It comes to no surprise or shock to anyone when I say that Young Adult (YA) fiction has exploded over the past few years. It’s everywhere: on every bookshelf, on everyone’s TV, even most new movies in cinemas are film adaptions of YA fiction novels. The number of YA titles published has grown more than 120% over the past 10 years and over the past 50 years the children’s book industry has grown astronomically to become worth millions of pounds worldwide.
YA Fiction has given us some of our most cherished and most popular writers, too. With authors such as Gayle Forman, J.K. Rowling, John Green, Stephen Chbosky, Stephenie Meyer, Susane Colasanti, Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth quickly becoming household favourites. Even adult writer Jodi Picoult released a YA book with her daughter, Samantha Van Leer.
It’s not a secret that these books, written for children, teens and young adults (between ages 13 and 21) often sell far more copies than even the most popular adult reads. But new reports now suggest that 80% of YA fiction is bought by adults. Even if some of this is being bought by adults for young people, that still leaves a huge number being consumed by those outside the intended demographic, with the largest percentage of people (30%) being between the ages of 30 and 44.
Most of these adults are embarrassed to admit to reading these kind of books, and would never be caught reading them in public. But should adults actually be ashamed of reading Young Adult? At what age should we stop reading YA fiction?
YA novels are by far the most popular books in the publishing industry. From 2011-2012 where adult novels had a 42% increase in sales, YA had a massive 117% increase, according to research from New York Books magazine. Even YA authors are more popular than other fiction authors with romance writer, Nicholas Sparks having a Twitter following of 504 thousand people and YA fiction writer, John Green having a massive Twitter following of 5 million.
However, it is a widely known fact that anyone that appears over the age of 22 gets looked down on for reading YA books.
Even in bookstores and libraries people are starting to notice more and more adults reading YA books. One bookstore actually made a sign granting older audiences permission to read these novels without feeling bad about it:
So is it okay for older audiences to read YA fiction?
Slate Magazine contributor, Ruth Graham, wrote in one of her articles, Against YA, that “adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children,” and goes on to explain that she believes that YA fiction should stay with young people, and adults should stick with books more fitting to their demographic. She says:
“These books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with ‘likable’ protagonists. Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this.”
However, bestselling YA author, Susane Colasanti does not agree with this point. Colasanti has been writing YA fiction for nine years, producing some beautiful and powerful novels such as When It Happens and her newest book Lost in Love due to be released this May. She tells us that she believes it is both acceptable and normal for adults to read YA fiction. She says:
“Of course it’s acceptable! I hear from lots of grownup readers who just love YA. They find a kind of comfort in the stories, a sweet nostalgia for their past or for times they never had. I love YA so much that it’s mostly what I’ve been reading for years. There are so many outstanding teen novels out now! It makes me sad that everyone doesn’t have a passion for reading. Whatever you love to read that makes you feel alive is what you should celebrate, regardless of genre.”
In addition to this, Matt Haig, bestselling writer and journalist, directly attacks Graham’s post in his own article, Ten reasons why it’s ok to read YA. In his post, he gives ten reasons why adults should not be ashamed to read YA fiction and explains how teenagers should not be patronised. He says:
“Teenagers are philosophers. Think of the popular YA books. They often deal with subjects of life and death, gender issues, race, sexuality. The big stuff. Can you remember being a teenager? It wasn’t a period of under-thinking. Quite the opposite. You are living at fast-forward. Your body and mind is changing by the day. You are continually asking the questions about who you are, and where you fit in. You are at the centre of the cyclone that is life. There is nothing marginal about being a teen.”
We asked journalism student, Jade du Preez, who is a reader herself across all genres how she feels about adults reading YA. I think it’s safe to assume she sums it up best by giving the message ‘read what you love’. She says:
“I think the beauty of reading is that anyone can read anything, there are no restrictions so I think older people can still read YA. Why not? If you like it, read it! Who’s going to stop you? By reading what you want, you experience books in a different way and enjoy them more. So I think people should read whatever they want, at whatever age, and if that’s YA at the age of 45 then so be it!”
There will always be a place for adult readers in the YA fiction genre, with more and more novels being set with the tagline, “will captivate teen and adult readers alike.” If you ask me, I’d say read whatever makes your heart beat faster, makes you feel alive and unable to put it down. Whether that’s horror novels, science fiction, romance or YA, it doesn’t matter. But don’t take my word for it, listen to literally legend Harper Lee: “The book to read is not the one that thinks for you, but the one which makes you think.”