You see articles every so often that say that adults shouldn’t read YA books.  There is always a huge firestorm of outrage across the YA bloggisphere.  But, I’ve come to a conclusion.

I’m an adult who shouldn’t read YA

It just makes me mad. There are the usual exceptions – Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc.- but overall, most hyped YA annoys me.

The latest one is Illuminae.

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman


This book and the sequel are everywhere. The ebook was on sale for $0.99 last week so I decided to try it.

Spoilers Ahead

The story starts in an illegal mining colony on an isolated planet.  It is attacked by a rival mining company.  Only one distress call gets through.  One nearby battleship comes to help.  By the end of the battle, that ship, a research ship, and a transport ship have taken as many survivors as they could find and are running for safety.  They are being chased by one of the bad guys’ spaceships.  All the ships are damaged so they can’t make a wormhole and jump to safety.  It will take months to get to a safe place.  The battleship’s artificial intelligence was also damaged and may be out of control.

The story is told through intercepted messages and briefing notes and other found information.  I like the format.  That made it a bit different from just a straight novel.

Here’s what frustrates me about this book

Overly emotional protagonists

Yeah, I get that they are teenagers and supposedly teenagers are all hormonal and don’t think logically.  In this case the protagonists broke up the morning of the attack.  Their world is literally being blown apart and yet they still have time to have thoughts about how mad they are.  Nope, during a run for your life scenario, running should take up all of your brain.

Over and over in the book they have to remind each other to think instead of reacting.  Good that one of them is thinking at any time and can remind the other.  Maybe it is just because I’m not an emotional person that I totally don’t understand this behavior.

Lack of communication

I hate this trope.  If the whole conflict in a book is occurring because character one is keeping a secret (usually unnecessarily and dramatically) from character two, I’m likely DNFing.  (I still maintain that most of the horror in Harry Potter could have been avoided if Harry and Dumbledore had sat down over a mug of butterbeer and said, “Ok, all cards on the table.  Here’s everything I know.” )

In Illuminae they can only only communicate ship to ship in short bursts.  That doesn’t excuse the fact that they keep big things from each other.  Basically, they are on different ships and one hacks the computers to talk to the other.  Of course, they realize that they still love each other.  They spend time declaring their love for each other but it never comes up in conversation that the girl’s mother was killed when the ship’s AI blew up the third ship in the fleet.  Really?  Never?  She’s supposedly all upset about it and she never mentions it to this guy that she is declaring her love for?  This guy knew and liked her mother and she never thought he might care about that piece of news?  She doesn’t mention it for weeks.  When she does it is super casual like, “Hey, thought you might like to know…”  And he’s all, “Woah, that sucks.” And then they move on.

He’s of course keeping big secrets about his mother from her.  This is what was behind the whole fight that made them break up in the first place.  Of course it wasn’t that they were incompatible and needed to move on because they are teenagers.  No!  They are each others’ true love of course.

Know it all teenagers

I get that this is escapist reading for teenagers who want to feel more empowered than society allows them to be.  But reading YA has made me think that teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to make any decisions because the ones they make in books are so completely stupid.

In this book the female teenager, who of course is an expert hacker (that almost goes without saying), decides to steal a shuttle and go to the ship where the boyfriend is.  This is a problem because that ship is infected with a virus that turns people into paranoid murderers.  Her ship is not infected because they have a strict quarantine system in place.  The AI on the infected ship is not letting the clean ship fly away alone.  If she was going over there on a suicide mission to distract the AI so everyone else could get away, I’d be behind this.  But she’s not.  She needs to save her True Love against all odds.  Mind you, she recently talked Loverboy out of freeing his friend from the affected area of his ship because that would spread the disease.  All that common sense apparently went flying out into the void though.  This is the point where I started hoping that she would get squashed like a bug.  Actually I’m a bug rescuer.  I don’t want them squashed.  I just wanted her squashed.  That’s when I quit reading at 70%.  Hoping the main character dies an ugly death isn’t nice or helpful especially when you know she lives through it.

I know that I’m old and cranky but is it just me?

I think my problem is that a lot of YA is so fully plot driven that the characters don’t get well developed.  I think that is part of the appeal for a lot of people.  I like a fast moving story as much as anyone.  But if you don’t take the time to make characters that are more than cardboard cut outs with only a few defining traits then you risk running into tropes.  Maybe it is intentional that so much YA puts people into good or bad categories with no nuance.  That’s what I think I’m missing in YA — the grey areas.



5 Replies to “Frustrated with YA”

  1. The miscommunications trope really bugs me too and it seems to be pretty prevalent in YA and NA fiction. Since that’s mostly what I read, I’m not sure if it’s used often in adult genre fiction as well, but I’m guessing it is. You’ll have to let me know! 🙂

  2. I do enjoy a lot of YA, but I have definitely come across a lot of these things in books I’ve read, and it can be very frustrating! The main one for me is unnecessary secret keeping, or miscommunications that could have been avoided if the characters had just shared vital information that you most definitely would do if it was real life. The stupid decision making is also something I’ve noticed in a few books, and I sometimes wonder if YA authors do that on purpose just to make the characters seem overly emotional and teenagery, because I know when there’s teenage characters who do everything perfectly and don’t do anything stupid that’s pretty unbelievable too!
    Great post! 🙂

  3. It’s nice to see a different take on Illuminae. That book is seriously hyped, and while I think it does deserve some kudos I didn’t love it nearly as much as some. Lack of communication is a big one for me too (if a problem could be avoided with a simple sit down, and they don’t do it despite ample opportunites, I’m irritated) and yes of course they are each one’s true love! Because of course. 🙂 So i’m with you on those.

    Expert hacker… I rolled my eyes a bit at that too. And the AI- many readers have praised the AI and apparently loved reading about it as it basically melted down, but I didn’t feel that at all. It was overdone and over dramatic and i don’t know, just didn’t work for me. So I liked the concept of this but I had problems. 🙂

    Anyway to your original point, I do like YA but the problems you identify are definitely there in a lot of it.

  4. Interesting. I was underwhelmed with Illuminae too, but I didn’t see it as a strictly YA issue. There are definitely some super hyped YA books that do nothing for me, but there are also adult books that irritate or bore me. Still, I saw Illuminae as a wasted opportunity, since the formatting WAS really cool and handled well.

  5. “Actually I’m a bug rescuer. I don’t want them squashed. I just wanted her squashed.” OK, I’m not really a fan of anything with more than 4 legs, but I lol’d at that!

    YA is not for everyone, just like mysteries are not for everyone and graphic novels are not for everyone… there will always be awesome exceptions, but it’s totally fine to just say, “This ain’t for me,” and move on.

    FWIW, I’ve read a lot of YA/MG for my previous job w/ teens and I still will pick it up from time to time — but even though I’m a YA advocate I often have a hard time finding YA books that are really engaging for my cranky “old” self.

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