Young adult (or YA) books are more popular now than they have ever been, and that’s because it’s not just young adults reading them—it’s adults like me, too. I’m not alone in this, either. In 2012, an (admittedly rather-out-of-date) survey found that 55% of YA readers were actually adults. Incredibly, this means that more adults were reading books targeted at young adults than the young adults, themselves.
So, why do I read YA books? They’re not targeted at me, and the protagonists they feature are almost exclusively in their teenage years. It doesn’t make sense for these books to appeal to me, but they do. They really, really do, and here’s why…
Determining the difference between a YA book and an adult book is a surprisingly difficult task. On paper, the difference is this: YA books feature protagonists aged between 12 and 18 years old and generally avoid “mature” themes, while adult books target those aged 18+ and are happy to address these subjects, sometimes in great detail. However, many of the books I’ve read that have been marketed as YA do tackle these “mature” themes, while the protagonists of others have either been younger or older than the seemingly arbitrary 12-18 age bracket.
This can make the task of distinguishing a YA book from an adult book extremely confusing, particularly as the term “young adult” seems to have a different meaning within the book community than it does to the wider world. After all, if I try to picture a young adult, I don’t think of a 12 or a 13-year-old. In fact, I still refer to myself as a young adult, and I’m currently in my mid-twenties.
I believe that it’s partially due to this confusion, along with the widening divides that separate “YA subjects” from “adult subjects”, that has actually brought about the emergence of a brand new literary genre: new adult (or NA). While this new genre is still in its infancy, however, most books tend to be categorised as either YA or adult, and although, to some extent, this seems to be determined by the age of the book’s protagonist and the level of mature content it contains, it’s important to remember that literary genres have always been fairly fluid, meaning there will always be exceptions to any rule.
Earlier on, I mentioned the widening divides between “YA subjects” and “adult subjects”. Now, if it wasn’t already abundantly clear by the type of content I publish on this blog, I adore fantasy. In fact, my favourite book genres are fantasy and mythology, and the primary reason I read is to escape. I don’t want to read about the mundane reality of adulthood, to be reminded of the bills I have to pay, or to hear about the seemingly random, desperate affairs of unhappy spouses. I want magic, dragons, and adventure.
Now, before I go any further, I should acknowledge the fact that there are a lot of adult fantasy books out there. The Atlas Six, which I’m currently reading, is classed as an adult read, and, of the recent mythological retellings I have read, both Madeline Miller’s Circe and Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne are targeted at the adult market—the primary reason for this being that their protagonists are also adults.
Yet it can’t be denied that there are so many YA fantasy novels. Think of the Harry Potter series (although, admittedly, the first couple of books could perhaps be classed as “middle grade”), the Hunger Games series, and the more recent Shadow and Bone series. Even older fantasy works, such as C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit were originally written for children or, at the very least, young adults.
What I’m trying to say is that while there are indeed a lot of adult fantasy books available, there are even more YA fantasy books. Besides, by addressing those “mature” themes that I mentioned earlier, all too many adult books lose that power of escapism that I, along with many other readers, look for when picking up a new book.
YA books, on the other hand, are often coming-of-age stories (and, by the way, I certainly feel that I am still very much “coming of age”, as I’m sure many fully-grown adults do, too) and often tackle themes about identity, family, growing up, and, essentially, becoming the best versions of ourselves. In that sense, YA books can often seem familiar—although that isn’t to say, even for a moment, that they cannot be fantastically complex and exciting at the same time.
Nowadays, when I pick up a new book for myself (this being something that happens increasingly often), I don’t tend to look at whether it’s an adult book or a YA book. To me, these particular labels are all too vague and meaningless, and, to be honest, I don’t particularly care which category the book falls into—I just want a good story. As a result, I think I can say with some confidence that I’m not planning to stop reading YA books anytime soon. Why should it matter who these books are technically targeted at, or how old their protagonists are? If they’re good stories, I want to read them (…all of them)!
I also think it a shame that some readers (or, worse still, non-readers) have a habit of shaming those adults who choose to read YA books. It’s all too easy to stigmatise seemingly unconventional reading habits, especially if you’re on the outside looking in, but reading shouldn’t be something we should ever judge. People read because they want to, and they shouldn’t be made to feel embarrassed about it.
That’s why I’m happy to tell anyone who asks that yes, I’m an adult, and yes, I enjoy reading YA books.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on YA books and why I love them. If you’re an adult who reads YA books, I’d love to hear if you agree with my thoughts! Let me know in the comments below!
4 thoughts on “Why I Read YA (as an Adult)”
Another very interesting discussion, Emily! I am a similar age to you and also still read YA. Like you point out, many of these books do still contain mature themes, and some of these might be marketed as YA because the main characters are in their teens. I read YA for lots of reasons – they explore contemporary issues, are relatively light and fast paced when I’m looking for something easy to read, but mostly because so many of them are great books! For example, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is targeted at young adults, but it’s one of the most exciting mystery novels I’ve read. Really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic!
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Thanks so much for reading, Stephen! YA books seem to be particularly popular amongst our age group, and I just think that’s fascinating. I know exactly what you mean about YA books usually being light and fast paced; lots of them certainly seem to be “easier reads”, which I don’t have a problem with! I think my overall conclusion, especially after writing this post, is that we should try to be less affected by the genre/age category a book is given, especially as YA books seem to vary so much!
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love this post. I don’t like shaming any reader for what kind of books they read. I’m near mid-thirties and I still enjoy YA and Middle grade books sometimes more than adult books. I even read children’s books. I wasn’t introduced to novels in my childhood so you can imagine how many books I missed reading! I read every book that were said were best no matter what age category they are in. I get it sometimes putting age category is also confusing. And there are books no matter what age catergory, it can be enjoyed by kids, young adults, adults alike.
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Thank you so much! I think it’s wonderful that you have been able to discover books as an adult that you didn’t read when you were growing up. I’m trying to ignore age categories more, too—I think that’s the right attitude to have! 😊
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