My husband's car had a flat this morning, so since I'm on sabbatical with nothing else to do (uh-huh), I got to be the one who took it to be fixed. The mechanic was really busy, which meant I ended up at school (I always go to the mechanic who's just down the hill from the university) with nothing to do but wait around. I went to the library and found Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I had seen a glowing review on another site and thought it might be an interesting book to check out.
Well, it is interesting, and I'm probably going to read the whole thing since I made a pretty good start while waiting today, but what's with all these books that have some psychologically damaged, angry, rebellious teen who's been abandoned, abused, or otherwise let down by the adults in his/her life as the protagonist? I don't read a lot of "realistic" fiction, being so enamored with historical fiction, but it seems when I'm perusing the "new books for teens" emails that Amazon sends me, there is always at least one book with such a protagonist who's struggling with some major downer of an issue.
Is that what appeals to teens? I wonder. My husband is a high school band director, so I get to observe teens interacting on a fairly regular basis (tonight, for example - their last concert of the year). The kids in his band don't seem particularly angsty. Of course, the kids who have the biggest life problems generally don't seem to join band (although there have been some rather sad family stories in his 20 years of teaching). But overall, these teens seem happy and full of humor and to enjoy what they are doing and being around each other, and while they don't want to hang out with adults, they seem to accept that we are people, too.
On the way home, I just had to ask. So I turned to my son (my finger on the pulse of teen culture, ha ha) and asked him that question: Does that kind of book appeal to teens? His answer: he doesn't like them. He said he'll read them if the rest of the book is "awesome" (didn't exactly define what that meant), but that he gets tired of that kind of character. That led to a second question: What kind of books do you like? His answer: Rainbow 6 and Shogun. After reminding him those are books written for adults, I asked what he liked about them. He said he likes the "epicness" of them - the way the story develops over time.
Go figure. That flys in the face of other advice I've seen on blogs this week, that books for young adults should be no more than 80,000 words. I wonder if it's time for young adult publishers to do some new market research?