I recently saw John Marsden speak. For those unfamiliar with John Marsden, he is an Australia Young Adult and Children’s book author. Marsden is probably best known for the Tomorrow When the War Began series. The experience was wonderful, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. An audience member asked Marsden his thoughts on the increasing popularity of Young Adult (YA) novels amongst adult readers. He responded by saying he thinks it may indicate a growing immaturity with adults, and that we should find this concerning. As an avid reader of YA fiction I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this.
Last month Slate published an article with the subheading “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children”. This piece was specifically referring to those who are 20+ and still read teenage fiction. I’m not surprised that pieces like this are starting to be written. A 2012 survey found that 55% of YA books are purchased by people over 18.
The question is: are they right?
I’ve spent the last few days asking myself why I like this genre. After becoming an adult I mostly read novels aimed at adult readers. Any YA I picked up was something I had read before. It wasn’t until I started a writing course that I started exploring the world of teenage fiction. It’s something I’d like to write one day so it made sense to read widely within the genre. Before I knew it I’d discovered a range of books that were entertaining, moving, confronting, and evoked nostalgia.
I read widely now and imagine I will continue to do so, but I don’t think it would matter if the only books I read were marketed to teenagers. The Slate article argues that too often YA stories come with unrealistic romantic relationships and endings that ensure everything is tied up neatly. I’d argue that you’d find that in many novels for adults, particularly in chick lit. There is nothing wrong with enjoying escapism. If you want to dip into a world where there are less shades of grey than in reality, that’s OK.
This is not to say I don’t understand Marsden’s point. If a large group of adults are becoming drawn to stories meant for those who may not have emotionally matured yet, then I can see some cause for concern, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening. If what we are seeing are people who were never avid readers now devouring books then it should be a cause for celebration. I don’t like the idea of good literature being passed aside for simple stories that do not challenge readers, but perhaps authors and publishers are just tapping into a section of the population that would never have picked up ‘traditional literature’ anyway.
This attitude also undermines the depth of some YA novels. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. And what about The Giver by Lois Lowry? If the Divergent series ends up being a gateway to some of the more literary teenage fiction then I can live with that. And we should remember that while our teenage years can be some of the most confusing we will encounter, young people are not part of some alien race. Some of the topics raised in YA fiction are universal so it makes sense these stories would be enjoyed by adults. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that many adults are now finding there are books available that cover experiences they’ve had that were not written about 20 or 30 years ago.
I’ll always urge anyone to read widely. I think it’s a great way to discover new interests. But if you are over 18 and only enjoy YA fiction then that’s ok too. I’ll be reading it along with you.
Do you read Young Adult fiction? Do you think adults reading Young Adult fiction is a sign of immaturity?