A genuinely wonderful agent at a recent conference suggested that my MC’s voice was not YA, and I should age her up. She was absolutely right. It gave me a lot more options plot-wise and I got a full manuscript request.
That said, what the hell is a YA voice? I’ve known more than a few 16-year-olds who enjoy discussing Martin Buber and a 9-year-old who can tell you all about winemaking in scientific terms.
I’ve read, on the other hand, that agents hate it when your teen characters overuse “like” and “like, you know.” Sadly, many highly intelligent young people* can’t get through like six sentences without like saying like, like—like two if they’re, like, talking to someone their own age.
Pontification warning (prepare to jump ship)
I’m a nurture over nature person. Voice is more than a product of age or raw intellect. Content, vocabulary, inflection, etc. are generally a reflection of what we hear and are regularly exposed to. Some 10 year-olds sound like adults and vice versa.
“So what is your conclusion, Carol?” I hear you ask.** A character’s voice needs to be consistent with who she is, and ‘teenager’ is only part of that.
*At my age that would mean anyone under 35.
**Of course I didn’t hear you. That was a figure of speech, you silly.