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Discussion: Is Age Just a Number?

I finally convinced my sister to read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and she came home one day after reading it and she asked me “Did you know Kaz was 17?”

Subconsciously I probably did. Out loud, it just sounded weird. He is the head of a renowned gang and is suppose to commit a heist of one of the most secure prisons in the Grisha world which is a pretty heavy burden for a 17 year old if I do say so. I think in my head, he was around my age (22) although I inadvertently make a lot of YA protagonists my age in my head especially in YA fantasy and scifi because if I’m to be honest, I sometimes think YA protagonists are a little young in proportion to the things they have to do. This is more in regards to YA fantasy because in YA contemporary, the protagonist is usually dealing with real life problems while in high school. If any older, it would just be New Adult, more or less, although there are obviously exceptions.

Because I was curious as to the number of protagonists belonged to which age category, I made a little infographic sampling a number of YA books and the ages of the main protagonists, their age on the left and their pictures on the right.



Some disclaimers:

*Books chosen pretty much randomly out of the YA books. This is a very small sample of YA SFF out there and is not an extensive representation of the genre as a whole. I know I’ve forgotten a lot, books like Shadow and Bone trilogy, Bitter Kingdom trilogy, Clockwork Princess, Twilight etc. etc.

*Included only YA fantasy and scifi

*All pictures from Google images. 

*All ages found on their respective Wikias. There may be some discrepancies.

First of all, I think it’s worth noting that these people–kids–essentially have pretty intense responsibilities and have already gone through a lot in life. Sharzhad already has her best friend killed and has already found her true love. June has a freaking government position basically while the other officials are adults if I’m not mistaken. Katniss is the face of a revolution. Caelaena is considered the best assassin in the land. And of course, Harry defeats Voldemort at the old, old age of 17. 17.

Image result for harry defeating voldemort

That’s pretty crazy if you think about it. I understand in fantasy that usually kids grow up faster than usual because the world they live in is usually very harsh like in An Ember in the Ashes. But still it makes me wonder why these ages were even chosen. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Caelaena to be a little older in order to really be the best assassin in the land. Sixteen is definitely the most popular age in YA which is understandable especially if you live in America. Even Veronica Roth once mentioned that she chose to make Tris 16 because it’s sort of a coming of age age, an age where everything changes and you are faced with a lot of decisions. But what does it say when the peak of your experiences in life happen in your teenage years?

I suppose in many ways I find it unbelievable because of my own experience. I mean I didn’t know what the heck I was doing when I was 16. I was young and very naive. I suppose the age debate in YA can go both ways. It’s true that I could have found some good role models who have a greater maturity level (for the most part) and are faced with life and death situations that I don’t have to think about but could still help me with my own decisions. Also, the sense of power and control that we have as teens isn’t very much so to see these protagonists take control of their lives and discover who they are is very gratifying. On the other hand, what is up with all these kids that apparently rule the world and all the adults are just really dumb entities that are just there.

It’s also worth noting, even though I don’t know what to make of it, that most of the female protagonists are on the younger end of the age spectrum, most being 16 and 17 with none that I can think of being 20 and older and still be considered to be YA. Most of the male protagonists are on the older end of the spectrum. Making this infographic also made me realize how odd some of the relationship age differences are. For example, Cress is 16 but she’s in a relationship with Thorne who is 20. And most weird is probably Rose who is 17 but becomes romantically involved with Dimitri who is um, 24 (lol).

*copied again so you don’t have to keep scrolling up to peruse the graph

The teen years are very different from your 20’s and in my opinion should not be interchangeable but oftentimes, when there are YA adaptations turned into movies, Image result for four and tris divergentthe actors are usually a lot older than their supposed age in the books and sometimes the characters’ ages are even changed in order to correlate more with the actors’ ages. For example, Four is suppose to be 18 in the books but he’s 24 in the movies, a significant age gap. Percy Jackson, played by Logan Lerman, was suppose to be 12 in the books but changed to 16. I’m not sure how old Clary Fray is suppose to be but the actress playing her in Shadowhunters is 20 and the actor playing Jace is 26 which is at least 3 years older than they should be. Image result for miss peregrine's home for peculiar children asa butterfieldThe show looks like a bunch of 20 year olds hanging out instead of teens. And most recently, Jacob from Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is suppose to be 16 but he’s played by the lovely
Asa Butterfield who is 19 (although to be fair, Asa looks really young). I understand that there’s a bunch of schooling issues that go on with child actors but one wonders what it would be like if they had cast actors that were the correct age or would it have  been too jarring to see?

I suppose it all comes down to realism for me. Some characters could be 16 but are very mature. I think what is off-putting to me was the fact that a lot of the characters surrounding these very young protagonists are actually adults. It’s realistic to me when it comes to Harry Potter because he always has guidance from the more experienced people around him and you can feel what a burden he has at such a young age while dealing the usual “teenage stuff” like crushes, homework, and first kisses; although I do admit it’s a very first-world teenage experience. In many ways, I could interchange these protagonists’ age to something older because their experience is not specific to the teen years like Harry’s is. Scarlet could very well be a 25-year-old instead of an 18-year-old who goes off with Cinder and company to defeat Levana. But what do I know? I mean there are 16 year olds who have gone to the Olympics and have been to war so maybe I’m just too narrow-minded to get out of my own experience.

Image result for shrugs gif

I know that this post literally gave no answers to the questions I posed. But I want to know what you think about age in YA.

  • Are these YA protagonists too young to be saving their worlds?
  • How do you feel about the age gaps and the ratios of girls and boys on the age spectrum?
  • Are some of these ages realistic to the story?
  • I didn’t mention this in the post because it’s too broad a topic but what are your thoughts on the uneven amount of violence versus the relatively chaste sexuality of YA protagonists? Is it an age thing? Societal?


16 thoughts on “Discussion: Is Age Just a Number?

  1. AH I LOVE THIS POST. I’ve been thinking about this at great length actually, but your discussion is so eloquent and thoughtful.

    Personally, the age thing has been something that has been bothering me as well. I do not doubt that teenagers COULD save the world, but like you said, I was naive and stupid and generally “????” when I was that age. Not everyone is like me, but yaknow. So it’s hard for me to relate.

    I do think a BIG BIG reason why characters are assigned those ages is because younger hero and heroines is for marketing purposes. I can imagine all of the cast in Six of Crows being in their 20’s, but if 16 year old me looked at a cast of 20 year olds, I might feel “OMG THAT’S SO FAR AWAY *feels less emotionally connected*” I don’t know though.

    With regards to your last question: ooooh could you please write a discussion post for this? It issss pretty broad, but my short answer: yes I do think it is societal, particularly since we’re becoming so desensitized to violence in the media – and even on the news.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. O: That’s so true!! I remember when I read YA books back when I was 16, I felt a personal kinship to them as if I could mentally understand someone just they were the same age as me haha.
      LOL I love your “????” to describe your past self. It’s true though! Even now, I’m still pretty much “???”
      And ok, I’ll do a separate post on that topic after my diversity one coming up 😉
      Your diversity posts inspired me to write my own so thanks for that CW! 🙂
      And thanks for commenting!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love love love this post! Reading this post, brought some questions that have been sitting in my mind for a while now. I feel (subconsciously) when I’m reading a book that there is no way that these characters can be 16/17 and practically save the world, but then I remind myself it I’m reading sci-fi or fantasy, so I tend to brush it off. But in all reality even though YA is YA, all the characters don’t exactly have to be 16 years old and authors can switch things up from time to time. Sometimes I do feel that I can’t connect to a book such as the ones mentioned above because one, I’m older than the protagonists and two (mostly this reason) that they are trying to do too much in one novel. Thanks for your thoughts on this issue Carolyn! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! 🙂 You make a good point! As I’m growing older I realize that the stuff that 16/17 year olds do in these books grows even more unrealistic. Maybe I’ve just become jaded haha
      And yea, who knows what could be possible or not in fantasy or scifi world and I’m never in as drastic a situation as the protagonist so I just say that it’s a different world than mine so I should hold them to different standards I suppose lol. Thanks for your thoughts!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very thought provoking! I never really thought about YA when I was an adolescent reading it. I guess since it’s been so long since I’ve been the ages of so many of the YA protagonists and also that the genre of YA didn’t really exist yet and was just coming about when I was a teen. Harry Potter was one of the few series I remember reading. However, I feel that when I was younger reading YA it wasn’t the same experience I’ve had as reading it when I’m now older at 24. Reading it as a teen, I remember it being more of an escape to help deal with the changes of adolescence. It was sort of like well, at least I’m not Harry Potter having to kill a bunch of wizards and such so I guess this pimple really isn’t that bad…I think it’s easy, as we get older, to try and project our more fleshed out thought process onto teenagers. As you’ve said, they’re not exactly that mature. But, then again, some are. I didn’t have the best circumstances as a young adult and was a bit forced to grow up quicker than most teens, so I can completely understand how teens would deal with the end of the world and what not. It’s pretty amazing what you can deal with when you have no other choice. (Not that I had to save the world or anything.)
    That all being said, I totally agree that some of the age differences are excruciatingly unsettling and inappropriate. There’s no reason a teenager of 16 or 17 should be with anyone older than 18 (and sometimes even that’s pushing it). And I definitely find that females are more often stuck with older guys with just, ick. I think that sometimes authors, wanting to appeal to many ages and appeal to the “general” public and our (although often sexist, misogynistic and/or patriarchal) generally accepted “values”, project unhealthy relationships. This doesn’t hurt the adult readers as much, but the age difference (and other unsettling aspects) can, in my opinion, lead to adolescents feeling unqualified or inadequate in their relationships, which is not how things should be.
    I also agree with you that adult actors playing the roles of kids is unhealthy, especially when they are not made to look young. Hollywood does a terrible job representing the awkward teenage phase and gives teens unrealistic beauty standards and all that jazz. I don’t think adults playing teens is a horrible thing (as you said, the whole child actor thing), especially if the teens are just looking for escape and to forget about adolescent problems. But, there is a limit. I think the one that shocked me most was that the main actor in the movie The Giver is supposed to play a 12-year-old boy but the actor was 24 at the the time. Thats just ridiculous!
    So, I guess, overall what I would say is that I don’t think that YA young protags necessarily have to be a problem, but there are so many controversial issues over it. Why can’t everything just be like Harry Potter? Haha! I think that teens could definitely rise to occasion and save the world if they must, but I think as a society YA has gotten too big and is becoming too tailored to new adult and/or middle adult instead of focussing (like Harry Potter did) on adolescents and teaching about friendship, understanding the difference between right and wrong, and the like. Then again, as someone who minored in English Literature in college, maybe I’m the one who’s reading too much into it. I have to remind myself often that not everyone finds so much meaning in their books and many people just read for entertainment.
    Well, I hope this all made sense, and I’m so sorry for the EXCESSIVELY LONG comment, but your post WAS very thought-provoking. So sorry for my long ramblings.
    Also, one last thing, I totally agree that it’s ridiculous that all the adults in YA are useless. Like, what’s up with that? It’s so hard to find decent family structures and healthy relationships. I mean, I don’t have kids, but if I did and if they, for some god-knows-why reason, had to save the world, I’m sure I would encourage them to let me help and what not. (But maybe that’s just the Harry Potter in me speaking again, or maybe not. Because there should be more healthy relationships like Harry had in popular literature.)
    Okay, I’m really done with this RIDICULOUS comment now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries I love long comments =)
      You bring up so many interesting points that I hadn’t thought of. I agree with your first point about reading YA as an escape when I was a teen. It was very true for me and that’s true, I’m definitely able to make more rational decisions looking at my old self as my present self but when I’m in the moment I probably had a very different mindset. That’s why I get frustrated sometimes when people are excessively harsh on YA protagonists for being whiny or impulsive or immature because I’m sure as teenagers, we were not the most rational beings what with puberty going on and all lol..
      That was one of the reasons why I thought Harry Potter was so perfect for teens though ! It was because it explored a lot of teen firsts like first crushes and friendships and everything felt like it was still changing. But now, it feels like everything is like the end all be all. Like this person is your soulmate with none of the messiness of teenage exploration.
      And yeah so true, I mean I definitely understand because I was pretty distant from my parents when I was a teen but at the same time I wish I had some kind of adult support, maybe like a teacher or something.
      Thanks for commenting! =)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, too true! I was definitely not rational as a teenager. I feel the same way when people complain, especially since it’s usually adults complaining. Adult readers need to remember that YA isn’t technically written for them and it’s written for our younger, definitely more irrational, selves.
        I also totally agree that everything in romance is life or death now in mainstream YA literature. Sometimes I just want to shake the MCs and say “You. Are. Only. 15. You. Do. Not. Need. To. Find. Your. Soul. Mate. Yet.” It has gotten way too out of control on that front.


  4. I really like this post. Since I’m 17, I really like seeing characters the same age as me, but I still feel disconnected with them, cause I always imagine them as a lot older. Their physical features that the authors describe sometimes doesn’t really fit a 16 year old boy since they are still technically growing at that stage and can’t really achieve that mature body unless they train so much that their stature can’t grow anymore. I don’t know, because according to Google, the mature body is at 21 so I can’t really imagine them at such a young age. Interesting topic.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wrote about this awhile ago too because it really bothers me as well.
    Here’s the link if you’d like to read it
    🙂 For me, it just makes the whole story feel too far fetched. But at the same time, if all the characters had to fit with the age group of readers they are intended for (so teenage characters for YA books) and must be realistic, it limits the amount of stories that you can tell – most dystopians would be off the table… So idk lol 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true! I guess in certain books the unrealistic aspects can be forgiven for the sake of context. It would be annoying if our 16-year-old protagonist had to drop everything and go to school everyday lmao

      Liked by 1 person

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