Hi guys! Happy Friday! Today I wanted to make a post about YA books, and why as an ‘adult’, I gain just as much from reading them as the ‘target audience’.
This was inspired by Casey’s amazing post over at Adoptabookaus about why ‘Reading has no age limit’. She excellently argued why we shouldn’t feel ashamed for reading YA just because we’re outside of the intended ‘age bracket’. Please go check it out right now! It’s made of awesome.
This topic has been on my mind for a while, as I’ve seen a number of snobby online articles over the past few months about why adults *shouldn’t* read YA.
The two in particular which riled me up (which just for reference’ sake, and not because I endorse them in any way, I am going to link to here) were:
Most YA fiction is grown-up fiction in disguise (The Guardian)
Both of these articles made me hopping mad, and I wanted to share my feelings on why these journalists are, in my opinion, all kinds of wrong.
The Telegraph article suggests adults should be reading ‘classics’ instead of enjoying children’s books, and ‘painting’ instead of collecting adult colouring books. It argues that adults are somehow dumbing themselves down by reading YA.
First of all, reading doesn’t have to be about expanding your mind – people read for all kinds of reasons. Personally, I mainly read for enjoyment, and I’m far more likely to enjoy an exciting thriller, a swoonworthy romance, or a creepy horror than I am to enjoy War and Peace. Sometimes when I sit down after a hard day at work, I’m not really in it to improve myself, y’know?
BUT… sometimes I do want to learn. And that’s great because…
YA books CAN teach you things, and DO have educational value.
Holly Bourne’s ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ taught me a great deal about what it’s like to suffer from OCD.
Neal Shusterman’s dystopian ‘Unwind’ series prefaced every chapter with informative, real life news articles on everything from organ selling on the black market, to scientific developments in transplant surgery and 3D organ printing.
And Leslie Wilson’s ‘Saving Rafael’ taught me far more about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust than I ever learnt at school.
I am an adult, and I am constantly learning new and fascinating things of *value* from YA books.
But how do we define value anyway? Does a book have to be a classic, educational, or philosophically profound to merit value?
Why can’t a book have value because it cheered me up after a crappy day? Why can’t a book have value because an author managed to make me blub like a baby using words from their mind? Why can’t a book have value because it got my heart beating like crazy with romantic feels? Why can’t a book have value simply because I ENJOYED IT?
I mean, being an adult isn’t easy… why should I feel ashamed of escaping into a fantastic book which makes it that little bit easier to cope with?
Moving on to the Guardian article (btw, please do read Cait from Paper Fury’s response to this – which Casey highlighted in her post – because it’s bloody brilliant):
The Guardian article talks a lot about how YA books are becoming more popular with adults, and that because of this they are ‘catering less’ to their intended audience – teenagers. It also implies that there is something *wrong* with an adult reader for enjoying a YA book.
It’s incredibly offensive to suggest that teenagers can’t handle a book with more ‘adult’ themes. Personally, I read a lot of adult books as a teenager, as YA wasn’t a massive thing back then. It’s really only taken off massively in the last few years. I had no trouble understanding and enjoying these books, because *surprise surprise* TEENAGERS ARE NOT STUPID.
It’s also incorrect to say that YA books are becoming more ‘for adults’ and less ‘for teenagers’. There are gazillions of fantastic teen bloggers in this community who devour these books, and love them as much as I do. I applaud YA authors for not PATRONISING their audience by dumbing down the books they write for them; for writing about the things which matter to teenagers. (Which, funnily enough, matter to adults too – we’re not THAT different.)
I believe there *is* still a clear difference between YA books and adult books, but not because YA books are somehow *less* than adult books, but actually because they are often MORE.
And THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ADULTS ENJOYING THEM. It angers me so much that somebody would suggest there is something WRONG WITH ME for enjoying them. That it’s ‘weird’.
You know why I read YA books? Because I DON’T SEE MYSELF IN MANY ADULT BOOKS. And for me, I place more *value* on books I *do* see myself in.
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy my fair share of adult books. But, I never seem to relate to their protagonists as much as I do those of YA books.
In the Guardian article, the journalist generalises and trashes the YA ‘genre’ arguing:
“Much YA is a lazy, disheartening mush of false problems, fake solutions, idealised romance, second-rate fantasy, tired dystopias. Easy to read; easy to forget.”
Well, I am going to say something about adult books now which could be taken as me doing the same thing, so I’d like to clarify that I know this isn’t true of ALL adult books…. BUT:
Many of the adult books I have read are unrealistic and simply not relatable to me and my experiences!
Most of the ones I read are fairly formulaic, and I’ll admit my ‘grown up’ reading isn’t all that diverse. I mainly read:
A) novels about women inheriting old houses full of historical family secrets
B) thrillers about women whose husband’s turn out to be psychopaths
C) romantic fiction about women who waltz into publishing jobs unrealistically easily
I love these books, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t RELATE to them (even though many of the protagonists are my own age).
I do work in publishing, so you might say the third of these is relevant to me and my experiences. But it isn’t really. It provides an idealised picture of it. I read books like this for escapism, but I don’t connect with them as deeply as I do YA.
When I was a teenager, I read a lot of adult women’s fiction, and it gave me a very unrealistic view of what life as an adult would be like. I grew up thinking adulthood would mainly be about swanning around an office in a pencil skirt and fabulous heels, cappuccino in hand, confident I had it all figured out. I also, naively thought I would have ditched all the awkwardness of my teenage years.
I still leave the house with toothpaste on my shirt, and my shoelaces undone. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m still scared about the future. (Perhaps even more so).
Btw, I’m not trying to scare anyone here. Adulthood isn’t all bad. We have wine. 🙂 And money to spend on books. 🙂
My point is, teenage worries and fears are not dissimilar to my worries and fears as a 25 year old human.
Wrestling with your identity, friendship, being in love, dealing with grief, struggling with mental illness, being angry with the government, standing up for what you believe in… these are not just “teen” issues, they are my issues too.
Many YA books are described as ‘coming of age’, which is always traditionally regarded as a thang that teenagers do. But do we ever really stop ‘coming of age’? What is this mysterious ‘age’ we are supposed to ‘come’ to? I’m pretty sure ageing is a thing everyone, not just teenagers, does for… ooh… approx. 100% of their lives?
We don’t stop changing, struggling through crazy emotional ‘life stuff’, and learning when we hit the age of 18. I’m still doing all of those things, and adult books are doing me a disservice by not guiding me through a time I’m finding just as difficult as being a teenager.
Until I see myself in an adult book, I will continue to read YA books, thank you very much…
Because YA books are fantastic! They make me laugh, cry, fist-pump my feelings of ‘YASSS! THIS!!!!”, and most of all, they comfort me. They comfort me because they reassure me I’m NOT ALONE in not having it all figured out.
Are you an adult reader of YA? Do you see yourself in adult books, or do you identify more with YA books like I do? And if you’re a teen blogger, do you feel that YA has stopped being for you – that it has become too adult? Or do you think that’s a load of old rubbish?
I’m really interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on this!
Image credit: Giphy