Only YA!? A Confused Rant

When I’m out and about, admittedly I’m not great at small talk. This is probably my only life failing, but there it is. I want to know about people, how they’re feeling that day, what they like, all that good stuff, not just “hey how are you?” “Eh, I’m fine.” Inevitably, when I actually get into conversations with people, it’s about safe things like music and books. It’s fascinating to me, though, that whether I’m talking to friends, people at the gym, service people I have acquaintances with, whatever, that there is a growing book trend and it mildly disturbs me.

I want to make it very clear that I’m not anti-YA fiction. There are some amazing young adult titles out there. Despite the trend of problem literature I grew up through, there was also a trend of really strong young adult fiction mixed with the typical fluff series (BSC, Sweet Valley High, re-booted Nancy Drew, etc).

I understand that people may not read classics because they’re forced into it at school and that’s not something they think they’d willingly like. I get that not everyone hangs out at the library and that big franchises plain stay in the public eye better than older titles, or even newer ones that don’t have a movie coming out. Still, this all begs the question…

What is with the trend for adults to only (or mostly) stick to reading young adult books?

I’m completely serious – I’ve tried to have discussions with people while working out thinking that if they don’t know Neil Gaiman or aren’t into Clive Barker there’s probably someone who has read the Game of Thrones series or someone who’s finished the newest Anne Rice book. Heck, do people even still read Dean Koontz or John Grisham anymore? I thought Lee Child was still big? Is Chris Moore literally only read by the theatre people I’m around and no one else? Apparently no one I know tried to read the series True Blood was based on. I get not everyone is going to know The Gargoyle (fantastic book, btw), but how about whatever biography just came out or whatever nonfiction trend is in? What about a cozy mystery series?

Literally, the only series people can talk about when I’ve picked conversations are Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Vampire Diaries, Divergent, and maybe occasionally there will be some references to more adult-aimed fantasy series. These are also not all people with children or teens. These are grown adults, usually women, but mostly because the men I’m around usually cop out with the “I have no time for reading” excuse.

Seriously, not even a graphic novel? There are some fabulously poignant titles out there that aren’t comics, Seconds, The Sculptor, Kill my Mother, and Fun House, to name a few.

What’s also intriguing to me is most of the YA-only crowd won’t bring up young adult fiction from their actual young adult years. Not everyone I tried to strike up a conversation with had heard of Lois Lowery, most thought Madeline L’Engle had only written A Wrinkle in Time. There were a ton of other plots that I brought up because I couldn’t remember the titles anymore and would love to find those books again, only to be met with blank looks.

Seriously, if it’s not a movie franchise for the 10-16-year-old bracket, it’s not worth reading?

What are we doing?! While I do get falling into a comfort zone, I don’t get staying there. You’re an adult. Don’t you feel the need to be entertained in a way complementary to your age level? Yes, the big young adult titles are solid series in terms of sales, but they are not the only things out there. I don’t knock any genre – read romance if that’s your thing, read mysteries, read erotica, read horror, read knitting pattern books, whatever…but at some point throw in something to shake it up and challenge yourself.

I definitely read manga, but I also troll the new fiction titles stacks so I can shake things up a little bit. I’ve discovered a lot of authors I ended up liking through anthologies. I ask people for recommendations. It’s how I fell in love with A. Lee Martinez’s work, Andrew Davidson, and others. Sure, I read comics, but I also read a ton of nonfiction.

I will admit that nothing anyone says will ever, ever make me like John Steinbeck or Charles Dickens. I’m sorry, that’s my other life failing. Still, I love Dumas, love Russian literature (even if it takes me a while to read it), love reading plays.

I’m not saying this to act like I’m better than anyone, but at some point isn’t there a desire to challenge yourself and explore new territory? Even if you’re only reading genre fiction, why stick to stuff not even meant for your age level? Sure, I can remember what it’s like to be a teen, I get that, Still, why would anyone over maybe 20 feel the need to get invested in the fictional relationships of high school kids? I mean, think of all the adult women who were completely invested in Edward in Twilight…what about a regressed eternal teen vampire with an abusive streak makes you want to keep reading that as an adult? While I do get the world-building of Harry Potter will draw a lot of people in – I read that well into my adult years – I don’t get only surrounding yourself with that. If anything, that series made me so happy I was out of high school. It was almost comical reading the school worries people got up to in that series.

I still love R.L. Stine and have a lot of great memories of him, but I’m not going to only be reading Goosebump and Fear Street titles. I still page through children’s books on occasion because of nostalgia, and I went through a binge audiobook session a few years back of middle grade horror titles. Still, nothing has ever made me want to only stick with teen-aimed titles. Is this some sort of feel-good, anesthetic thing that I don’t know about? Do people think those are the only books out there? Is it just that recreational reading isn’t as important, or is it that because there are movie franchises always coming out people don’t want to feel left out?

Seriously, someone explain this to me. Feel free to comment and weigh in on this: Why are adults sticking with YA titles and only YA titles?

What’s your favorite YA book or series, either current or from years ago? What adult titles are you reading right now?


7 thoughts on “Only YA!? A Confused Rant

  1. I’m confused about the whole YA thing in regards to fantasy … lots of books I would pick up in the bookstore in the SFF aisle aren’t there…. because they are in under YA. But I do think that a lot of people are on the newest Hollywood kick.

    1. I do agree that it’s a genre classification thing, as well. I remember when the first Harry Potter book came out – I think the first two or three were actually in the adult section in my library! I think some people still view certain genres as specifically teen when that’s not the case at all, or they’re trying to market things a certain way that may or may not work out in the long run.

  2. I know people who wouldn’t believe A Wrinkle in Time is YA fiction, because it doesn’t have all the things they’re used to from current YA books: “Like, ohmigod, most of the book has nothing to do with Meg and Calvin being attracted to each other! What’s the point of this story??”

    I loved A Wrinkle in Time, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that book and its sequels changed my life. I’m also quite fond of Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and its prequel, The Hero and the Crown. However, I have NEVER liked most YA fiction, because much of it talks down to teenaged readers. (I had the reading vocabulary of an adult before I finished elementary school; that could have something to do with it.) Also, so much current YA seems to be about the same thing: “It’s the end of the world… but the only thing that matters is, does this boy like me?” or “Here we are on the moon, fighting aliens — but hey, there’s a cute girl over there, and I think she’d go out with me if I could prove I’m a better zero-gee basketball player than the guy she’s with now.” Interpersonal relationships are important in fiction, just like in life, but that seems… obsessive.

    Anyway… I agree that it’s weird for adults to read YA fiction exclusively, especially these days, when a book being aimed at a teen audience is no guarantee that it won’t contain every bit as much sex and violence and strong language as any intended for adults — these days, the primary differences seem to be 1) more emphasis in YA on romantic relationships, regardless of genre, and 2) teen protagonists.

    1. Sigh, yeah, remember when Madeline L’Engle was considered YA? I miss those days. I totally agree with you – I love those books, both the Meg arc and the Poly arc after it. There are some really sophisticated things in both series, and I feel like the way Poly’s emotions and thoughts about romance and sex are dealt with are so much more honest and deep than what we get these days.

      I totally agree that things are being scaled down to teen readers, which is a shame. I re-read Across Five Aprils last year and was more than a little surprised that it was actually considered a children’s book when it was published! While I’ve read some really entertaining YA (Fat Vampire, there are a few other really good ones that aren’t coming to mind at the moment), on the whole it seems to be stuck in a pattern. I guess this maybe was the case when I was a kid – after all, there were franchised series, but even those were considered light at the time. Granted, I grew up through problem lit, so I guess love triangles are better than that, but yow. I feel like people lucked onto a formula that worked and now they’re milking it for all it’s worth, and it’s doing no one a service.

      You’re absolutely right about a YA book being no real gauge for rating, too. I’ve definitely read some YA books that surprised me with how far they went.

  3. I don’t really read YA and it didn’t even really exist when I was a young adult – I went straight to adult fantasy fiction at the age of 11, because I’d outgrown children’s fiction. So maybe that gives me a skewed perspective, but….

    Teenagers are so angsty. Why, as an adult, would you want to read about it? Maybe YA fiction is useful in helping teens to deal with teen issues (or maybe it’s validating and perpetuating the angst, I don’t know? Delaying the onset of proper adulthood?) but as an adult you should be past that angst.

    I can only reach one of two conclusions about adults who ONLY read YA novels. Either:
    -Most adults don’t have the literacy level required to read an adult book. The Flesch-Kincaid reading level of my novels is somewhere around grade 6 – 7 and people say the language is complex! Even though the average literacy level is supposed to be grade 9?Or….
    -These adults have not actually grown up and developed adult emotions and interactions?

    I’m speculating, so don’t anyone who reads YA jump on me. Feel free to offer alternatives. I’m just saying these are the ONLY conclusions I can think of, not that I’m not open to hearing more options.

    Or, here’s a thought, maybe it’s a yearning for teenage years? Although I’ve not actually ever heard an adult say they’d want to be a teenager again…

    As I’ve grown older I find I want the protagonists to be older, because that’s what I relate to, I want to see characters my age dealing with problems of my age. When I read YA, I find myself all too often rolling my eyes. I listen to this stuff on the train (especially the relationship obsessed stuff) and I don’t want to read it. I just want to say to the protag, if this is the biggest problem you’ll ever face in your life (with regards to their relationship drama) you should be thankful.

    1. I totally agree. For me, I’d rather avoid all that drama. Been there, done that, give me something I don’t know. I get why it’s attractive for that age group, but I also don’t get why adults would cling to that. There’s a difference between someone like Madeline L’Engle writing a book that purposefully examines sexuality, carnal love, romance, and what love really is vs all the triangles going on into today’s fiction.

      I do think you have a point with literacy level. I don’t know if people just give up once they graduate school or if the literacy level wasn’t there in the first place during education. I also think that there seems to be a type of person who thrives off drama, especially when romance is involved (I mean look at how long The Bachelor has been a show). I sometimes read things for nostalgia value, and on a rare occasion I’ll actually stumble upon a really, really good YA title that speaks to me. Granted, I do read shojo manga which has some of those elements, but it’s so over-the-top ridiculous at points that it’s more hilarious than anything else.

      While I’ll write younger characters in certain stories and series, I find that I really like kind of focusing around the age bracket I am, give or take ten years, because it almost feels like the thirty-year-olds these days are relapsing into some of the same issues we faced as teens. It’s almost like a re-finding yourself or something, though that may be just my observation of people around me.

      And you are absolutely right…a lot of times it frustrates me to see titles that have the potential to be really interesting focused only on relationships. Worlds are being built, interesting plot points are being developed, but it doesn’t matter because it’s all about two certain people locking lips. It’s frustrating, especially as I grow older, and I can’t help but see it as a marketing ploy, so maybe that’s where my frustration is coming from, too.

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