For two entire years now, a teenager named Colton Harris-Moore has been running around the Northwest, robbing things and eluding capture by law enforcement, including the FBI. When I say "robbing things," I don't mean convenience stores (although he has done that, too). This kid has stolen at least three planes and two large boats. He has survived partly in the woods and partly by raiding deserted summer cottages. Currently he has left the Northwest and has been spotted in the Bahamas.
Harris-Moore is 19 years old. When he escaped from a halfway house and began running, he was 17.
What does all this have to do with YA novels? Sometimes I think that YA protagonists (including my own in the fantasy I'm writing) accomplish more than a teen could. More outwitting of adults, more successful escapes from capture, more self-discipline and ingenuity and resourcefulness. Then I read about Harris-Moore and realize that no, these protagonists are not unrealistic. What is unrealistic are the low expectations we have for teens, treating them like six-year-olds ("Teacher, may I go to the bathroom?") until we suddenly allow them into the army, put a M-16 in their hands, and send them to Iraq.
For much of history, a 17-year-old was an adult, or so close as to make little difference. Perhaps YA fantasy and SF reminds kids of that. Perhaps we need that reminding. I certainly do not condone Harris-Moore's antics -- someone owned that $384,000 plane he flew and crashed. But he is a powerful argument that teenagers may possess more ability and resourcefulness than we give them credit for.