Let’s Talk: Reading Young Adult, But As An Adult

shelatitude_readingyoungadult

The official definition of the Young Adult audience—at least according to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)—is anyone between the ages of 12-18 years old.

I’m in my twenties, so obviously I’m beyond that target market. Over these past few years, however, I’ve spent many a night with my nose deep in various YA books, stepping into the shoes of teenagers and re-experiencing the world through their adolescent eyes.

In this post, I attempt to answer this question: What about YA books make them so popular for the older audience? If like me, you are one such ‘older audience’ person, this post is for you. If you are between 12-18 years old, well, you might find something here for you, too.

What inspired this post

Two weeks ago, I read an article written by Ruth Graham on Slate titled ‘Against YA‘. On it, she said:

“Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”

Her reasoning was two-fold: first, that the ‘list of truly great books for adults is so long’ (so presumably we should read those instead), and second, that we should probably stop ‘substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature’ (because if we do, we’re missing something).

Now, I don’t disagree that there are truly great books out there, many of them written for adult consumption, but I disagree completely when she said we should be embarrassed. I disagree also that we are missing something if YA is all we read.

For the record, I’m a very experimental reader, and while I do actually read other books than YA, YA is my main reading genre at the moment, and I stand firm when I say that there’s no shame in reading it well into adulthood. Here are my reasons why.

1) Young Adult books are experimental in nature.

Historically, YA authors aren’t afraid to push the boundaries, to test the waters, to try something new. These authors aren’t afraid to explore different elements of a book—characterisation, plot, themes, settings, and even format—all in favour of good storytelling, for example:

▪ In The Next Together, Lauren James experiments with having a non-linear plot.
▪ In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness plays with genre conventions in an outside-the-box sort of way.
▪ In Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Everything, Everything, Jesse Andrews and Nicola Yoon respectively experiment with formats of storytelling through the use of text messages, chat conversations, lists, movie scripts, and sticky notes.

While many YA books follow a set formula and don’t stray too far away from the conventions of the genre, sometimes there are ones that just surprise us all, and those are the ones that make genre stand out, at least to me.

2) Young Adult books make for easier, but not meaningless reading.

This is more of a personal reason, but I generally found YA books to be easier to read and to get into when compared to their ‘Adult’ counterparts, i.e. YA fantasy is easier to follow than adult fantasy, YA sci-fi is easier to follow than adult sci-fi, etc.

A lot of it, I think, has to do with the writing. These are books written (and marketed) for teenage readers, so the language is typically simpler, the world-building less complex, and the plot clearer. Not only that, good YA characters tend to be very accessible, with likeable personalities, relatable thoughts and opinions, and problems or conflicts that are generally familiar to us readers.

Easier reading does not necessarily translate to meaningless reading, however. Many YA books deal with serious topics much more gracefully than adult books do. Little Peach, for example, is a story about child prostitution and it’s one that’s utterly gripping and realistic. The Fault in Our Stars—certainly a juggernaut in the genre—deals with grief, death, and terminal illnesses.

3) Young Adult books provide a sense of nostalgia.

Caveat: I actually enjoyed my university years and my adult life much, much, MUCH better than my high school years—but I can’t lie and say that I didn’t sometimes fantasise about turning back time and going back into those simpler, less-complicated days.

I definitely remember sprinting to my locker during class breaks, eating lunch in the canteen with a bunch of friends, being forced into school-spirit activities you don’t want to do, getting detention for skipping class, etc., and I’m sure many of you do, too.

Reading certain YA books reminds me, in a good way, what it’s like to be young(er), back when my life mostly revolved around passing classes, getting into university, crushing on boys, spending time with my friends, and rebelling against my parents. Adult life has been amazing to be sure, but being young is wonderfully great, too.

4) Young Adult books promote self-discovery.

This is one thing that I think is the defining characteristic of a good YA novel: when the protagonist undergoes a process of self-discovery and finds himself or herself.

As an adult, we’re somehow expected to know, understand and be certain of who we are, what we believe in, what we’re capable and incapable of, and what we want in life… for life. That’s a scary thing and, as I’m discovering, also next to impossible. Who we are is always a work-in-progress, and we’re likely never going to find out the answers to those things completely.

Self-discovery is a continuous, never-ending process—you don’t suddenly know who you are when you turn 20 nor does everything suddenly makes sense (to my dismay). YA books acknowledge this and turn it into an advantage. 

  • Harry Potter (Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling) discovers he’s actually not quite so ordinary and learns how to deal with it.
  • Brandon Page (How to Repair A Mechanical Heart, J. C. Lillis) accepts his sexual orientation and with it himself after years of struggling.
  • Samantha McAlister (Every Last Word, Tamara Ireland Stone) understands herself better and finds out how to work with her OCD rather than against it.
  • Quinn Sullivan (Things We Know by Heart, Jessi Kirby) learns how to move on and find love again after her boyfriend suddenly died.

And therein lies the beauty of YA, for me: it offers a perspective that many books written for adults seem to have forgotten, taking readers on an adventure where characters learn more about themselves each and every passing day and make conscious decisions based on that learning.

YA books tell us: it’s okay to not know who you are. They tell us: it’s okay to change your mind. They tell us: there’s hope for each and every one of you.

My final words

Not all YA books are objectively well-written, with brilliant characterisation, a unique and original plot, and prose so beautiful you want to weep just reading it. But this is true across all genres, and I don’t believe YA is more susceptible to it than any other.

All it boils down to, I think, is what you value in your reading. Sure, there are adult books that we, as adults, can probably learn more from, but do we always want to be learning something when we read? Are we then not ‘serious readers’ if we decide that we like arguably ‘simpler’ books with neatly written endings?

I say: Hell to the no. 

So for you, readers:

  1. If you are 18 and above, what about the YA genre captivates you?
  2. Everyone else, do you see yourself moving to books written for an older audience later on? Why or why not?
  3. What would you say is your favourite YA book of all time? Why that book?
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39 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: Reading Young Adult, But As An Adult

  1. Oh my god this was great. I’m still under 18 but even then people like to shame YA. Like when people find out that I like to read, they’re like oh, you read YA, like that isn’t good enough to the classics and adults books that they read. When people ask my favorite genre, I tell them I love YA fantasy and romantic contemporaries and they look at me like I have 3 heads because YA books are apparently not meaningful and are just empty pleasure reads. Ugh.

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    • Thanks, Calliope! Yeah, the YA-shaming definitely isn’t explicit to those above 18 either–many people tend to dismiss YA books as being ’empty and dumb’ and classics as being life-changing reads. That alone is bad enough, but I also want to argue that even if we read YA just for pleasure, that is our prerogative and we shouldn’t be shamed for what, why and how we read. It’s honestly too bad that it happens quite a lot. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was an inspired post and I am glad you put a stop on the YA-reader-shaming. I am 22 and I still love YA and there is nothing wrong with that 😀

    Now on to your questions:
    If you are 18 and above, what about the YA genre captivates you?
    While I do value adult novels, I very much appreciate the style of writing in YA books. At the end of the day my brain simply doesn’t have the capacity to deal with Jane Austen. Also, like you’ve mentioned in your post, that in no way excludes the books having a meaningful message or being emotionally challenging.
    What would you say is your favourite YA book of all time? Why that book?
    I could never narrow it down to just one book. However TFIOS, Pushing the Limits, My Life Next Door and Anna and the French Kiss are pretty high up there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with everything that you and Kat said. I’m almost 26 and that’s not going to make me stop reading YA books. I still read adult novels and actually when I was a teenager I only read adult novels but right now I prefer to read YA 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It really annoys me that people put YA (and YA readers) down, so I think I just had to. :p

      I’m completely with you. I value adult novels as well, of course, but sometimes my brain just doesn’t want to read anything too ‘difficult’, and many YA books I feel pack a punch while still being relatively easy to read. Definitely a fine balance that’s hard to get right.

      I have trouble choosing favourites, too. I can barely narrow down my top books to ten, let alone one. :p

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a good read! I’m definitely over the age limit for the supposed target audience for YA…in fact I still read middle grade books too 😛 I just enjoy them. I don’t see a reason to avoid reading what I enjoy. Books are like music and food, it is really boils down to personal preference.

    As for your questions:
    1. What captivates me, the nostalgia of knowing I’ve once lived and survived through that age group! Somehow the complication of having been a teenager will always impact you in someways. I also believe that even if YA is targeted at the younger age group, their books can still teach us a thing or two about life despite being adults. I have this interest in learning and development even if I didn’t major in it and I think YA is a good way for us to understand the youth at the moment, of course not everything is relatable but its a good start.
    2. I do read a mix of Adult (this includes the classics), YA and MG books, for me it just depends on what I’m in the mood for. Just lately I’ve not had the capacity to read any “adult” written content aside from the romance genre (its easy and breezy to get through). For me its just all about how I feel and some days my brain simply doesn’t have the ability to digest overly complex topics and themes in books – I just want it to be spelled out to me and have all the feels with out the gritty. We already deal with day to day stressors, sometimes we need a break from it.
    3. I donno if I have one, but really if I HAD to pick: Harry Potter series and Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series. I grew up partially with the Harry Potter series as well as the Dark Material series and they hold a special place in my heart. Esp for HP, at the time I had just moved to a completely new country as a teenager and was feeling all out of sorts, and the series had continued throughout my high school period into my college one – it was something constant…I’m not sure if I even makes sense. LOL

    But there it is!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually think Middle Grade is less shamed as a genre than YA is—people tend to think of MG as nostalgic and innocent, whereas YA is just the story of forlorn teenagers, haha. Maybe that’s just my experience, though. :p

      1) Love this answer of yours! I think it’s important to also remember the fact that YA does impact teenagers and help some of them survive those ‘difficult’ years.

      2) Oh yeeees. Romance is definitely easy and breezy to get through, and I think because of that it also gets lots of flack (i.e. if you only read romance, you’re not a ‘real’ reader) just like YA did. I mainly read for escapism, so like you, I can relate with needing a break from the day-to-day stressors.

      3) I also grew up with Harry Potter, and hey, I also moved to a new country when I read that first book! I don’t think it helped me necessarily in that sense, but it’s definitely a childhood favourite. It makes sense for sure. ❤

      Thank you for your very detailed comment! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and answers. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ashamed of myself? Girl I’m 24 and I read YA. Personally I agree with all that you have said, and I read adult novels just as much as I read those ‘marketed’ for the ‘young adult public’. But when did books discriminate between ages? I still re-read my fairy tales and I’m cool with it. Now while I agree that YA for me are lighter reads than my adult ones, I don’t think they value less. They are works of art, literary pieces meant for the enjoyment of people, written by passionate writers. Garcia-Marquez and Murakami are wonderful but not all adults love their works. Who cares what you read right? What matters is that you do and it makes you happy doing it.

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    • It’s not only age discrimination either; romance readers, for example, get a lot of flack for reading what they read, even though romance is one of the most published genres and there shouldn’t be any shame for reading about love and relationships.

      I definitely agree–what matters is if you’re happy reading what you read. 🙂 The strange thing though is that I feel reading Middle Grade/downright children’s books is often less shamed than reading YA. YA tends to be dismissed as just a love story between teenagers, whereas MG/children’s are sometimes seen as being ‘innocent’ or ‘nostalgic’ or something along those lines…

      Thanks for the comment! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know. Personally I am not a fan of Romance, but I am not throwing shade to those who do. I believe there are great romance novels out there, I just don’t think they are for me. Preference stuff. YA I think is a great medium for adventure and trying new stuff in writing. It allows I think for a wider margin for acceptance since it is kind of in between and the borders are quite blurry..

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          • Yes, I found that very evident since the release of fairy tale re-tellings. They are genius ideas by the way, and the reading audience has accepted them very well. I don’t understand all this indifference with YA, even considering it inferior to other genres of writing. In fantasy or contemporary I think YA novels are worthwhile reads, especially because their is a multitude of voices and perspectives you see.

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            • I absolutely LOVE fairytale retellings, and I’m glad you mentioned them! There’s just something about the classics; they work so well even in a re-imagined setting. You’re right that there are tons of voices and perspectives to read about. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Amen girl: HELL TO THE NO.
    Why should I feel embarrassed, and more importantly, how do people have the audacity to say we ought to be? It’s not even offensive – it’s just sad to make such an assertion.

    I absolutely agree that YA is inherently experimental, and that’s what draws me in as an older reader. YA has one of the most imaginative and wonderful collections of writing out there, and I just love – as you say – that nostalgia. I also love engaging with people younger than I am (maybe it makes me arrogant, but I never had a person who was older than me to talk to and discuss my thoughts and feelings, especially in what I read? So in a way, I want to be that person for someone, if ever possible).

    Furthermore, I think it’s ignorant to suggest that simpler = worse? It sounds extremely ageist too. There’s no fault in reading ‘simpler’ things; as you say, there’s so much value and potential in simpler things, especially when it’s targeted towards a younger audience. You can learn and understand so much from these narratives that you wouldn’t otherwise read in non-YA.

    But anyway, HELL TO THE YEAH FOR THIS POST, REG!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I KNOW RIGHT! It’s the same thing with romance novels–as if somehow, reading about love and relationships makes you a lesser reader than those who read about more literary stuff. Not that literary stuff is bad, of course; it’s just a matter of preference. What’s important I think is whatyou get out of your reading.

      That’s very sweet what you mentioned about being someone older to talk to and discuss things with for the younger community. I didn’t have anyone to really talk about books either growing up and I imagine that would have had its own benefits.

      This is a bit off-topic, but I’m really (pleasantly!) surprised at how young some bloggers are. When I was 12-13 I barely did anything as productive or creative! Plus it’s really interesting to see their POV versus our POV on certain books.

      Thank you for your comment. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. When I was introduced to young adult literature, I was a young adult. I’ve grown up with those books, so they are very much a comfort zone for me. I feel like, despite growing older, I will still have a fondness for young adult books; I’ll probably always read them, and I’ll never be ashamed of that. (Seriously Slate, are you *still* publishing articles shaming people about the books they read? Gross.) But, now that I’m older, while I appreciate young adult books and what they have to offer, sometimes…I feel a little too old for them now to read them exclusively like I have in the past. It has become a challenge to relate to or even simply accept the characters, their decisions, their actions. The grown-up side of me is clicking my tongue, shaking my head, and thinking “you’re going to regret this impulsive decision later” or “oh honey, that guy is not worth your time”.

    You know what I won’t be tool older for though? HARRY FREAKING POTTER!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I’m completely with you on the whole clicking your tongue, shaking your head thing. Some of the decisions made by YA characters make me want to face-palm so hard, and there’s quite a LOT of “oh honey, he’s not that great” that goes through my head. :p

      I’m not sure how I got over it or if I even am over it. I think it helps that YA isn’t the only thing that I read, so I get a refresher in between young, ‘naive’ characters and more mature ones. Besides, not all YA characters get that “please no” reaction from me. Do you still read a lot of YA, at all?

      Harry Potter is such a classic! I grew up with it so it definitely has a special place in my heart. ❤

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      • Oh, I definitely still read quite a bit of YA. Prior to this year though, I read YA almost exclusively, only making an exception for an occasional non-fiction book. Now I say 50% of what I read is YA and 50% of what I read is “grown-up books”. Even if I’m shaking my head because of their naivety, I still love YA lit!

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  7. I don’t think I will ever be embarrassed in reading YA. My reading life started in the Young Adult genre and I’m forever grateful for it. As I get older, there are some points wherein your reading tastes started to change. I’m a person who explores different genres and I don’t stick to YA all the time or I should say nowadays, I haven’t read many YA books lately because of my mood. It doesn’t mean that I hate YA but I just tend to be “selective” on the YA books I’ve read.

    If you are 18 and above, what about the YA genre captivates you?
    – I love YA books that will suck you into the story. I think that’s the important one. It doesn’t matter if it’s paranormal, contemporary, sci-fi..etc. As long as I’m engrossed with the story. I’m good with it.

    Everyone else, do you see yourself moving to books written for an older audience later on? Why or why not?
    – Yes. As you grew older you tend to be mature and you want topics that has a bigger conflict. Not that YA has a “shallow” conflict (though there are some of them.) You just want to explore on other things. Again, it doesn’t mean I will stay out from YA.

    What would you say is your favourite YA book of all time? Why that book?
    – Aside from Harry Potter (that’s already given. I will say Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. The most underrated YA book (or can be middle grade) ever. It is the true essence of YA. So innocent and realistic. There’s a story behind Flipped that makes me love it. Also, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s more of a mature YA as it deals with several issues (Drugs, sex, depression etc). So trigger warning. However, it’s such a complex book that gives you a life lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I’m the same kind of reader—I pretty much cycle through several genres in a year, although YA and Romance are kind of my ~big two~ in the sense that they tend to be what I come back to.

        I think sometimes as a blogger, that makes things a bit hard because people come to your blog expecting you to review things of a certain genre, so you’ll feel that obligation to continue meeting that expectation. What genres are you reading more now, and do you tend to review all the books you read?

        Haha, I read Flipped when I was in the eighth grade and really enjoyed it! Was there a story behind it that I’m not aware of? :O

        I haven’t read The Perks of Being a Wallflower yet but I doubt I will at this point, since a trusted friend told me that she found the writing a bit ‘whiny’ (is this true?). I also watched the movie first and honestly didn’t find it particularly engaging… It was very John Green-y in feeling and Green’s books never really connected with me, haha. Have you seen the movie yet?

        Thank you for your very thorough comment, Bea! It was really great to read your thoughts. 🙂

        PS: And of course! No need to worry. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        • I completely agree with you on people come to your blog expecting a review from a certain genre. It’s hard to find an audience but I don’t really stress myself on it because I want people to explore the beauty of all genres. I just do what I do. As for Flipped, it’s more of my personal story why I could relate to it 😉 That’s why that book is really close to my heart. I see myself on Juli when I was young. I’ve watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I think it’s one of the best book to movie adaptation as well. (second to Flipped) Though that book somewhat reminds me of Looking for Alaska.

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          • PS. I tend to review all the books that I’ve read. mostly I read Romance novels lately. (YA/NA/Adult) Also selective mystery novels. which I didn’t expect because I’m not a big fan of it. I’m kinda hesitant to read fantasy novels lately.

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            • That’s good! You do what works for you–no one really has to read things they don’t actually want to just for the sake of their blog. 🙂

              I’ve actually been so deeply entrenched in the YA genre, I haven’t read much of anything else lately and I’m starting to miss it! Do you think you have a favourite genre, overall? Like something you’re always keen on reading?

              Liked by 1 person

  8. I really agree with this list, I’m in my twenties and while I read adult fiction, I love YA! It’s just… free. So many new ideas and new concepts, along with figuring out who are you and where you fit in.

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