Friday, 10 November 2017

What is it that attracts adults to read YA?

When I first started this blog I was 17, and all I read was YA. I read the occasional classic or adult book too, but YA was where my heart was at. Now I'm almost 20 (yikes), and the YA section is still my first stop when I enter any book store. I love the genre as much as I did then, maybe even more, and I don't think my age is ever going to change that.

Of course, I am not the only adult YA reader. A huge portion of the bloggers I follow and interact with are in their twenties, and many of my friends outside of the online world are also incredibly passionate about the books marketed at people younger than ourselves.

I find this a very curious thing. The category of 'Young Adult' is strange in that it's not actually a genre, despite that being what we call it. With a genre you expect certain themes; a particular style of writing; conventions that can be followed or broken. But YA doesn't have any set conventions. The writing styles differ hugely from book to book, and the central topics aren't always about the struggles of growing up (Six of Crows, Ink and Bone and And I Darken are all books that come to mind). It can't even be said that the genre is an absence of 'adult' content, because they still do contain very mature themes (Patrick Ness' Release deals with sex, workplace sexual harassment, and coming out to an unsupportive family all in under 300 pages). When it comes down to defining YA, it seems the only definitive things that can be said about it is that the protagonists are young adults, and the audience is young adults.

I have a strong belief that YA should always be written with young people in mind, regardless of whom ends up reading it. But it is interesting that the genre can attract so many people outside of the target audience.

Maggie Stiefvater said some things in a Twitter thread last month on this topic.

"Articles moan that adults flock to young adult books because they are shorter, easier, more straightforward in plot and language. [... But] I believe it is because YA is a movement. Not a style, a movement."

I couldn't agree more. I disagree with the notion that YA is easier reading. It can be, but I believe that's because it's modern. The themes are relatable and the language is accessible - but that isn't something exclusive to YA, and isn't necessarily the rule. People still write for other genres in a similarly modern and accessible way, and YA can have very heavy and complex lanuage.

I also agree with the idea of YA being a movement of modern traits that brings "progressives, optimists, rule-breakers and rule-benders" to it's authorship and readership. I had not given it much thought before, but there is an emotional idea and substance behind YA that stands apart from any other genre. No other age category or genre of fiction has the same sense of unity as with what we see in YA, in it's community and in it's messages.

Maggie also talks about in her thread that "adults will move out of YA" when other book sections start to reflect millennial culture in a similar way, but I don't think that's necessarily true. I think there are more levels to YA aside from it's millennial ideologies that will continue to attract people of all ages to it. YA is animated and adventurous in nature, and it feels alive in a very different way to how books of other categories feel alive. But, that doesn't mean that YA is any better than other sections, or that other sections are better than YA. It just means that they're different.

Personally, I read YA because it makes me feel hopeful. Even the bleakest situations are edged with a shimmer of possibility, and I don't think that that is something you can always find when you roam the other sections of your library or book store. I love that these stories are filled with motivation and such a unique sense of drive. These books have a movement to them outside of how they may be individually paced, and outside of how much physical action the plot actually contains. I read YA books because they are fresh and relevant and alive in a way that just clicks with me. And of course, I like to read the kind of books that I one day hope to write.

Are you an adult who still reads YA? What is it about this genre that keeps you coming back? Is it nostalgia, or something more? If you're a young adult yourself, can you see yourself still being attracted to YA in the future? What is it that has you reading it now?


  1. Yes I'm an adult who reads YA! I remember when I was a teen, I thought I HAD to get into adult books because I was outgrowing the YA genre. And so I did pick some up, but I did not connect at all with the plot and the characters (a lot of adult fiction deal with affairs and marriage and I wasn't there back then, and neither am I now lol). And it was why I stopped reading for a pretty long while. And then I realized that it shouldn't matter what age I am, I should be able to read whatever I want? So I did, and I don't regret it at all.

    So I think what attracts me to YA is the fact that I can connect with all the characters, and like you said, that there is hope and possibility in these books. And sure, I do read adult books and some of them are really good (like how some YA books are really good), but it does not have to do with complexity or shortness (there are some really short adult books out there so like ??). So it really has to do with the plot, the characters, and how I relate to both.

    Nice post!

    1. I definitely remember that era of forcing myself to read and enjoy adult books. It's bizzare to me how so many successful works of modern adult literary fiction are all about affairs and marriage. It's not relatable to the large majority of people, and while I think there's a place for it, it gives a misleading impression of what quality, reputable literature is and should be. Plus there is no way adulthood is all that bleak.

      Connecting with the characters and the themes is a big highlight with YA. I don't understand where this stigma of YA being 'easy reading' came from, becuase some of them are long and incredibly complex as you say. I agree with you completely. YA is about relatability, and I'm glad you came back to it. Age shouldn't matter when it comes to reading and consuming content you enjoy.

      Thank you <3

  2. As someone who's 24, I agree with everything you said. The idea of YA being a movement is a really great one that I'd never really thought of in that way before.

    I also think that stories about teenagers can have so much richness to them because of the nature of that stage in everyone's lives. I guess we're always discovering who we are, no matter our age, but there's certainly more intensity to it as a teenager that I think makes teenaged characters so much fun to read about. I also think it's useful from a literary standpoint and also realistic to have teenaged characters who are able to look at things in a way none of the adults around them do, and that adds to YA even more.

    1. I'm glad you could relate, Haley! I'd never thought about YA being a movement before until Maggie tweeted about it, but it feels really accurate.

      I agree that teen years involve a lot of self-discovery, and even though people are always growing, it makes the themes of YA more universally relatable to all ages. I also agree that I like reading the perspectives of characters of different ages in contrast to one another, especially when it comes from teens, because it adds a diversity of viewpoints and I think young people have a really interesting way of seeing the world.