said the annoying forum dweller.
I was admittedly annoyed. It's not a forum I post on very much, and the comment is a few pages back now, so I'm not gonna jump into a pissing contest with anyone. But this is something that bothers me to no end.
It's true that books aimed at a certain age range will generally star characters who are also of that age range. And it is for the purpose of being relatable: what was important to me when I was 13 isn't the same as what's important to me now that I'm 23. And when I'm 33 I'll have another set of priorities. Some will stay the same, but perspectives do shift.
That's hardly an excuse to say, "adults can't relate to child protagonists," though. First of all, we were all kids once (so arguably adults should be able to relate to child chars better than kids should be able to relate to adult chars - and kids' stories are littered with adult stars). Some of us had pretty intense experiences as kids too. That doesn't suddenly become irrelevant just because we grew up.
Secondly, child protagonists are often very interesting. They do things (and get away with things) that wouldn't fly for an adult. They make impulse, emotion-driven decisions, they're experiencing many things for the first time, they're cocky, they get attached, they're constantly learning. And what about any of that isn't "relatable"? Child characters can open avenues that often don't work as well for older characters. We forgive them more easily, but we're also shocked by them more easily. Plus, the great thing about kids is they grow up. There are so many novels that are or fit loosely in the "coming-of-age/bildungsroman" mold and they are awesome. (I once wrote a paper positing that Jane Eyre is a bildungsroman - properly it's likely not, but I was re-envisioning the genre for a new generation, particularly since traditionally coming-of-age stories were mainly about boys. Jane Eyre is especially fun because people tend to completely ignore the gigantic chunk of book that is her early youth into her young adulthood because it's not directly connected to her life with Mr. Rochester. But it still has great bearing and is a fabulous, fabulous story in its own right. And it's not like Jane is ever very old in the book. Likewise, Catcher in the Rye may not be about a "kid" but it's not about an adult either.)
And when you get down to it, kids aren't that different from adults. I maintain that adulthood is not an evolution from childhood: there's nothing particularly about being adult that is an improvement on being a child. Sure, you work, you have your own family, you participate in the world as part of a larger community. But adults overall are not by any means more in control of their emotions or their insecurities, or any more prone to be nice. How many times have I watched an adult cut in line at the store, or snitch, or lie, or bully? It doesn't get better. We grow up physically, but emotional maturity remains a mystery for a whole freaking lot of us.
When people talk this way about child protagonists in works geared at older readers, I can only assume they're equating "child protagonist" with "goes to school, does homework, fights with siblings, grumps at parents, picks at food, dreams of Disneyworld." (Which, though this is entirely personal opinion, is still more interesting to me than "adult protagonist" equals "goes to work, pays bills, fights with spouse, grumps at in-laws, has sex, dreams of retirement.") In other words, there are parts of a kid's life that may seem boring to an adult, and vice versa. But this is true for anyone, guys. It has nothing to do with how old you are. Most of our lives are boring most of the time. I only know a few superheroes. Why do you think people are so obsessed with celebrity gossip, even when 90% of it is fake?
It's a false fear, though, because if a work is aimed at adults, that means the child protagonist won't be inundated with those ~boring~ staples of childhood. (Unless it's part and parcel of the plot.) It'll probably be there for character development, but just because your hero is ten doesn't mean all their dialogue will be "Wow! That's soooo cool! I want ice cream!" If a child is chosen to be the star of a work geared at older readers, they were picked for a reason. There's no reason why you can't "relate" to them unless your imagination is really stifled.
You might still hate the work. Far be it from me to tell anyone they're not allowed to dislike something. You might even dislike it because you just don't like reading about kids. Fine - I don't get it, but fine. As long as you aren't making sweeping (and ridiculous and ignorant) generalizations like "adult readers can't relate to child protagonists," I have no beef with you.
I know for myself, child protagonists are often my favorites for all the reasons I listed earlier. Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lovely Bones, Midnight's Children, A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, Jacob's Room, The God of Small Things, a ton of stuff by William Faulkner's got at least a few child protagonists, Oliver Twist, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Kafka on the Shore, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, The Elegance of the Hedgehog... Shall I go on?
And let's not forget that there is no shame in liking stories that actually are meant for kids when you're an adult! You probably know adults like Harry Potter and The Hobbit and maybe even His Dark Materials, but let's not forget Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Classics, right? Here's another I'll never stop loving: Lois Lowry's The Giver. Still kills me every time.
Incidentally, the particular instance that set me off on this rant was in regards to a child character who is the only child in a cast of adults in a title that is really an in-between category itself: not entirely for kids and not entirely for adults. He's not even the main character. In other words, if you really can't relate to a kid for some reason... relate to the adults? You have lots of them? Have at it? But to be fair, before now we'd only seen incarnations of this character as an adult, and this person just enjoys him more as an adult. Again, that's fine. But exclaiming that making him a kid was a bad decision because "adults can't relate to child characters" is not so fine.
Adults can't relate to child protagonists? Give me a break.
Personally I think some people who say that really just miss all the sex that older characters get to have. There's more to life than sex, hun.
(cross posted from tumblr and my personal lj because I wanted to)