As everyone excitedly discussed the end of a decade and the start of a new year, one sobering fact loomed over my head: I am no longer a young adult. I turn 26 next month and with it have inherited a receding hairline and an ache in my knee whenever it gets too cold outside. While target readers of YA literature are studying “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in high school, I am joining in with Prufrock uttering “I grow old … I grow old … I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled”. So I had to pause and ask myself, why am I still reading books for teenagers?
Adults who read YA
First off, I am happy to have found myself in good company. According to a 2012 study, 55% of YA books are bought by adults. Most of these adults reported buying the books for themselves. An article from The Atlantic suggests a number of reasons why so many adults love YA literature including “these books are about coming of age, and we’re still coming of age”. I feel like I can really relate to this idea. As I get closer to graduating from university, the feelings are very similar to when I was graduating high school. What should I do with my life? What’s the next step? I still find myself easily relating to the experiences of YA fiction.
Another reason I personally love YA is reading about experiences I don’t relate to. I read to understand what it is like to be a young person today, especially a young person who is growing up completely differently then I did. Most of my recent learning about race, sex, gender, ability and other important facets of identity has come from reading about the diverse experiences of characters in YA fiction. The books I’m reading are having all the conversations no one wanted to have with me when I was teenager. My anxieties about addiction, violence, and the climate crisis are calmed by the realizations and determination of YA protagonists.
I am so happy that these books exist for teenagers today and it’s so important YA remains a space for young people, despite who is actually buying up the titles. I don’t feel like books needs to be “aged-up” for me to enjoy them. YA was a category originally imagined for 12-18 year olds. In recent years, we’ve seen a maturing in YA but I think it’s important that books are still being published for 12 year olds just as much as 20 year olds. I am happy to read both.
Exploring New Adult
Recently, Bookstacked author Michael Burns discussed reading where your heart takes you in his article Finding the Joy in a Reading Slump. In similar fashion, I have found joy in letting myself drift into reading books that are being written for slightly older audiences. I am excitedly exploring the world of “New Adult” literature, an emerging category of writing for 18 to twentysomething year olds. Though sometimes teased for simply being young adult novels with sexytime and cursing thrown in, I personally would like to see an expansion of literature staring characters in my age group. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about a 25 year old university student coming to terms with losing his hair and not being able to digest fast food value menu items anymore?
That being said, me and YA fiction aren’t going anywhere. I have found the Fountain of Youth and it flows out of books. Reading literature for young people helps me feel young and it helps me see the world in new ways. Most importantly, a “good story is a good story” and I believe some of the best stories being told today are being written by YA authors. I recently tweeted “sometimes I finish reading a book and it’s so good my only thought is how grateful I am to have it read it now so that I can enjoy having read it for the majority of my life still ahead”. Thats how I feel about YA books. I’m just happy I’ll still have them with me when I am 50 and have no hair left.