I’m 30 years old and I like reading YA.
Glad that’s out of the way. Just to be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But the truth is that YA books are under discussion a lot. Especially during the last few years when YA has grown so much in popularity thanks to books and succesful movie adaptations such as The Hunger Games, Divergent or The Fault in our Stars.
Why is YA in discussion, you ask? Because people are judgy little things. And the reply of “Oh, you still read young adult books? My tastes are a little more literary” is unfortunately one that is said (or at least thought) often. It’s not always said with bad intentions, but it does come across as a bit degrading. It makes people feel bad about reading YA and it shouldn’t! Because YA books can be just as literary as adult fiction.
And even though a lot has already been said on the topic, I thought I’d just give my two cents on it here.
First of all, what exactly is YA?
YA stands for Young Adult and is a way of marketing books. In it’s essence, it only means that the main characters are between 16-19 years old. The term refers to the age of the main character. That’s it.
What does the term YA NOT refer to?
– The quality of the writing or the complexity of the plot. Just because the main character is young and the marketing is mostly geared towards a younger crowd, that does not mean the writing is simple or even childish. I have read YA books that are better written and more complex than adult books. Just like with adult books, there are good and bad YA books.
– The genre. There is contemporary YA, fantasy YA, science-fiction YA, fluffy romance YA, paranormal YA, horror YA, you name it. YA is not a genre in itself, it comes in all shapes and sizes, just like adult fiction.
– The issues our main characters face. No, YA books are not about high school drama type “I like this boy, but I don’t know if he likes me back!” Yes, there are probably some like that out there, but most of them deal with the same fundamental issues as adult characters, no matter what the genre. Mental health, finding yourself, grief and loss, responsibilities, love, friendship, family, sexuality, acceptance. It all plays a big part in YA books, just as they do in adult books. There is always something to relate to in YA books, even if you’re not in high school anymore, .
So I think we can agree that the term YA should not be getting a negative connotation. If you are someone who did have a negative impression of YA books, I’m pretty sure we could talk and I could find you a YA book that you would enjoy. And if you don’t? That’s okay too! Tastes are very different and everyone should read whatever they like.
Why I love YA and why I will never be too old to read it
First of all, I love YA because of all the possibilities. Have you noticed the selection in YA books lately? It is huge! There are so many books out there and I just like the choice it gives me. There is a lot more choice in YA books than there is in adult. I want pirates? There are pirates! I want space travel? There is space travel! I want dragons? There’s plenty! I want assassins and princesses? Guess what, it exists! All I’m saying is, if you can think of it, it probably exists already in the YA section.
Secondly, I love reading YA because I love the feelings it gives. As a teenager you are going through all the major stuff in life for the very first time. Your first crush, your first love, your first heartbreak. Your first brushes with reality and grief and loss and responsibility. There’s a whole world out there full of possibilities and it’s all new and shiny! And it just feels more intense reading about those things through the eyes of a young adult. As adults we often become more cynical and we lose a bit of that “magic” and that is something I sometimes really miss in adult fiction.
Thirdly, I love reading YA because of the nostalgia. I love reading about YA friendships because it reminds me of that time in my life when my friends were my everything. I met some of my best friends in high school and they are still around today and I love that I share so many memories with them (if you’re reading this, hi!!). Reading about high school friendships and shenanigans just always brings me back to that time in my life and gives me a natural high and a renewed passion for life. The story does not even need to be set in a high school environment – most YA’s I’ve read have a special focus on friendship that provoke this nostalgic feeling and that I just miss in adult fiction.
My one YA nitpick
I do have one little nitpick about YA and that is that sometimes I feel like a book is only labeled YA because of the marketing opportunities. I get this feeling a lot with YA fantasy books, where I just don’t believe that the characters are only 16-17. Given their character developments, their abilities and their issues I read them as being at least 22-23 years old. But then I see it actually written in the book that they are only for example only 16 and I am just thrown for a loop a bit.
An example is Six of Crows. I LOVE that book and I ADORE the characters. BUT I can’t wrap my head around the fact that those 6 criminal masterminds are 16. No way. Or even my favorite character ever: Celaena Sardothien. Adarlan’s best assasin is only 17? Eh…
This is not a big deal of course, it’s just something that I’ve noticed a few times and that always surprises me. It does not take away from the book, because if in my head they just become 22 and that’s that. But I am curious to know if this is also the case for other readers, so let me know what you think!
Variety is the spice of life
I don’t ALWAYS read YA myself either. Actually, when I was a young adult myself, I read only adult fiction. (I was addicted to Nicci French, Nicholas Sparks and Nicholas Evans – boy that’s a lot of Nics now that I think of it!) I only discovered Young Adult fiction when I was about 24.
And even now I don’t look at the label YA or Adult before choosing a book. I just read the description and look at the cover (yes it is totally ok to judge a book by it’s cover!) and then I read what I like the most. If that’s YA, then that’s ok. If it’s something else, then that’s ok too!
Because I like to switch it up and read some YA, some adult, some new adult and some middle-grade. Because while I love YA, sometimes you just need something else, and that’s okay! Like for example, sometimes I feel like reading about someone who is having work-related, parental or other adult issues that are relatable to a current adult issue I might be having – then I go for adult. Or I’m tired of the nice and clean romance and I want something a bit steamier – then I go for adult or new adult. Or I feel nostalgic and want something pure and magical – then I can go for a middle grade book. It really doesn’t matter, I just grab whatever my mood tells me to.
So I think what I would just like to say in conclusion: don’t knock it ’till you tried it and in the end just read what YOU like.
You do you!
I love reading YA too. It has some amazing themes throughout. Like you said, the term YA doesn’t have anything to do with the writing complexity or quality. That’s ridiculous -and snobbish. My only “issue” lately is that it’s a bit hard for me to find a YA book with themes I can relate to at this point in my life. I want to read a YA book with a theme of graduating uni, finding a job and so on.
But like you said, I absolutely love YA -and I’ll probably always read it, no matter my age.
You are totally right, there is a huge lack of YA books (or just books in general) about the college/first job period. I don’t even think I ever read any. The beginning of college, yes, but the end of college seems like a black hole in literature. It kind of immediately skips from highschool to full-blown adult life, which is a pity because there is so much interesting and life-changing stuff happening in that period. There is of course new adult, but I feel like that’s always kind of the same storyline… (though I haven’t read many of them yet so I can’t really judge).
It’s like you said, YA is great and should not be looked down upon, but it could focus a bit more on that period in between young adult and adult.
Excellent post! I agree 100%. I’m 26 and primarily read YA and I don’t think there’s ANYTHING wrong with adults reading YA. I read it for all the same reasons you listed. 90% of New Adult is awful and features the same recycled storyline. I do reading Adult Fiction occasionally, but most of it just doesn’t interest me. There’s just endless possibilities with YA.
I think YA gets such an unnecessary bad rep and there’s so many misconstructions about it. I’m not embarrassed by the fact that I read YA, but I feel like society thinks we’re supposed to be? It’s really annoying. Just because YA is generally marketed towards teenagers doesn’t mean that people of all ages can’t enjoy them!
Anyway, I absolute love this post. It’s brilliant!
Thanks! I’m happy you feel the same way about YA 🙂
I haven’t read a lot of new adult yet, but I do get the same impression: that a lot of it is the same storyline and it focuses only on romantic drama and not about other important life issues.
I like reading adult fiction, but I also feel like the selection of YA is just bigger in terms of what I like specifically. I think that I mostly turn to YA for fantasy (most adult fantasy feels really huge and intimidating) and I switch between YA and adult for contemporary.
I totally agree with you, just because YA is marketed mostly towards teens doesn’t mean it’s not for all ages to enjoy. At our local bookstores the YA section is basically just a part of the children’s section and I feel like that gives a completely wrong impression.
Thanks for commenting!
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