Why YA Literature Appeals to More Than Just Young Adults

As a thirty-six year-old mother of three, I am not the target audience of the literature genre dubbed young adult. Affectionately abbreviated YA Lit, this genre refers to books written for 12 to 18-year-olds, and yet I, a self-proclaimed avid reader, find myself consistently drawn to these titles.

(I just checked, and in 2017, thirty out of the sixty-six books I read were YA!).

Experts say we're in the second golden era of young adult literature, a period which started in the early 2000s, which was, not coincidentally, when I was in college and started noticing and reading books marketed as YA.

I’m not the only not-so-young adult reading these books. YA is a popular genre being read by many bookish people I know, and market studies have shown that adults are buying at least half, if not more, of the YA books out there. 

So what gives?

As I asked around to see why other adults are reading YA, I found a lot of the same reasons I had: We read YA because we like it, and we aren’t afraid to admit it, even if some people think we should be (a few years ago Slate published an article saying adults who read YA should be embarrassed, which is, in my opinion, ridiculous).

The truth is, YA literature depicts a fleeting time many of us look back on with nostalgia.

We often reflect back to how we felt during those years and, at the same time, how we’ve grown since then. One friend of mine loves how reading YA reminds her of when reading became a “safe haven” in a tumultuous time in her life.

In YA we often get our fill of swoony romances without the explicit/shock factor stuff, less swearing, drama (that’s fairly unlike the drama in our real lives), a clear good-versus-evil conflict, plucky heroines and deep emotions, good character development (a lot of it is written in first person), friendship and family issues, fast pace, and easy reading.

It’s common to find series in YA, too, which means a longer time before you have to say goodbye to beloved characters. Like any genre, YA runs the full spectrum and varies widely, but if any of this sounds good to you, you might want to give YA a try.

A quick word on pacing and ease with YA: We live in a culture all about brevity and consuming quick bits of information. (If you don’t feel the increased struggle to stay focused on longer reading material, please share your secrets!)

One thing I love about YA is that I find them easy to blow through while still thoroughly enjoying the experience. They don’t bog me down with long wordy passages and difficult-to-process themes.

That doesn’t mean YA is fluff or twaddle; so many YA novels are clever, witty, and well-written.

Though they often touch on deeper issues and subjects, it's usually with a lighter tone. I find myself drawn to them between heavier or wordier novels.

And for someone who's struggling to get back into reading, YA can be a legitimate reading confidence-booster and a gateway into reading more and finishing more books.

As our friend Anne Bogel often says, “Life’s too short to read bad books.” And I would also add: We shouldn't let the industry pigeonhole us into or out of a genre.

Life's also too short to feel bad about reading books with teen characters. There’s a lot in YA literature for us to enjoy, and we can almost always take away something from these books, even if we aren’t technically the target audience.

We were all teenagers once, and maybe the further we get from those years, the more we can benefit dipping our toes back into remembering what it felt like to be that young again.

p.s. - 5 tips for the distracted reader.

Reading Time:

3 minutes

 

 

 

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23 Comments

  1. Seana Turner

    I started reading YA when my girls where in that stage of life. I agree with so much here, and I will still happily read a YA book, especially when I’m looking for something a bit less challenging. I listen to many audio books via Overdrive, and I have ended up listening to YA without knowing it sometimes. I think it is healthy to keep in touch with all kinds of literature, and to be aware of what issues the YA community is facing right now.

    • Nicole Bennett

      Thanks for chiming in! Absolutely is it a great way to stay in touch with that community– that’s a great point! And Overdrive is where I find a lot of my YA reads, too. Such a great way to read. If you’re an instagram-user, I have a new account for YA fans of all ages– @ya_at_heart. 😉

  2. Jacki

    There is so much wonder YA literature out there right now. And I love that I can curl up on a Sunday and consume and entire book in one seating. And then have mild anxiety while I wait for the next book in the series to be available at my library. I’m also a comic book reader, so I deal quite a bit with judgment. But I figure I’m reading and that’s a lot more than some of those judging adults can say.

    • Nicole Bennett

      This is totally my problem, too– devouring a book and then having to wait for the next one. The agony! If you’re an instagram-user, I have a new account for YA fans of all ages– @ya_at_heart. 😉

  3. bdaiss

    I’ve noticed, for most of my friends who read 90% YA, that it’s the easy factor. As you said, you can blow through them quickly without much deep thought. I love a good YA novel when I need something to not think about and enjoy a quick turn of story. And by all means, if you’re in the season of life where you can’t catch 5 minutes to breathe, YA is a great way to keep up a reading habit. I’ve been there, don’t that. But I don’t allow myself to go all in on YA because I don’t want to fall prey to losing the skill to dive deeper; to “bog me down with long wordy passages and difficult-to-process themes”. Too much of life is caught in snippets. Taking a deep dive into a heavy book re-centers me and reminds me there’s more to life than watching it speed by. And there is beauty to be found in those long wordy passages and insight to be gained from processing difficult themes.

    • Nicole Bennett

      Yes, easy is nice sometimes. Some YA is beautifully written as well, which is a treat!

  4. Peter

    I appreciate this, though I think the main reason I read YA lit is that it’s just less dark overall than much of the fiction targeted at adults. I’ll admit I tend to avoid the dystopian type fiction, but I don’t need the gory details, foul language, or such. I want a good story with a decent struggle and resolution. Even what I see in the a good portion of newer YA stuff coming into our library seems to lean towards darker themes and there’s just a lot to be said for a decent story without that.

    Maybe it’s the authors I grew up with, but Asimov, Christie, and the like could spin a good story without the need for everyone dying in graphic detail, constant cursing, and gratuitous sexual content. Even Ian Fleming left a lot of that “off screen”. YA fiction avoids that for the most part and still tells a good story. Admittedly, the main characters tend to be young, but they’re still pretty good stories. If more stories for adults could tell good stories without the “mature” themes, I’d probably read more of those. There are some authors who seem to hit that bar pretty well, but they seem to be rare.

    • Maryalene

      I agree with Peter. I’m not a prude, but I’d rather not be confronted with profanity and explicit content every time I pick up a book. Even in books that don’t have dark themes, it feels like the F word has become a prerequisite for adult fiction. Sometimes I want to read a book that provides a little veiling over the rough edges of a story and YA books often fill that need.

      • Nicole Bennett

        I agree with you both. Some YA is definitely edgier and pushes those boundaries but much of it is less in your face with the content. Side note, if you use Instagram, I have a new account for YA fans of all ages– @ya_at_heart. 😉

  5. Andrea Stoeckel

    I’m twice your age, am an Avocational Reader/Reviewer, and I can go 6 months (approx 75 books) only in the YA realm. I’m open with writers and publishers that I don’t DO horror,(s)exploitation or shifters and so, unless I read reverse harem (NO) it’s often YA/NA that I end up reading, and it’s pretty good most times

    • Nicole Bennett

      That’s awesome, I love that you are enjoying YA still. I don’t see myself dropping this genre anytime soon. I don’t know if you are an instagrammer, but I have a new account there for YA fans of all ages– @ya_at_heart. 😉

  6. Megan

    As an adult I love YA Lit and I often go back and re-read children’s lit that I originally read as a kid. How could you write this post though without listing some of your favorite YA books or series to give the rest of us some good ideas on what to read next? 🙂

    • Nicole Bennett

      I really do love all of children’s literature, too! Hehee, I guess I did fail to list my faves! Not sure how that slipped my mind as I love dropping book titles, however I did recently start a new bookstagram IG account that is all about YA, so if you are an IG-er, please come join me over there! 🙂 @ya_at_heart

  7. Tiffany

    “There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.” Philip Pullman

    As an ELA teacher and lifelong voracious reader, I almost exclusively read YA or juvenile literature these days. That is so I can talk books with my middle schoolers, recommend books to them, and even get into their heads a little. Honestly, I don’t feel like I am missing out at all by focusing my reading on YA. There are SO many great stories.

    • Nicole Bennett

      Ah, that is such a great quote!! I’m writing it down in my commonplace journal right now. 🙂 And I agree with you, there really are an overwhelming number of great stories out there in YA. If you use IG, you might like to check out my new bookstagram account and connect more over YA lit- @ya_at_heart. 🙂

  8. Greta Sutherland

    I remember hiding in my bedroom, away from my husband and teenaged children…ignoring a paper I needed to write for a class…reading (& loving) ‘The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’. So glad not-so-young-adults are coming out of the closet with their YA reads!

    • Nicole Bennett

      Yes! That was one I enjoyed in college (the whole series actually), too! I had forgotten about that. 🙂 If you are on IG, Greta, I hope you’ll come follow along with my new bookstagram account for YA fans of all ages. @ya_at_heart 🙂

    • rita

      I had to giggle at your comment. Years ago I read “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants not realizing it was a YA book. I had popped in to the library to get something to read and grabbed it off the shelf. I just thought it was interesting and fun. It was a total surprised when they made a movie out it.

  9. Melanie

    I totally feel the same way! Thank you so much for your thoughts, I’m so glad to know I’m know the only one!

    • Nicole Bennett

      YA fans of all ages unite! And this is why I just recently started a new IG account, a bookstagram account called @ya_at_heart. I hope you’ll join us there if you are an IG-er. 🙂

  10. Sarah

    Is that 2017 book list posted somewhere? 🙂

  11. Sally

    I find the trend of adults reading YA books a bit odd actually. Although YA books may be better written than they used to be, are there really that many books out there that don’t satisfy the desires of adults today when it comes to lighter reading?

  12. fontaine

    Ι could not resist commenting. Perfеctⅼy written!

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