for my sister’s fourteenth birthday, I took her to the library. I walked with her to the YA section and perused the shelves, just to pass the time while she picked out her books. I saw a truly overwhelming number of books about supernatural romance, and almost nothing else.


Going home later that day, I asked my sister about the popular book series she had been reading lately. I asked her if any of her friends still read Harry Potter, or Percy Jackson, or even the Hunger Games – books that I grew up with and read as a young adult and considered books of actual substance. Her answer was a resounding no – she and her friends read books like Fallen and House of Night. Going home, I googled these books and saw for myself exactly how little other than romance these books contained.


I went to the Barnes and Noble website and researched the top books for teens listed on the website, and read the full Wikipedia synopsis of each of the books. I made up criteria in my mind – if I could transport the characters out of that particular story and setting, place them in another one, and still make sense of the plot, it was not a book of worth. There were some that passed the test – a love story that was unique to the rest of the plot and setting, or a story without romance at all.


I truly don’t mean to condemn every “beach read” or YA fiction book out in the market today. I think I’m just frustrated because I see my little sister and young cousins reading these books, and not getting any sense of how a good book should read at all. I do believe, however, that school curriculum has been moving towards combatting this. And there are still good books out there. So maybe I should stop complaining and look on the bright side – reading has merit in itself, and I’m sure there are young people like me who see this issue and will go out into the world and write the kinds of books that will be impactful and teach a lesson – beyond just how to get and keep a vampire boyfriend.


Here’s the Barnes and Noble list of top teen books:

3 thoughts to “Style Over Substance”

  1. This definitely made me remember the days of going to the library and picking out the books with the brightest covers on them or the ones that had the best clothes or best looking people on the front. They were so easy to read there was such a sense of accomplishment in finishing them quickly and moving onto the next trashy story (which of course at the time I thought were brilliant). I totally agree that there needs to be more intelligence and diversity in the books marketed towards young adults, and while I believe they are out there, they unfortunately seem to be in the form of things that end up being required for school like Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. The problem is that unfortunately, young girls are consumed by the cinderella stories and books without those elements will probably not be entertaining for them, forcing the trashier stories to prevail.

  2. Hey Bailey!

    The young adult market is DEFINITELY saturated with frivolous content, but I think amidst this content lies some quality literature. I think Young Adult literature has a specific audience: kids who want an interesting read. Therefore, Young Adult writers know that pumping their literature with drama, angels, zombies, vampires, romance, and creative dystopias are all they need to write successful stories.

    The harsh reality is that most teenagers don’t want to read intellectual literature. They’re looking for a gripping story, and unfortunately, writing a novel with literary value and an epic story is difficult. I don’t think many authors writing these books have this ability.

    But some do. I think they’re hidden among Divergent and The Hunger Games. One prevalent examples is John Green. Though his stories are set in high school scenarios, he effectively weaves words into beautiful sentence with powerful meanings.

    I would keep researching Young Adult authors, because great ones are out there. They just require conscious searching.

  3. Yo, Bailey,

    I actually never really acquainted myself with the YA market growing up. As a kid in middle school and high school, I was either watching TV and Film, or reading mostly books assigned for class, plays I wanted to read for leisure, or a few books that I would still consider quite literary.

    I think that an issue that may come from the lack of quality in young adult work is what our expectations is from young readers. Do we expect them to look for character development? Do we expect them to understand interesting dramatic structure? Do we expect them to think about how the work they are reading connects to the world at large thematically. I think the answer to this is no.

    Maybe an issue behind this is that schools tent to separate works kids would find enjoyable or relatable from works that are literary. Sure, the classics are important, but maybe we should put more emphasis on kids reading things that they think are cool that teachers can still put in literary terms in the classroom. As of now, we only expect kids to have to read literature for class, and enjoy garbage on their spare time. If we can mix academic with leisurely, I think that the young adult market could refine their tastes because they know how to make literary analysis of work that engages them rather than only forming themselves to analyze literature that can barely hold their attention.

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