Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Would a Grown-Up Read Young Adult?

There are two kinds of grown-up readers in the world.  Grown-ups who enjoy young adult fiction and grown-ups who deride young adult fiction.

Maybe I'm exaggerating.  But I've never met someone my own age or older who didn't either admit, maybe a little sheepishly, "Yeah, I'm reading that Marie Lu Legend trilogy...and I like it a lot" or state adamantly, "I don't get why grown people read kid books." No one seems to be on the fence, unopinionated, just kind of meh on young adult lit.

I'm not saying grown-ups have to like young adult books.  Not at all.  To say that would imply that everyone should like everything, and we all know that's not a realistic outlook.  I don't care for romance novels.  There, I've said it.  I'm not big on most epic fantasy.  Don't make me read Dickens, because you know what? His novels make me roll my eyes.  (Now, his short fiction, on the other hand...but I digress). 

But I'm not going say I don't understand why people read romance, or epic fantasy, or Dickens.  There's something to connect to in each, if you're seeking that particular connection.

I think that people who don't see why adults read young adult don't understand the connection adults make with the books.  They see young adult as a genre that's written about adolescents, for adolescents.

That's not really the case.  Young adult is a genre written about adolescence, not for adolescents

That might seem obtuse.  Here's the thing.  Adolescence isn't just a period of rapid physical growth, unfortunate acne, and confusing hormones.  Adolescence is a period of self-discovery, change, and growing into oneself. 

If you think that people, once they can vote, buy a beer, and rent a car have finished discovering themselves, changing, and growing, then I say that a) it makes sense why you don't connect with young adult literature and b) I think you're wrongsies.  Wrongsies on so many counts.  I've grown and changed--fundamentally changed--through so many adult experiences.  Marriage, new jobs, having a kid, moving--all experiences that foment personal change.

And all experiences that connect to what you might read in young adult literature. 

Katniss takes Prim's place in the Games and says "Shoot dang, who I was and what I did prepared me a little bit for this, but not nearly enough.  I need to change.  I need to change, fast."  I got married and say "Wowza, who I was before and the experiences I had give me some framework for this relationship, but not nearly enough.  I need to adapt."

Harry Potter finds out he's a wizard and says "Oh man, who the heck am I now? I thought I was one person, and I find I'm something else." I had a child and say "Wow, does this change who I am? I thought I was one person, and now I discover new elements of my personality."

Life keeps changing, we keep changing.  We keep learning more about who we are.  That element of adolescence never really ends.  And I'm in no way saying that reading young adult lit is the only way to connect to that fundamental experience, or that, if you don't enjoy YA, you're a stagnant and unchanging person.  Just like, if you don't like romance novels, I would never assume you have a black and bitter heart incapable of love. 

But we read, in many ways, to connect.  And there is something unique in what we connect to in YA, for those of us who enjoy it.

Or maybe we're just perpetually seventeen.

What do you think?  Is Young Adult for everyone, or are adults who gravitate toward it "reading down?" 


  1. I definitely think it can be for everyone - I loved Hunger Games, and you can pry my Harry Potter out of my cold, dead hands - but I'd disagree about the definition. Young adult fiction can be about adult (or child) characters, and adult fiction can have teenage protagonists; it's more about the style, tone, plot, and pacing to me.

  2. Hi Cassidy! I agree that the definition of YA as a genre is much bigger and more complicated than what I've talked about here--I was trying to put on my reader hat and leave my writer hat off for a little while, and just think about how I connect to books.