So…I was trying to think of something to post about, and I thought I'd tackle one of the complaints that bugs me greatly (and that I see again and again) about certain types of characters in YA. The contention in question is that given characters aren't "how teens really are," usually said to mean that teens don't think or talk in a complex or sophisticated way, and almost universally applied to bright, precocious characters or a certain type of stylized dialogue. Maggie Stiefvater did a great post about this some time back, on the myth of the "teen voice."
This complaint tends to surface more frequently whenever John Green has a new book out, which is why the topic came to mind. Let me say right off the bat: I haven't read The Fault in Our Stars yet*. I'm definitely going to; I love all John's books with great and huge buckets of love. In fact, one of the reasons I loved Looking for Alaska so much was because I had an immediate sense of recognition when I read it. THESE were the smart Southern** teenagers I grew up around.
But I digress. The problem, of course, being that teens aren't a monolithic group. They–just like adults–are individuals. If a character doesn't work and isn't believable, that's one thing. But I will buy just about any type of speech or action from a character as long as it feels developed, specific, and honest to that character or story. And for every person who has trouble buying into hyper-verbal or branier-than-the-norm characters, I think there's also a counterbalancing number of us who adored, say, Buffy, Gilmore Girls or Veronica Mars because of those qualities (among others).
My suggested rule of thumb is that if you'd never say, "That's just not how adults are" about an adult character (and, really, you wouldn't, would you?), then don't vary the same theme about teen characters in YA.
*This is primarily because I lost a good friend to cancer when we were both 16. I'm so glad that TFiOS exists, because being a bookish girl as I was, back then I really wanted to find a book that might help me understand that loss. And I couldn't. Because most were too saccharine, and not at all funny, and I hated saccharine inspirational (not least because so did my friend) and my people are funny people. So I know this book needed to be written, and believe John was the perfect writer for the job, and I can't wait. I just need a weekend when I can be Completely and Utterly Wrecked, and retroactively grateful.
**My "Southern" cliché rant will be saved for another day.