I was a little surprised by the question; I immediately wanted to answer no.
But then I thought about it – and I realized that the asker had a good point; because from all the examples out there, it certainly does feel like first person is the norm.
But why? Going even deeper into this question – why is YA most often in first person…and adult genre fiction most often in third?
The first part of my answer to this relates back to my post on YA vs. Adult – voice. There is a definite ego-centric (less reflective of the world/life, less put into perspective, a world through the teen lens alone), emotionally vibrant and raw quality to YA voice that is best served in first person to hone in on that narrowed focus. And, let’s face it, YA authors are often pulling from their inner teens - so the I voice really is coming from the "I" of the author.
But that is not the only reason. The second layer to my answer is about how relatable the characters, situations and worlds actually are.
A cheating boyfriend, new kid at school, alcoholic mom - things featured in reality we can relate to and understand. But a snarky miss toting from one glamorous ballroom to the next, swept away in an elegant waltz…and then diving out the window in chase of a jewel thief? Not so much easy to relate to.
Let's look at some more examples:
- Contemporary YA deals with themes and situations that are directly relatable – and it’s almost always in first person.
- Lest you think all contemporary should be relateable, however: contemporary romance, despite being set in our world, often features a situation we can't relate to at all - love at first lust (...ok, sight), and a clean, happy ending. We are reading these stories HOPING we'll have it...but we can't really relate to it.
- Adult genre fiction is often pure fantasy (not something we'd likely have happen in real life) - and it is most often in third person.
- Genre YA, too (more commercial, fantastical novels) tends to feature more third person – again, I'll argue, because they are harder to relate to.
- However, again, lest you think all fantasy is not relatable: Dystopian YA, despite being far from situationally relateable, draws on many of our own fears – we can directly relate to what is going on, because so many of us have felt the same way - and so it’s not hard to see why so much of it is written in first person.
There's clearly no hard and fast rule. But my take on it is that a voice in first person allows the reader to actively be a part of the story in a directly relatable way; a voice in third person allows the reader to be just as absorbed - but like watching a movie rather than playing a virtual reality game.
Quite simply: if you’re reading I in a novel, you’d better be able to put yourself in I’s shoes.
So, what to take away from this?
If you’re debating whether or not your novel suits better in first or third – ask yourself what your end goal is. If you want your readers to have a more direct and intimate experience, first would be a better fit.
But if you want your readers to truly escape, release all inhibitions and disbelief grounded in our reality, give third a try.
You can always find and replace it back.