Recently I made a post on my Bookstagram and got into a brief discussion about the idea of “wrong audiences” for books. It was an interesting discussion because they pointed out the fact that age is often a factor in determining “ideal” and “wrong” audiences but it’s not uncommon for adults to enjoy YA and MG fiction, especially in the bookish community.
Personally, I think age can matter but only for individuals not as a sweeping declaration. I had a hard time reading teeange perspectives in YA novels when I was a teenager, and it’s gotten progressively more difficult since. That’s not to say I can’t enjoy a good YA novel. I do, in fact, read quite a bit of YA fantasy because YA fantasy tends to have really good world building in long-term series! But the younger a protagonist is and their behavior is, the harder I find it to read from their direct perspective.
I don’t like to judge books when it’s clear that I am not a target or ideal audience for them. This is best summarized by Dominic Noble’s video on The Princess Diaries on YouTube. Noble explains in the video that as an adult man, most of his complaints about reading a YA novel for young girls were based around the fact that he just isn’t the ideal audience to read teenage girl chats.
This definitely happens to me. I’ll be reading from the perspective of a particular character and realize that the reason I’m not enjoying the story is that it’s not structure for the reader that I am.
So what factors are important in determining if you are the ideal reader for a book?
First and foremost, if you want to read a book then read that book! Nothing is more important than your desire to read a book. These thoughts are definitely more about books such as ARCs or reads that aren’t from your TBR but instead books you may be deciding if you should review or not.
One of the factors I look for is the type of protagonist. It can be difficult to totally tell what type of protagonist you’ll be reading from the perspective of. I prefer reading from the perspectives of women, queer folks, and independent thinkers. I’d rather have a protagonist that has their own thoughts rather than going along with what is convenient for the plot. I prefer reading from third person POV in general, so protagonist is mostly important when I do pick up a book from first person POV. If I can’t like the protagonist and we are told the story exclusively through their point of view, I can’t get into the book really.
Another thing I look for is the author’s history. If I’m skeptical about a book after reading the description, I may look into the author. Is this their preferred writing genre? Are they including Own Voices representation or attempting to add representation from a place of well meaning? Do they have other works that have been critiqued for things that are reading red flags for me?
There are some popular works that are considered important in the genres I read that I avoid because of questions like that. If someone who is not queer says “this book has great queer rep!” I’m not necessarily inclined to pursue that book until I’ve read a fellow queer person’s thoughts on the matter. As a white person, I also try to avoid works whose authors have been criticized for subtle racism by people of color. If an author’s history raises red flags for me, I prefer to steer clear.
There are plenty of reasons why I might assess myself as the “wrong” audience for a book. If something is written primarily with teenage boys who like video games in mind, then I am unlikely to enjoy the story and I am aware of this. There are definitely books out there that are clear on whom their ideal audience is, and if I am not that ideal audience and I still choose to read the book I am careful to make sure I don’t judge it too harshly for the things it openly said it was about. That would be like reading a romance novel and being upset by the fact that there was a love story involved.
I think sometimes when discussing audiences people get hung up on the arbitrary nature of age range. This is because a lot of YA is thrown about as “lesser than” other works due to the classification of YA. In the bookish community, this is a well known and often discussed topic and I think the majority of us know better than to pick and choose our reads based on our age. However, genres and other classifications of novels are useful for determining what you might like or not like.