Skip to content

Why do Adults Love YA?

YA
A few weeks ago I came across an old and highly inflammatory post from Slate (shocking – Slate being inflammatory!) titled “Against YA” that was based on the premise that adults should be ashamed of reading YA books. If you want to get angry you can read that post here. Shortly after reading the article, I attended BEA (Book Expo) where I was surprised to find a very heavy emphasis on YA books. I came pretty close to being smothered to death when I accidentally became part of a crowd trying to snag a copy of a YA book.  And the people attempting to smother me weren’t teenagers or young adults in their early 20s. They were squealing adults (I kid you not, there was squealing galore) around my age – in their 30s and older. So what is our fascination with YA and why do so many adults feel driven to consume literature created for 12-17 year olds?

I’m a self admitted book snob. It’s not a characteristic I admire in myself and fortunately it’s not something I project onto others. What you read should be judgment free and whatever makes you read is valuable. If you love reading YA then good for you! I don’t judge you for it and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. But when it comes to my own reading, I find myself unable to truly surrender to YA books. My cynical, adult, critical self gets in the way of my ability to be able to buy into the sorts of relationships and drama that predominate the YA world.

The author of the inflammatory article raises some good points, albeit hidden inside her incredibly judgmental rhetoric, and the article made me wonder why it is that adults seem so drawn to books that are explicitly written for 12-17 year-olds. YA is really a marketing scheme rather than a genre, but bottom line is that it refers to all genres that are directly focused on a teenage audience in their content, style, and themes. Although there is incredible range and depth to be found within YA literature, the truth of the matter is that they are marketed as being different from “adult” literature and there is an assumption therefore that they are qualitatively different (e.g., more dramatic, less realistic, less ambiguous, neatly tied endings, less graphic sex or violence, etc.). To me, many of those differences come down to a more simplistic, less rich or nuanced worldview.

I posted the question of why we like YA to one of my goodreads groups and people gave all sorts of interesting and legitimate reasons why they like to read YA including for escapism, to share reading experiences with their children, and for entertainment. Full disclosure: I do read the occasional YA book. Perhaps 5-10% of my reading is YA. I read a lot “heavier” and “darker” literature and occasionally need breaks to read “lighter” fare (I use quotations to acknowledge that these are stereotypes and not necessarily truths, about what constitutes YA vs. literary adult fiction). When my daughter was a newborn I almost exclusively read YA because I needed books that didn’t require concentration or much processing (sorry, I know stereotype here). I get the appeal of YA but I am surprised by the sheer number of adults whose primary “genre” of choice is YA and I think that reflects something different about our society today. Are our lives more complicated or stressful today in ways that make it more likely for us to turn back to themes from our adolescence? I personally don’t want to relieve my adolescence. Don’t get me wrong, I actually loved those years but it was a different developmental period and I like to think that I am wiser and have different perspectives on love, relationships, and life.

I don’t remember my parents ever feeling the need to read the books that I was reading as a teenager. Perhaps, YA has evolved since then (and here I’m going to date myself) but did you see your parents scanning the aisles for Sweet Valley High or R.L. Stine books? Granted once I was really in my teens, I was reading adult classics. As to escapism, it can be an important goal of reading, but why the need to escape into the world of adolescents? Escapism can be plentiful in adult books as can romance (another reason people quote in their love of YA).

Let me be clear, I think we should read the types of books we that love, that entertain us, and that make us happy. No one should be shamed for reading any sort of book. But what does it say about us as a culture when adults are flocking to the YA aisle as their primary reading choice?

My questions for you are: Do you read YA and if so, why? Do you agree with the Slate author’s premise that YA is by nature more simplistic and less sophisticated than adult novels? She writes:

It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults

Is that true? I find that my inability to enjoy YA is in fact related to how insights I’ve gained over the years have changed my worldview. And finally, if you disagree that YA is less sophisticated (for adult readers) what are some examples of YA literature that you prove your point?

33 Comments Post a comment
  1. I read books which interest me for whatever reason – I’m afraid I pay very little attention to the marketing. And that’s really all the YA label is: marketing. If something is well-written and a good story, I don’t care who’s “supposed” to be reading it. Having said that, I do try and keep my reading of young children’s books (think Hungry Caterpillar-type books) to when I’m reading to small children.

    Liked by 2 people

    May 25, 2016
    • I agree, the label is a marketing creation. However, I think there is truth in the fact that some books are clearly written for teenage audiences in mind. Do you find that you ultimately are most drawn to those sorts of books or do you read a wide range of books that cut across genre or age range?

      Liked by 1 person

      May 25, 2016
      • There are some, I agree, that are more definitely for teenage readers – from what I’ve seen, mostly in first person, which actually puts me off. I don’t think there’s any genre which can really lay claim to being my favourite, I’ve always read randomly.

        Liked by 1 person

        May 25, 2016
  2. Tracy S #

    I am thrilled that there is a YA category, as it makes it easier for teens to read. Now they have a whole section to themselves at the bookstore, and, at Barnes and Noble, it’s almost as big as the adult fiction section. My 13 year old niece is an avid reader, and she reads mostly YA.
    That being said, I don’t read much of it, and when I do, it’s because my interest has been captured by the description, or a relative/child has asked me to read it so we can discuss it.
    It’s really not my place to judge others by what they read, but my respect does (inwardly) decrease a bit when I see a woman with gray hairs express her love for the latest YA romance.
    I do find YA to be a bit simpler and less exciting than fiction geared toward adults, but good luck getting my copies of The Hobbit or Harry Potter!

    Liked by 2 people

    May 25, 2016
  3. I’d position myself the same as C.L.H. and I agree with Tracy about the genre encouraging teens to read.

    I read books for the story, regardless of who it’s marketed towards. You could say a lot of similar things about the Romance genre (such as Mills & Boon in the UK, Harlequin (I think) in the US) or the Cosy Mystery genre. There are a lot of slight/escapist books out there for adults, just as there are YA books with depth. I don’t read a lot of YA books, mainly because there are too many other books in the world, but I really enjoyed The Hunger Games for the issues it considered. It felt like a strong story that happened to be about teenagers in a world run by crazy adults, rather than the other way around. I have no interest in Twilight, though, because it just seems trite. I have re-read books I read as a child and been happy to find that they were as good as I remember them being first time around (The Silver Sword and The Family at One End Street spring to mind). As a teen I read trashy books like Flowers In The Attic and Lace, as well as classics by Dickens, Austen and the Brontës. I’d go so far as to argue that Austen and the Brontës meet the criteria for YA – their heroines are often in the YA age range and they deal in romance. A fair amount of Dickens, too.

    Good YA should act as a bridge to other good literature. It should offer the same experience of escaping into another reality or walking in someone else’s shoes as other literature. I’d rather read good YA than 50 Shades of Grey!

    Why is there such interest in YA among adults? I think society has changed a lot in the last 40 years. Compared to me (I’m 45 now) my parents at my age were proper grown ups. They had different childhoods to me, though, too. Post modern life facilitates the extension of teen interests and behaviours, I think. Adults now probably don’t feel the same expectation to be grown up that my parents’ generation did. It’s okay for us to be gamers, comic book readers, YA readers, BMX riders, or whatever aspect of our youth we want to retain. And while I’m not a parent myself, what I observe in my friends is that they want to be friends with their children and share in their experiences, which includes reading the same books as them.

    Liked by 2 people

    May 25, 2016
    • Tracy S #

      I do have to bite my tongue when someone tells me how 50 Shades of Grey is great literature… And I agree: The Hunger Games was a good series, with a strong heroine who formed a true team with a male character- it deserved its popularity.
      To paraphrase my dad: a good book is a good book.
      Maybe it’s not that more adults are reading YA so much as it is that they’re not ashamed to read it in public. After all, many folks read political pundits and heaving bosom books in front of others!

      Liked by 3 people

      May 25, 2016
      • I don’t think I could bite my tongue. 50 Shades may have appeal to many but not sure anyone would say they read it for the literary value. If they said that to me, I’d laugh.

        Liked by 1 person

        May 25, 2016
      • The Hunger Games was good although I felt like it was a knock off of other books like Running Man

        Like

        May 25, 2016
      • That’s another aspect of recent YA books. One of the reasons I didn’t take to Harry Potter when I read the first book to my nephews, then aged 10, was because it reminded me of other, better children’s books. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it hooks teens into reading, then they’re free to explore more widely and encounter what went before. My nephews are now 25 and read avidly. They share some of my reading taste and we swap recommendations regularly. It’s a joy!

        It’s the same with music. I rarely buy new music now because artists are too referential of bands I loved in the 80s and 90s. I had those earlier bands that they’re influenced by, I don’t really need their rehashing of it. But someone discovering music now will follow the influence and discover more brilliant music, the way I followed New Romantic bands and New Wave bands back to Punk, Bowie and Glam.

        Liked by 2 people

        May 25, 2016
    • My husband and I have been talking about this issue and we also talked about how gaming, comic, etc all seem part of that same phenomena. I’d also much rather read anything than 50 shades of grey but wasn’t that inspired by Twilight — in other words same basic YA ideas but with an attempt to make it adult focused. You said that Austen and Bronte sisters would meet criteria for YA, what criteria? YA isn’t really a genre in my mind so I’m curious what makes something a YA book? The author of the article mentioned them by saying that they are books about teenagers but written for adults. Anyway, you raise lots of interesting points. Need to digest them.

      Like

      May 25, 2016
      • I probably accept loosely that the marketing tool of YA has become a genre because it has a section in book shops, but it’s not the same as a genre that’s based on a theme or style (crime, science fiction, romance) because it crosses lots of these other genres. If I think about it, I pigeonhole YA as aimed at teenagers with teenagers as the protagonists. That’s what I meant by Austen, the Brontës and some Dickens fitting the genre. Other books that I read as a teen that I would say also fit are Catcher In The Rye, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne books, the Sue Barton nurse series, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Huckleberry Finn, The Bell Jar, The Prydain Chronicles, Little Women, Lord of the Flies. There aren’t many on that list that I’d read now, but looking at it, it makes me think that fiction for teens about teens has been around for decades but has only recently been classified as YA.

        I don’t know much about 50 Shades. My snobbery towards it is in the area of self-publishing/fan-fiction being taken up by publishers, not being edited properly, and preventing better writing from being published, all in the name of the bottom line. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish!

        Liked by 1 person

        May 25, 2016
    • Jan I confess as a teenager I was addicted to the Virginia Andrews books.

      I have a funny memory of me and my mum at a car boot sale and an older lady was looking at the Virginia Andrews book her friend said “you don’t want to read them, they’re all full of incest” my mum looked at me and said “is that true” me “yep” mum “I might have to give them a go”

      My other addiction was the Dragonlance series of books by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman and thinking about it they would probably fall under the term YA today not because they feature teenagers but because of the fantasy world.

      Liked by 2 people

      May 26, 2016
      • They were so awful and gripping and awful, weren’t they? I loved them. Especially the covers with the creepy cut out around one of the children’s faces, and then you opened the book and there was a horrible family photograph.

        And I laughed out loud at what your mum said!

        Liked by 1 person

        May 26, 2016
      • They were so bad they were good which is how I felt about American soap opera Sunset Beach rofl ahh the memories

        Liked by 2 people

        May 26, 2016
      • I guess the real question is — would you want to read them again as an adult?

        Like

        May 26, 2016
      • Well apart from my strict no read policy I would actually be tempted to read again just to see how I feel about them now that’s with regard to the Virginia Andrews with regard to Dragonlance yep I would read new additions as I loved the fantasy world.

        Liked by 1 person

        May 26, 2016
      • Tracy S #

        I did reread the Andrews books as an adult, about 10 years ago, just for that same curiosity. They weren’t as good as my 13 year old self thought!

        Liked by 1 person

        May 27, 2016
  4. Michelle #

    Yes you are right that article was annoying and very judgmental. And when she did sway a bit to appear to understand why a person would read YA it was usually followed with a “I suppose” or “supposedly” ~ If Ruth doesn’t want to read YA then that’s her choice. But don’t judge another if that’s their preference. And by no means should an adult be “embarrassed” to read YA.

    I am also thrilled there is a YA category. I think those books inspire young people to read more, which obviously, is a wonderful thing. I occasionally like to read YA and not for any particular reason. I don’t want to only read YA just as I don’t want to eat the same thing at every meal. Sometimes it’s just a decision based on my mood or what I have read previously. I feel that when you become an avid reader you evolve and as a result you feel the need to move on to something deeper and more sophisticated, books written about different cultures and countries. I think naturally you start to crave variety. I read mostly adult and to be honest I have come across some that feel very simplistic in their writing and they aren’t even in the YA category.

    I think the bottom line is find the books and authors you like and be open to try something new, no matter what the category, because you just never know what world is waiting for you ~ Read, Read, Read !!!

    Liked by 3 people

    May 25, 2016
    • well said. I agree that any books that makes kids, teens, or adults read more is a valuable book.

      Like

      May 25, 2016
  5. I think I feel the same way you do – whenever I try a YA novel, I find it not to be complex enough for me. I often will like them, but rarely do I love them. There are exceptions, of course.
    When I read YA, it’s to read something my daughter is reading. Or, sometimes I’ll read one if I want a quick read that I don’t have to focus on too much, if life is busy. I do agree with everyone who says that a good story is a good story, and reading is the main thing. I’m especially thrilled that my daughter loves it so much. I also think she likes having her own section at the library; away from the little kids and the adults.
    I don’t know your age, but I also remember a time when there didn’t seem to be a separate YA section. We just went from kids’ books to reading off our mother’s bookshelves. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    May 25, 2016
    • It’s an interesting point about YA sections being appealing to the target age as a special section away from kids books but also unique to them. I have found some YA books to be very good and/or entertaining but the books that tend to have the greatest impact (from both an emotional and intellectual standpoint) are almost aways going to be books that fall outside YA. My daughter is only 5 so I’m not at the point yet where I’m reading YA to read them with her. I’m in my late 30s 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      May 25, 2016
  6. Unlike Jen I am a self confessed Book Slut if someone has written it I will read it!! and yes this does include 50 shades, however I did not read 50 Shades for the literary value but because I was hunting desperately for a storyline. Spoiler alert I didn’t find one.

    I like YA and am happy to admit to liking YA, why do I like it? I think it is escapism, the YA books I read are the Dystopian / Post Apocalyptic sort not the romance sort and reading about teens finding their place in a new world is my catnip.

    Liked by 2 people

    May 26, 2016
  7. I haven’t been reading YA for very long; only for the last year or so, unless you count some of the books that commenters here and on the original article mention, such as The Westing Game and Anne of Green Gables. I wonder what Graham’s definition of YA is, as it seems to include only books that have been published in the last 15-ish years that have been specifically marketed as YA and are often made into movies.

    There is a distinction between a book being simple in its readability, and simple in its themes or characters. YA is definitely easier to read so it’s simpler in that sense, but that doesn’t mean it is less sophisticated (at least not necessarily). Graham seems to be making another assumption – that what is simple is necessarily bad, or at the very least that a simple book is not worth as much as what is literary. Sorry – a book that takes a lot of effort to read isn’t necessarily worth that effort (*coughUlyssescough*). I’ve recently read The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater, which reminded me of the books I used to read as a kid that made me love reading, and the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, which was a lot of fun. Were the Lunar Chronicles books more readable and less sophisticated (thematically) than The Gap of Time or Girl At War? Yep. Does that mean that they are purposeless or a waste of time? Nope. I will always prefer literary fiction and classics over YA, but I am learning to appreciate YA for the break it gives me in between reading more heavy books.

    One of the main arguments that Graham made is that we shouldn’t replace literary fiction with YA. I obviously can’t speak for all readers, but to me those are two very, very different audiences, regardless of age. I can’t imagine anyone who loves literary fiction or classics saying to themselves “you know, I’m done with this amazing literature, I think I’ll give up on it and read only books about teenagers, because reasons!”

    Liked by 3 people

    May 26, 2016
    • Well said. I agree with all your points. I think that Grahame is referring specifically to “realistic” young adult books like the newer stuff that has come out in the last 10 years – things like The Fault in our Stars , Rowell books, etc.

      Like

      May 26, 2016
  8. JoLene R #

    I do read YA, but I also read a lot of other stuff as well. So far this year, out of the 40 books I’ve read 5 were YA, and one of those was I Captured the Castle (so more of a classic :-). To me, YA is a marketing ploy because as mentioned, there are all types of genres. I think it’s awesome that there is a whole section of books for teens.

    As a teenager, I too read the V.C. Andrews books as well as sneak reading Joanna Lindsay and Jude Devereaux books from my mom’s bookshelves. I’m not sure that I would say that any of those books had higher literary value than some of the YA books on the market today. Like you Jen, I did go through a period of reading a lot of YA when I went through treatment for cancer — I was just not mentally able to follow complex stories. (As an aside, when I found out that I would have some time off of work, I was really excited to finally read Game of Thrones –> I only made it through the first 3 chapters before setting it aside).

    I think that YA often makes for great audio books because (generally speaking) the stories are more plot driven and easier to follow when you may be multi-tasking a bit. Authors like Antony Marra, I would never listen to because I love his writing and tend to re-read sentences and paragraphs just to admire his turn of phrase.

    Liked by 1 person

    May 27, 2016
  9. Celia #

    I like YA books because they are quick reads. I also like them because there are some great writers in the genre, and some very innovative things being done. I’ve got two recommendations for you to check out: “The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness, and “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor. Both are wildly creative, gorgeous books. “The Knife of Never Letting Go” is one of the best books I’ve read in the past decade, written in a unique voice. Sorry for using so many superlatives but these are great books and worth checking out.

    Liked by 1 person

    May 27, 2016
    • Thanks for the comment! I happen to like Patrick Ness and have already read the one you mentioned. Like I said, I do read YA and think that there is a lot of variety out there in the YA “genre.” The Knife of Never Letting go is one of my favorite YA books. I haven’t read Laini Taylor’s books. I will read some YA because I do think there is talent there but overall I find less complexity (as it should be) in genre as a whole so it makes up a smaller percentage of what I read.

      Like

      May 27, 2016
    • Michelle #

      I loved The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy too !!! I really enjoy Annabel Pitcher, A.S. King and the Stargirl Collection by Jerry Spinelli……Just to name a few ~
      Adding The Knife of Never Letting Go to the list, thank you !!! Happy Reading : )

      Liked by 1 person

      May 27, 2016
      • Celia #

        I’ve read everything by Patrick Ness, and like all of his work. In addition to The Knife of Never Letting Go (which is the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy) I highly recommend his most recent novel, called The Rest of Us Just Live Here. I read it straight through, and about a week later read it straight through a second time.

        Liked by 1 person

        May 27, 2016
    • Michelle #

      Thanks Celia ~ I do have A Monster Calls but just haven’t got around to it yet. I’ll be on the look out for the rest of his work. I look forward to it !! Thank you ~

      Like

      May 27, 2016
      • JoLene R #

        I also haven’t finished the Chaos walking trilogy — I think I need to prepare myself as the first two books are pretty gut wrenching.

        Liked by 1 person

        May 28, 2016
  10. I hate that Slate article, because even though I personally agree with her about some of it, I just can’t believe anyone feels entitled to tell others that they should be ashamed of their reading. And write an article about it, from a high-profile platform like that. Making huge, sweeping generalizations. Just . . . Seriously?

    I was very into YA throughout my twenties, but over the past couple years—I’m turning 31 next week—I am suddenly and completely turned off to it. It was actually Rainbow Rowell and John Green that did it; I really liked Fangirl and Eleanor & Park, but pretty much immediately after reading them, I realized I am sick to death of YA romance. Modern YA is different from what existed when I was in that demographic (same as yours, Jen: Sweet Valley, the Babysitters Club, books by Lloyd Alexander and Roald Dahl), and it’s this new particular style I’ve gotten tired of. Too sweet, too clever, too everything. Everyone meets their soulmate, teenagers are way too well-spoken and witty, etc. Of course that’s just my experience with it, but blech.

    There have always been adult books that fill this same escapist role, and I don’t think it makes a difference whether people are reading cozy mysteries or YA contemporary fiction. The one thing I do wonder is if teenagers will end up moving into adult fiction after they leave their teens, now that there’s such a well-developed genre geared specifically toward them. (Obviously some will, and presumably most will eventually . . . Will just it take longer? Not happen at all? I’m curious.) Basically before the last ten years or so, once you were done with Sweet Valley and the Hardy Boys, that’s all there was to move on to. Michelle mentioned the natural urge to find more complex writing and more diverse stories, and I know that’s true for many people—probably most of us here—but I don’t think it is necessarily a given.

    I also think it’s interesting that books are really the only form of art we have these conversations about. Does anyone write obnoxious thinkpieces about superhero movies, shaming people who only watch blockbuster action movies? Would the writer of this piece say the same things about people who listen to pop or rock music instead of classical? Why is it with books in particular that there’s so much judgment about whether people are reading the “right” ones?

    Liked by 1 person

    June 2, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: