A week or two ago, I got a comment asking why I was reading (and reviewing) mostly young adult or children’s books and then noting, with some astonishment, that there were all these other adults apparently reading them too, based on the comments.
And yeah, I can understand why people who don’t read a lot of young adult books would think that. Does reading teen books mean you can’t handle the possibly-more demanding language and themes in adult books? Does identifying with teen characters mean you’re immature? Isn’t reading teen literature a lot like an adult eating nothing but pureed fruits and vegatables instead of real actual adult food?
On the other hand, I can’t really buy those arguments. I think it’s just that most adults nowadays have no idea what the Young Adult Literature world looks like now. It used to be small; there weren’t all that many books being published in that genre and many of them weren’t particularly well-written. Books that would now be considered YA books were just published as general adult fiction.
Now? It does not look like that at all. Teen books are being published at an incredible rate and the cross-over appeal is getting higher. For me, a major sign of the change was when the New York Times Bestseller list started breaking up Adult and Children/Teen books because Harry Potter was dominating all the top spots on the list. The idea of an adult reading a book aimed at children and teens is getting less strange.
And for good reason – I cannot emphasize strongly enough how many terrifically written, interesting, and all-around phenomenal books there are out there.
Certainly there is still a bias against it. Sherman Alexie, after winning the National Book Award for his YA book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was asked if wished he’d won the award for an “adult, serious work.” He said, “I thought I’d been condescended to as an Indian — that was nothing compared to the condescension for writing Y.A.” (Read the whole New York Times essay if you’re interested in this topic).
Some people still are embarrassed to be reading a book that is marketed primarily towards children or teens, when they are in their thirties or forties or fifties (or hey, even their twenties). I am sympathetic to that, but I think they are missing out, whether out of some sense that there is something wrong with reading books for a younger audience or because they just don’t know about all the good things there are to read that have a “YA” sticker slapped on the spine.
I absolutely sincerely believe there is nothing more “noble” about reading adult literature. They are all just books. Some are good, some are bad. Some focus on adults, some on teens or children. Some are just for fun, some are real works of literature.
And I refuse to be ashamed to walk in to the teen room at my local library.