Teens are not the only ones enjoying these reads
There’s been a lot of discussion about adults reading young adult (YA) books. Questions like, “Is it appropriate?” and “Why wouldn’t adults want to read books written for adults?” are being tossed around and debated. Many adults have come out and ‘fessed up to loving YA books and some adults, like myself, read them almost exclusively.
In 2012, a survey by Bower Marketing Research found that 55 percent of YA books were bought by adults. In 2014, it was reported that adult book sales were down, as YA book sales soared. As these reports kept coming, controversy sparked and the debates started, some very passionate and heated. Despite the debates, teenagers are not the only ones reading YA books, and as a librarian and an avid reader of YA books, I believe they have much to offer to adults.
Let’s revisit the history that brought YA literature to life. The term “young adult” came into use by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) in the 1960s, and refers to persons between the ages 12 and 18. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene (1930), The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger (1951), and Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954) are some examples of books that paved the way to coining the term. In their time, none of these books were considered written for teens as they are designated now.
In 1966, The Outsiders by S.E Hinton was the first book written and published specifically for teens and it was not long after that the 1970s became the first golden age of YA literature. Books written and published for teens became their own entity and were more realistic and controversial stories that spoke directly to a teen audience. The Outsiders paved the way for authors like Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, and Robert Cormier to write books for teens, and about teens, during that decade.
The 1980s saw more YA authors emerge who started experimenting with different styles, genre fiction, and series books. When the Sweet Valley High Series by Francine Pascal was published in 1983, the teen romance genre was born. It was also the first YA book to reach the New York Times Bestseller list. In the 1990s, this genre fiction continued with the extreme popularity of the Goosebump series by R.L. Stine.
But the real era in YA literature history that brought us to where we are today started in the 2000s. Honoring YA books with awards began, and marketing books to teens became a priority for publishers. Bookstores and libraries dedicated sections just to YA books. In addition, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling was published in 1999, and became a worldwide phenomenon read by all ages. The Harry Potter series, even though technically not YA, inspired popularity and a whole generation of fantasy authors, out of which came Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005) and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008), both series being read by teens and adults alike. This decade is known as the second golden age of YA literature and is the time when adults took more interest in reading books about and intended for younger audiences.
Since then, there has been a boom in YA literature and the fact that adults are reading YA books is at least part of the reason why. The evidence is not just in the statistics. The online blog Forever Young Adult (FYA), created in 2009, is strictly dedicated to the adult readership of YA books and sponsors book clubs around the world. The FYA blog states they are “a site for YA readers who are a little less Y and a bit more A.” Goodreads, an online book-sharing website, also has multiple book groups geared toward adults discussing YA literature. AARP Magazine recently featured a column 50 going on 15 in which the author gives examples of YA books its 50 plus audience will love.
Publishers frequently use savvy marketing skills to hook adult readers through pop culture outlets such as movies and TV series. You will frequently see taglines that appeal specifically to adult readers on YA books like, “Looking for the teen girl version of Game of Thrones?” for the novel Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (2013). Also, there are parents; today’s parents want to know what their kids are reading and many times want to read along with them. It is a fantastic way to bond with your teenager or help your child navigate their world through reading and discussion.
So, what is the appeal of YA literature to adult audiences? I know reading choices are highly personal, and I can only speak from my own experience, which is a lot more A than it is Y. Simply stated, I love reading the wonderful stories these authors create for and about teens. Whether it is a dystopian story of a character torn between worlds, a romance telling a tale of first love, a familiar historical setting shown through a teen perspective, or a realistic story about the experiences teens face in real life, I just can’t get enough!
Call it escapism, call it nostalgia. These are not just stories, they are complicated, diverse, complex stories about a variety of topics. The struggles of the characters are poignant and authentic. Creative risks are taken by YA authors that grab you, pull you into their worlds championed by strong voices and characters, with descriptive prose and a focus on storytelling. YA stories get to the point sooner and they are shorter, cheaper, more frequently published, and can be read in one sitting—instant gratification at its best.
More deeply, I read YA literature because it is full of feeling and raw emotion. Teenagers run on high drama, angst, and passion, all while they are becoming who they are. There is a newness to everything when you are a teenager and anything can turn on a dime. When I read YA, it takes me back to memories and feelings. I love reflecting upon them through adult eyes. Maybe I am making a connection to my younger self or moments that made me who I am today. And, hey, being adult doesn’t mean I don’t have those feelings too. I might make different decisions and yes, I frequently get frustrated with young characters and choices they make. But I mainly focus on reading these YA stories as a person with compassion, understanding, and interest in expanding my perceptions, not as a judgmental adult or an authoritative figure.
I recently read The Outsiders, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. As he lay dying, character Johnny Cade tells his friend Ponyboy to “Stay gold.” Staying gold encompasses the idea of youthful innocence. It seems the perfect sentiment to me as an adult reader of YA, because maybe nothing can stay gold forever, but I believe YA books can create that blissful feeling of our youth we seek on occasion.
If you are a little more A than Y and would like to read and discuss YA books with like-minded adults, join me for Pardon My Youth: A Unique Book Club for Adults Who Read YA at the Haymarket Gainesville Community Library. We meet on the second Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. We will be discussing American Street by Ibi Zoboi on July 10 and When We Collided by Emery Lord on August 7.
About the Author:
Jeanine Raghunathan received her MLIS at the University of Missouri. She works part-time at the Haymarket Gainesville Community Library. When she isn’t engrossed in a YA book you will find her talking or reading about YA books, doing yoga or driving one of her two boys to/from baseball. She is a midwestern girl at heart but loves living in Virginia and being a part of the important role the Prince William Public Library System plays in the community.