The stigma that comes with reading YA as an adult

I am an avid reader, and I always ensure that I have a book in my bag at all times in case a situation calls for a little escape from reality. But there have been times that whilst reading in public I have found myself attempting to slyly cover the front of what is a blatantly obvious young adult (YA) fiction novel. Sometimes I’ve even had people say to me things like, “Come on, aren’t you a little old to be reading The Hunger Games?”

Usually when people ask me what my favourite novel is or what I’m currently reading, I feel the need to justify and defend my choices of literature. Even when I know I’m not the only adult that enjoys books from this underrated and misrepresented genre. A 2012 survey from Publisher’s Weekly revealed that in fact 55% of YA fiction novels are bought by adults, and the biggest majority of this (30%) were people between the ages of 30 and 44.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a tirade of reasons why everyone should love YA; but when adults feel they should be ashamed of reading such books it’s important to look at the significance of this genre and the reasons why people – of all ages – seem to enjoy it.

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I think one of the most underrated qualities of YA fiction is the fact that they make great page-turners. When we want to delve into a good story, we’re looking for something that has us fully engaged and unable to put down. YA novels are great for that. The most recent one that I couldn’t tear my attention from was Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones.

People always assume that YA books are full of mundane storylines and characters with childish problems. But can you remember being a teenager? Think about some of the most popular YA books: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Looking for Alaska, If I Stay… they deal with bigger subjects like gender issues, race, sexuality, love, loss. It’s a period of finding out who you are, what you’re capable of and who you want to be. Some adults haven’t even discovered that about themselves yet.

Not to mention other world famous novels like Collin’s The Hunger Games, Roth’s Divergent and Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, look at the biggest issues of life, death, being brave and standing on your own two feet. Teenagers are philosophers, and I know how much I’ve learned about the world and life from reading these kind of stories.

Not only are these books great for understanding how to live in the moment, but they are also great for evoking nostalgia in older readers. It doesn’t matter how cynical you are about YA, the truth is when you read it, it always takes you back to your youth. For the briefest of moments, you are taken back to being 16 again and discovering yourself. YA allows older audiences to reminisce on their own “good old days.” It’s part of what makes it appealing to them – even if they try to convince you otherwise.

Even at that, sometimes it’s not about what you read but rather how you read it. Sometimes books are great simply because they open our minds and push the limits of our imagination. Like The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Some YA stories are great simply because the reader has decided to look beyond the fact that they are YA.

I’m not going to say that YA is the best genre; everyone has their own opinion of what kind of stories they like and dislike, even if people think YA has too much unrealistic scenarios. But isn’t that exactly what fiction is about? The selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out it’s essence?

Still, if you genuinely believe that adults can’t take anything away from reading YA, that they can’t learn something from them, then I would argue that you haven’t came across the right YA book for you yet. We are always searching for answers about love, life and who we are no matter our age, not just as children and teenagers. So what seems to be the problem reading these kind of stories to find those answers even as adults?

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