Why do Adults Love 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?