The signs are everywhere, when publishers slap a “12 and up” label on a book, more and more that means people over 18 are reading it. A few weeks ago a bi-annual market research study showed at almost 55% of all young adult buyers are actually over 18 and over and that 78% are purchasing for themselves.
Why are so many adults reading Young Adult? There are many theories out there. Some arguing that these adults know something that most people don’t; that YA is where some of the most inventive storytelling is happening these days. That today’s young adult readers are savvy and need savvy storytelling to keep them engaged (Authors Taking Risks Isn’t Kid Stuff). There are those who make the argument that Americans are emotionally and intellectually stunted in their development and never mature past the age of 17 (Adults Reading “Young Adult” Literature — An Observation). And then there are people like Joel Stein who will try to shame you into reading adult books with the sophisticated argument that reading YA is just embarrassing.
I can’t answer the question why other people read YA, but I can answer the question why I do. It started out with a child who was a reader, a voracious, reads years ahead of her age reader. At 7 she read The Hobbit. By 8 she was out of juvenile fiction and into the YA section. At 10 I timed her and she could read about 200 pages an hour, AN HOUR! And yes, she retains it. And yes, can tell you about the story. So I needed to know what she was reading. I need to be sure that what she COULD read and what she SHOULD read coincided.*
Slowly I began to find that my reading list got eaten by YA. A part of that is genre driven. I love fantasy, dystopia and some scifi. And those have exploded within YA in the past few years. That is not to say that great genre writing for adults is not out there. If you look at my top 10 lists for the past few years you will see that leading the pack are adult picks in those genres. The problem is there are few Neil Gaimans or Lev Grossmans but there are so many choices in YA.
The other reason is that I love, and I mean LOVE, the fact that The Girl and I share books the way other moms and daughters might share clothes or shoes or makeup. There is nothing better than having her bounce into my room with a book and hand it to me with a smile and say “Mom, I really think you might love this one.” Or having her read over my shoulder and poke me and ask “Are you done yet? Can I read that one when you are done? Is it good? It looks good?” At an age when sometimes we scrape each other the wrong way, we have books. She values my opinion and I value hers.
YA has allowed us to talk about the fantastical. “What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?” It has allowed us to talk about the silly. “So why do to think she decided to make her vampires sparkle in the sun?” But it has also allowed me an opening into topics which are very adult. “You know that drinking and driving is dangerous?” “You know that you are loved and people will always help you and suicide should never be an option?” “You know that the choices you make now can have a lasting impact on your life?”
So yes I read YA but it has lead to some of the most adult conversations The Girl and I have had to date. So if nothing else, that it why I read Young Adult.
*Now I got a ton of help from my local librarians. They are a fabulous group of people who were able to guide her from one series to another to another. But even then I needed to know for myself what she was reading.