Should Adults Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Fiction?

Is reading young adult fiction a sign of immaturity?
Is reading young adult fiction a sign of immaturity?
Is reading young adult fiction a sign of immaturity?

Is reading young adult fiction a sign of immaturity?

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?


  • Kris

    I wouldn’t say I go out of my way to read YA stuff, but if something sounds like a good story I read it, you know? I have no shame in reading Harry Potter, and only read Tomorrow When the War Began etc when I was well into my 20s. Good stories are good stories!

  • Mitchell Osmond

    A good story is a good story, regardless of whether the story was written with the intention of being read by a 15 year old or a 65 year old.

    Should adults also not go to see movies that are being pegged at teenagers?

  • John James

    The lines between YA and Adult can be kind of fluid sometimes.

    We had Margo Lanagan come speak to us at my Novel Writing class – her novel Tender Morsels has been published as YA and Adult in different markets… it’s a weird thing, because publishers need to classify their books for booksellers so that the bookshops know which shelf to put them on…

    It gets ridiculous sometimes…

    I can’t remember the exact details, but I think Tender Morsels was first published in Australia as an adult book, and barely sold a copy – it was also published in the US, but as YA – won an award, and sold heaps – it was then published a second time in Australia, but with a different cover and marketed as YA, and sold heaps – in the UK, it had two different covers – one for the YA market and one for adult – and was sold as both…

    So, this whole YA vs Adult is just a marketing issue as far as I can see… I mean, some classic Sci-Fi written for adults, like John Wyndham’s “The Chysalids” would be sold as YA nowadays…

    Saying that YA isn’t the same quality as adult is just stupid – people who argue that probably also argue that literary fiction is better than genre fiction – it’s not… it’s just another genre.

    • Kris

      Yeah, I hear you on the marketing thing. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is one like that I think. I read that in about Year 6, and we had it and other stuff I’d already read in high school. Of course it’s quite an adult book!

  • Emily

    Good writing is good writing and bad writing is bad writing. I’ll pass on Twilight, but I’ll take The Fault in Our Stars over a lot of today’s ‘adult’ books anytime.

  • Leisa

    Oh goodness…that seems a silly statement. Stories are stories and can engage any reader’s imagination no matter what age the target audience was aimed at. I STILL love picking up children’s picture books and enjoy getting lost in the story just as much as I enjoy reading classics and current contemporary novels. I would’ve thought that John Marsden would be flattered by the fact that a 40-something year old woman like me loves reading his Tomorrow When The War Began series!

  • Monique Fischle

    I love YA Adult. It’s not the only thing I read, but I do love it. Anything by John Green is amazing, I loved Eleanor and Park, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Divergent trilogy. I loved the Tomorrow When The War Began series and Harry Potter (if that’s counted) which would be hardly surprising to anyone, as DG and I named our rabbit Albus Dumbledore (Albie).

    There is something about the way a lot of YA novels are written which means that readers are able to relate to characters/circumstances etc. I don’t find it immature. Nostalgic maybe, but not immature. Like Emily has said, “Good writing is good writing and bad writing is bad writing.” I don’t enjoy poorly written YA novels, but I don’t enjoy poorly written “adult” novels either.

  • guest :)

    I love young adults books and am 30….I think the main thing I like is that they tend to get to the point quickly and not drag on. I also read kids books and adult books.

  • Bek

    Young Adult fiction is classified as such because the protagonists are young adults. It’s often marketed to young adults, but that’s a different thing. So yes, I read YA fiction, and will always read it. There are fantastic authors and stories to discover.

  • Maree Talidu

    There should be ZERO shame in adults reading YA fiction! As a high school teacher, I love seeing kids borrowing Marsden, John Green, Melina Marchetta and then telling me that their parents ended up reading the book too! As long as people are reading, I’m happy! Great piece!

  • Jodi Gibson

    To say that is very narrow minded in my opinion. No one should be ashamed of what they read. Read because you enjoy it and read what you enjoy. Full stop.