Why Adults Read Young Adult Literature

I was in the library browsing the young adult section when the librarian said, “That’s the young adult section, you know.”

Obviously I stopped passing for a young adult some time ago. It used to annoy me, always getting IDed for stuff: most notably when I was 27, trying to buy a glass of feijoa juice at a winery. (The drinking age in New Zealand is 18. BUT BUT BUT It was JUICE.)

“Oh, it’s far more offensive to be asked if you have a pensioner’s card,” my mother used to assure me, “especially when you DON’T”, and now that I’m never IDed for alcohol (nor JUICE) these days, I can finally see her point.

Back to the library situation, it wasn’t by accident that I was lurking in the young adult section. I happen to enjoy good YA books. By good, I mean ‘young adult books which appeal to my own sense of excellence’.

Unlike some of my adult friends I’m no Twilight fan (for those of you new to this blog). I’m no Harry Potter fan, either. I read the first and got halfway through the second before realising I wasn’t engaging with it. I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s (rather outdated) fantasy stories as a kid, and part of me wishes Joanne Rowling’s series had come out 15 years earlier, when I may well have lapped them up.

I ordered myself a whole stack of YA books for my birthday this year (the surest way to receive wanted gifts) and I’m still getting through them. I could have stayed up all last night reading Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, but when you’re 33 you can’t stay up all night like you used to… not without repercussions.

So, why do adults read books about kids and young adults? There’s no mystery, really. Below, some links to explain it better than I ever could.

YA lit has a freshness that I really enjoy, and it rarely gets bogged down in its own self-importance. YA lit is also mostly free of the melancholy, nostalgia, and yearning for the innocent days of childhood that I find so tedious in adult literary fiction.

In the library with leadpipe

Age descriptions are just marketing tools.

– from Is The Book Thief For Young Adults or Adults?

“Our emotions don’t really change,” says David Levithan. “Issues of identity and belonging and finding your way in the world are new when you’re a teen, but they never actually go away.”

– David Levithan, from Not Just For Teens: A 35 Going On 13 Special.

Dr Louise Joy, a Cambridge University academic, believes classic children’s books, and the work they inspire, attract older readers because they give them things they cannot find in their everyday lives, including direct communication, tasty home-cooked food, and tolerance towards eccentricity. The researcher claims such books represent a “symbolic retreat from the disappointment of reality”.

Why do adults read children’s books? from The Independent.\

[YA], like other genres, allows for an escape from your own reality, as you become enmeshed in an exciting, fictional world. It features characters who are malleable and who grow into themselves during the course of the novel. It’s often fast-paced and exciting, using a style of prose that is engaging and easy-to-read. … And guess what, there are actual happy ending sometimes, woo hoo!

– Emlyn Chand, from the LWC blog.

Also interesting: Still Haunted By the Mean Girls?

There’s a grown woman on my tram openly reading a Sweet Valley High book!

– @lilymandarin

When Goosebumps author R.L. Stine went to a recent YA reading, he noticed far more 20- and 30-something women in attendance than teenagers. He was puzzled, so he asked Pettit why this might be. “I said it’s because of the way [these books] read, because of plot,” Pettit says. “So much of adult literature has become so precious that sometimes what you just want is the ride. I think YA authors are freer to take you on a ride instead of constructing overwrought sentences and impressing you with their skill.”

The Atlantic

No sexual experience has probably ever quite equalled those old high school days in the back seat of a parked car when arousal was an end in itself.

– The Hite Report, Shere Hite

…we still see adulthood as a fairly rigid, square space. It’s all the things childhood isn’t – it’s restrained, it’s not free, it’s not innocent (it’s knowing, it’s experienced, it’s jaded), it’s artificial. The kind of artistic and playful imagination and curiosity we encourage in young children is not valued once it’s being practiced by adults.

I think right now we’re seeing some pushback from adults – Comic Con and videogames and the boom in popularity of children’s & YA literature, the boom of people doing creative artsy things, even poorly, making their own steampunk hats and goggles and whatnot.

The Moving Castle

Related Links:

1. Discussion group for adults who like YA books, over at Pudd’n Head Books.

2. Top 10 Young Adult Books That Adults Will Love, from Lit Reactor

3. It’s all kidlit now, and that’s just fine, from The Globe And Mail

4. Adults Are Devouring Kids’ Books For Good Reason from The Atlantic

5. There is a word to describe young adult/kidlit that appeals equally to adults. It is called ‘cross-under’. See: The Fall Book Preview of Cross-under Reads from The Atlantic

6. The Mass Appeal of YA Fiction from Sky Blue Mission

7. When Books Are Really Good, Despite Being Written For Teens from YA Highway

8. 12 Books For Teens Adults Might Enjoy from Story Snoop

9. New Study: 55% of YA Books Bought by Adults from Publishers Weekly

10. Quitting Reading YA Books from SLJ (which is about doing no such thing…)

11. 25 YA Books For Adults Who Don’t Read YA from Buzz Feed

12. The Real Reason Why Grown-Ups Love Young-Adult Fantasy Books from io9

13. Sick of telling people that you like children’s books? Help is at hand! from DYESTTAFTSA

6 thoughts on “Why Adults Read Young Adult Literature

  1. One other reason is adults’ attention span. Adult fiction tends to drawl on and on, often taking forever to get nowhere, when adults are just as much the iPhone generation as teens. We live in a world of turbo-charged consumerism, and rarely have the time to keep up with a long winded monologue about someone walking along a beach. We want stuff to happen, now – why do you think James Patterson is so popular? 600 word chapters and no time to pause – that’s why. Generally speaking, YA fiction is much more focussed than adult fiction, and tends to be edited down to its bones to keep the story moving. And you rarely have a YA novel were absolutely sod-all happens.

    If you want a recommendation, while I’m here I might as well tout CLASH, by Colin Mulhern (me!) – couldn’t be further from Harry Potter., Some reviews here: http://colinmulhern.wordpress.com/clash/

    Colin M

  2. Yes, pacing. That’s a very good point. I’m one of those adults, for defo. Every now and then I have to make a conscious effort to step AWAY from the internet for a few days so I can get into a challenging novel.

    I just checked out your blog. I always judge a book by its cover and the cover looks good. Perhaps you can clear something up for me: When ‘gritty’ is used to describe a YA book, does it mean the opposite of ‘uplifting’ or is there far more to it than that?

    I ask because once had a YA story accepted for an anthology. They were asking for ‘gritty’ and I assume that’s what I gave them, but I still don’t have a grasp on what it really means.

  3. In my view, “gritty” means contemporary, down to earth, with no holds barred. The opposite of “Glee”. I don’t think it means the opposite of uplifting though, because gritty fiction can still deliver hope. My story is about friendship and a strive for redemption (I’m not saying it’s delivered, but the strive is there). However, I don’t think you can have all darkness and misery. You need the occasional flash of humour, comedy. That’s the kind of fiction I love: dark, grimy, realistic and honest with a fine thread of gallows humour. Clash has been compared to the movie “Stand By Me”, probably for that reason.

  4. I will fully admit to being a YA reader! I actually am a Twilight book fan (not movies) and am a Harry Potter fan (books AND movies). I also love most anything that has to do with vampires and alternate reality. LJ Smith is a wonderful author and I have read most of her books….granted some I read when I was actually a teen but I have enjoyed them again as an adult. I love reading fantasy books that are not bogged down in sex. Don’t get me wrong…I am a huge fan of Kimberly Harrison and Laurell K Hamilton…and I will get down on some Anita Blake bookage. I am addicted….but for me….for the most part….YA is the way to go.

    • Certainly if you’re a vampire fan then YA lit is catering to you at present.

      I think you hit on another reason why adults might read YA – because it’s ‘not (always) bogged down in sex’. (I’ve read a few lately which are, however.)

      Unless adults read sex scenes with the end result of getting turned on by them, then descriptions of sex scenes can get to be a bit of a yawn after a while. I liken sex scenes to fight scenes which, without the adrenalin, can get a bit same same.

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