Because teenagers are basically herd animals with pocket money, the teen book market is a coveted niche, and publishers are forever stalking The Next Big Thing. Sometimes bestseller wannabes crowd out more nuanced fiction. This model has been working for publishers: look no farther than the long reign of the Twilight books on the NY Times Bestseller list if you need proof that teen books SELL.
What sells doesn’t necessarily tell you everything about teen readers, however. Many teens jump straight from Kid Lit to adult literary fiction without lingering too long in the It Girl phase. You can’t blame them. There are only so many dystopian zombie vampire books a thinking person can handle. If you have a reader who is ready to move beyond teen books, there are lists of recommendations out there; School Library Journal puts out a whole blog about this subject at Adult Books 4 Teens. These lists can help distinguish what is appropriate and what can wait.
Conversely, some younger kids read love to teen books. I personally have a nine-year-old who has been reading teen books for a year now. Sometimes this is fine, BUT I DO READ AHEAD and I often say no. These choices are important: some books really should wait for puberty. In our library it is mostly middle schoolers who read books out of the Young Adult Section, and with very few exceptions I think this works.
Despite all these valid critiques, many teen books have real value. Reading is a great way to illuminate the daily traumas of adolescence. Learning disabilities, drugs, grief, relationships, and disillusionment with adults can be safely explored in fiction. Some teen books are troubling and dark. Some are funny and insightful. If you are the parent of a teen-book reader, read along with them. TRUST ME. This is worth doing. There are SO MANY benefits: you will learn a little something about your child’s inner life, you will have a common subject to discuss on the ride to school, and (sshhh!) you may even like them.