While the publishing industry, in most quarters, continues to slump, one genre has maintained remarkable popularity — Young Adult (YA). Why is this? One reason has to be that YA appeals to multiple demographics, like 12 to 112 year-olds. Yes, adults read YA.
In his article, Why Adults Are Reading Young Adults Fiction, Hunter Baker explores the possible reasons for this:
Why do so many adults like to read young adult fiction? I think I have the answer. I think we like to read it because it has limits. Young adult fiction has be judicious in the amount of sex and violence it contains. The descriptions can’t be quite as graphic or gratuitous. That means in order for a story to be successful, it really has to be good. A story has to have merit instead of relying on titillation of one kind or the other to succeed.
From my vantage point, Baker’s only partly right. There are plenty of good books that contain sex and/or violence. In fact, some of the YA books he mentions (like Twilight and Harry Potter), have their share of violence and sexual tension.The NY Times recently posed this question to a panel of YA authors: Why do bestselling young adult novels seem darker in theme now than in past years? The question acknowledges a growing grittiness in YA fiction, which commonly addresses issues like suicide, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, even sexual preferences. So while the absence of “graphic or gratuitous” content may bolster the popularity of some YA, I’m not sure that’s the reason adults read it.
I relate this question to a time in my life when all my reading was “serious.” Books on theology and deep literary tomes. For whatever reason, I decided to take a break from this heavy stuff and read C.S. Lewis’, Chronicles of Narnia. I’m not exaggerating when I say, it changed my life. From there I read A Wrinkle in Time, then The Hobbit. After that, it was on to George MacDonald’s Lilith and Phantastes, and his fairy tales like The Golden Key and The Princess and the Goblin. Along the way, I discovered I did not miss the “adult” books at all.
Baker writes, “…in order for a story to be successful, it really has to be good.” In other words, by parsing out “titillation of one kind or the other,” the author is able to cut to the chase, and focus on story. It makes sense. Kids have short attention spans. Thus, books aimed at Young Adults must be tighter, trimmed, and scrubbed of literary density. Simply put: YA books are easier to read.
This doesn’t mean the stories are without depth — which is one of the common misconceptions of non-YA readers. They assume that young adult lit is less sophisticated, more adolescent. However, Narnia is chock full of theological allusions. In fact, Lewis made the point of distinguishing between books aimed at the “childish” and the “childlike.” There is an assumption by some adults that YA is “childish,” an intellectual downgrade. Scripture, on the other hand, hails “child-likeness” — wonder, awe, imagination, simplicity, purity — as being almost salvific (Matt. 18:1-6). Maybe this is why Jesus taught in parables. “The Kingdom of God is like…” birds and farmers and prodigal teenagers. He distilled truth to a rudimentary form. In this sense, I wonder that one reason adults read YA fiction is because they are — in the good sense — childlike.
All that to say, adult novels often feel stuffy and pretentious, laden with stylistic devices, existential angst and nihilism, graphic or gratuitous content. Which could be one of the reasons more adults are reading YA,
If you're an adult and you read YA fiction may I ask, Why?
Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," is in stores now. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.