Who is the target audience on YA books?

I’m supposed to write a review of this book. I’m struggling with it honestly. I’ve written tons of reviews, but this one has me completely stymied.

“Why?” you may ask, “Was it a bad book?”

No. Actually it was really good.  REALLY good. There was a lot of suspense and some really great plot twists. It was full of serial killers and crime scenes that would make the writers of CSI and Criminal Minds salivate with delight. My problem with the book is that the target audience is 12-18 year olds.

I’ll let that sink in again. The book about serial killers that I just finished reading was targeted to 12-18 year olds.

YA book

I admit that knowing that, I had a really hard time even reading this book. When I sat down to start it, I was expecting something along the lines of the tv show, Psych. That’s about serial killers and murders and crime scenes, but it’s written with a family feel in mind. There’s no need to graphically describe the bodies or the blood spatter. That’s for other shows. So when I started reading this book and the first few pages took me straight into a serial killer’s mind, I admit that it gave me pause.   I even had my husband do some of the reading too. He was just as appalled as I was.

It was a little while before I picked it up again. I left it sitting on my nightstand for more than a week after I started it. I couldn’t get past the idea that it was a graphically situated book about serial killers and it was intended for kids. (I have an eleven year old who will be twelve in a couple of weeks and a fourteen year old. I know the age pretty well.)

This is the second book I’ve received from this publisher that was slated for a 12-17 year old audience with content that I found completely inappropriate for that age group. I’m not looking for sunshine and rainbows and unicorns in my YA. But seriously. One of the scenes in this book has a girl swimming at night in the pool behind the home where they are being trained by the FBI. A boy that lives in the house comes out and flips a switch and suddenly it’s bathed in black light. She sees then for the first time that the pool she’s swimming in is a crime scene with eerily glowing bloody hand spatters and a glowing outline of a bloody body at the bottom of the pool. I know I land on the conservative side of life, but still – how is that appropriate for a 12 year old reader?

I’ve been watching the YA market for several years now with no small amount of interest. The film community has been as well with books like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games launching multi-million dollar film franchises. But is that driving the YA market to an odd tipping point? Some of the more recent books I’ve read that are labeled YA (so are in school libraries by the way) really have adult plot lines and plot points. They feel more like books that couldn’t quite cut it in the adult market, so the authors turned the main characters into teens and VOILA. Success! But it’s not teens that are reading it and driving the market. It’s adults.

I’m not sure where things are going with this trend, but I do know that we can’t keep pushing teenagers toward adult entertainment and hope that something isn’t going to crack somewhere. They just aren’t ready for some of what we’re throwing their way.

The next time you hear an adult raving about a plotline for a YA book, ask them what the target audience is. Knowing that a seventh grader might be the target audience could shift their perspective of what they’re reading. It certainly changed mine.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!