Slate, you are drunk. Adults should be reading YA.

Slate, you are drunk. Adults should read YA. | Modern Mrs Darcy

Maybe you saw it. I almost shared it on Facebook, but didn’t want to give it the pageviews.

But here I am linking to it anyway, because when Slate asserts that adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children, I can’t help myself.

We need to talk about this.

This much is true: adults are reading more young adult fiction—typically aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds—than ever. This is a tragedy, (or so says the author, Ruth Graham), because these grown-ups shouldn’t be stealing time from adult literary fiction in order to read dumbed-down novels told from the perspective of teenagers.

(Then she goes on to slam The Westing Game and Tuck Everlasting. The nerve!)

I’m not an avid YA reader, but I’m always up for a good story, and readers of any age shouldn’t be ashamed of reading good books. Any good books, regardless of genre.

I don’t typically use the words “should” and “read” in the same sentence, but I’ll make an exception here.

Adults should read YA. Here’s why: 

A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. - C. S. Lewis. On why adults should be reading YA | Modern Mrs Darcy

1. A good book is a good book is a good book. 

I completely agree with Graham when she says, “Life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long.” But why for adults? As C. S. Lewis famously said, “a children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story.”

Much young adult fiction is terrible, but so is much adult fiction. But a good book is a good book, no matter the intended audience. And the list of good books—for all audiences—is long. Thankfully.

"It's a book. I don't like to categorize." - Madeleine L'Engle, when asked to place A Wrinkle in Time in a genre. {{Why Adults Should Read YA. | Modern Mrs Darcy}}

2. YA is a label bestowed by the marketers.

Madeleine L’Engle defied her audience’s (and her publisher’s) requests to pigeonhole her books. When asked to place A Wrinkle in Time in a genre, L’Engle famously said, “It’s a book. I don’t like categorizing.”

Authors may write with an age-specific audience in mind, but they might not. Frequently, the “YA” classification is a choice made by the publicity machine, for its purposes—not by the author, for hers.

Should you sweepingly declare, as Graham does, “I don’t read YA,” you effectively delegate your reading choices to the marketers. Smart readers don’t do that.

3. The world does not revolve around your Very Adult Self. 

Eleanor & Park

Graham has this to say about Eleanor & Park:

It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults. When chapter after chapter in Eleanor & Park ends with some version of “He’d never get enough of her,” the reader seems to be expected to swoon. But how can a grown-up, even one happy to be reminded of the shivers of first love, not also roll her eyes?

I understand why adult readers might roll their eyes, and why Graham expects them to: they’re not teenagers anymore. Graham thinks this is a reason not to read the book—but she couldn’t be more wrong. It’s why they should.

As Harry Truman said, “The only reason you read books is to get a better sense into people.” Fiction allows you to glimpse the world through another’s eyes, and the world has an awful lot of teenagers in it. If you’re an adult and you can’t understand teens, there’s hope for you yet. Find yourself a great YA novel and get to reading.

About that certain bestseller … 

Graham seems to especially hate the literary (and financial) juggernaut that is Eleanor & Park. But while Eleanor & Park is marketed as YA, I don’t think it belongs in that category. There’s a difference between novels written for teenagers and novels written about teenagers. Eleanor & Park is the latter.

Why point this out? Simply to highlight the ambiguity of what we call “young adult” fiction, and why an entire category shouldn’t be axed from consideration. It’s not that adults should be reading YA for the sake of reading YA, but they should be reading—and reading well. There are great options in every section of the bookstore.

But to say that adults shouldn’t be reading from an entire section? That’s just click baiting.

For the sake of my beloved books, this time, I’ll take the bait.

But I’m not buying it.

Slate, you are drunk.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about adults and reading, young adult fiction, and what you “should and should not” read in comments. 

Comments

  1. says

    Wonderfully written response!

    I’ve been thinking a little about this since reading Gretchin Rubin’s The Happiness Project and a lot about this since reading (and recommending to everyone I know) Eleanor & Park.

    Truth be told, I still have felt a bit self conscious of reading YA, but you are exactly right, that is a modern marketing tool. I wouldn’t think twice about reading a novel with an older adult as the protagonist (I can’t think of an example off the top on my head, which possibly means we need more of these… Another thought for another day). So what does it matter where on the time-spectrum of life a character is? I love the way you put that: there is a difference between novels written for teenagers and novels written about teenagers.

    Great books are great books and deserve to be read. Isn’t the point of reading first for enjoyment, after all?

  2. says

    I love this! One of the things that stuck with me about The Happiness Project was Gretchen Rubin’s embarrassment over her love for children’s fiction and how much happier she was once she let go and started reading what she loved. I realized then that I was judging the books I liked through the lens of what other people would think, and so it’s so freeing to let go of that and just read what YOU want to!

    • says

      I forgot that Gretchen Rubin talked about this! Now I want to go back and re-read that part. Ever since I read The Happiness Project I’ve been thinking about how fun a Kid Lit or YA book club would be….

    • Holly says

      Um I get caught up in the beautiful picture books I read to my daughter. I haven’t read Gretchen’s book but I know I select lovely books at the library for my daughter because I’ll be reading them to her…if only the writer of this article knew that not only am I reading YA, I’m also reading “toddler!”

  3. says

    My feedly was full of posts about this this morning. I skimmed the article, but didn’t closely read it since this isn’t a fight I’m much invested in. I can certainly see why her piece has evoked such strong feeling. There are very few instances where I think it’s appropriate to make blanket “should/should not read” statements, mostly because I think what you read is such a reflection of who you are that tastes are unique. What I like, someone who is “just like me” might not. I know that while I always love recommendations from people whose taste I trust, I’m not a fan of being told I have to do anything :) Personally, I read “YA” from a sense of nostalgia. I love the books I loved, but I’m not drawn to much of what’s recently published. And that doesn’t mean it’s not well-written, or an excellent choice. It’s just a reflection of my taste. I say – read whatever your heart desires!

  4. Lynda O'Gorman says

    I’m new to MMD but very much enjoying your blog already. I wonder whether books such as The Catcher In The Rye, Lord Of The Flies, Sense And Sensibility and Great Expectations would, today, be published as YA.

        • Karen says

          I was thinking the exact same thing about Little Women! I read that first as a 10 year old and have reread it many, many times. Personally, who cares what one reads as long as they read. I’m sure we’d all cave and admit to reading some adult fiction that we (1) would rather not admit to having read, or (2) would have preferred to not waste our time on.

          • says

            I’ve never read Eight Cousins and it’s on my summer reading list. My 9-year-old and I are planning to read it together.

    • Alix says

      And “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” by James Joyce, certainly! Arent all bildungsroman novels YA?

  5. says

    I love YA books. Its my go-to. They are often well written, have compelling plots, and are less “rated-r” than an adult novel. And honestly it reminds me of the brains of teens, and as a mom that is helpful. Favorites lately (some of them your rec’s): Mockingbird, Red Rising, When you Reach Me. I just read Jasper Jones and didn’t love the grit in it.

    • Kelty Brittle says

      Yes! I agree about the less “rated-r” point. I have recently enjoyed several YA & middle grade books that are refreshingly uncluttered by sex and more complicated adult themes. It took me a few before I realized that what I was actually enjoying so much was the lack of “grit” in these books, especially ones like “Liar and Spy” and “When You Reach Me” It was relaxing not to have to deal with that stuff for a little bit and just enjoy a fantastic story.

      I have 2 kids under 3 and large chunks of reading time are hard to find these days. I love YA/Middle Grade lit for the fact that I can come “in and out” of the stories as my children require and still be reading and enjoying books.

      Anne, I appreciate your distinction between “books about teens” and “books for teens.” Agreed on E & P. I loved the book at 35 but I don’t think it would have been good for me at 14.

      • Nopinkhere says

        I read YA for similar reasons. Sometimes I need a book with good characters and plot, but that I can dip in and out of easily as I am interrupted. YA often meets that need better than adult books. When I have more concentrated reading time or am better rested, then I more readily pick up an adult book with darker/deeper themes, four times as many characters, and six plot threads. Or a non-fiction book! I choose different books for different reasons, and I would hate to shut myself off from such a large category of books.

    • says

      I 100% agree about the r-rated adults books. Honestly it’s really the only reason I stay away from adult classified books. It as if as soon as they say it’s an adult book they can load it with curse words and sex scenes. I recently read “Gone Girl” it was a good read! But again had the f word and a few sex scenes that weren’t really necessary.
      Just my thoughts!
      I enjoyed reading the post.

  6. says

    You hit the nail on the head with all three points on this one. (I hoped/just about knew you’d pull out that C.S. Lewis quote, which is my guide for choosing children’s entertainment!) What we should be embarrassed of is not reading books that are “for children” but rather that our children’s books are too lame for adults (if, in fact, they are. Obviously some are and some aren’t.) I don’t usually plug my own blog in comments but I just wrote something related to point number 3 a couple of days ago on my blog. I think that is one of the most important reasons for reading in general.

  7. says

    Anne, I love your response to this article, especially the part about today’s marketing categories being very artificial. Good writing is good writing and doesn’t depend on someone else’s idea of what we “should” read. As you say, there are some amazing books out there in all genres and categories. Your blog alone has introduced me to many books of all kinds that I might not have discovered otherwise. My current read is I Capture the Castle — YA from the 1940′s, sure, but what a great book (love, passion, humour, bear costumes…..). So thanks for speaking out!

  8. says

    The last YA series I really loved was the Virals series by Kathy Reichs, of Bones fame. The series was recommended to me by…my 72 year old father. So as far as I’m concerned, Slate can stick it.

    Funnily, as a kid and young adult, my parents never limited what I read. That’s why I read Judy Blume’s novels for adults when I was a young teenager, as well as Not Without My Daughter and Clan of the Cave Bear (although that last one was for school, the least objectionable on a list provided by the teacher that also included VC Andrews and Steven King. My mother said if I wanted to read those I could do it on my own time and over her dead body would I read crap like that for school. Not that Clan was much better–it has a violent rape in it).

  9. says

    Also attributed to CS Lewis, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

  10. Jennifer says

    I totally agree there is a difference between books for teenagers and books about teenagers. I don’t love every book marketed as YA For me, I couldn’t get past the first page of Eleanor & Park or Huger Games (no judgement for those who loved them), but I loved Unschooled and I Am Number Four (the Lorien Chronicles). Which brings me to another point, just because some people LOVE a book does not mean everyone has to love it, and just because some people HATE a book does not mean all copies should go in the trash.

    • says

      “Just because some people LOVE a book does not mean everyone has to love it, and just because some people HATE a book does not mean all copies should go in the trash.”

      Yes!

  11. says

    My response to Graham’s article in slate has been “What a load of drivel. The woman has no idea what she’s talking about.” Your response is much more thoughtful than mine, Anne.

  12. says

    I both saw and read the original article and was a bit disturbed as well. One of my most distinct memories as a child was lamenting the aging process because I was afraid I would have to start reading books from the ‘upstairs’ (adult section) of my library. I cemented my presence in our children’s section by birthing five children so there’s no way they are getting rid of me.

    That being said, I read from both sections, but I’ve found that one reason I tend to read a lot of YA fiction is because I’m quite sensitive to certain topics. Unfortunately, many adult books that I’ve read delve into greater detail when their characters experience trauma and I find that disturbing. I want to read a great book, but without some of the graphic details. Now obviously, if it is non-fiction I know what I’m getting myself into and I’m in no way asking that an author make little of their trauma, I’m just saying that many times a good psychological thriller from the adult section should also come with a PTSD warning.

    (And yes, I know that there are many YA books that also cross the line with graphic descriptions, but my struggle has mostly been with adult fiction.)

    I do appreciate your response and sorry for the on-and-on-and-on-ness of this comment.

    • says

      I’m also a sensitive reader, and that’s a great point. Code Name Verity was a novel that kept coming to mind as I was writing this: it’s a YA novel set during WWII that includes themes of war, torture, imprisonment, sacrifice, and death. It’s not dumbed-down, but it’s gentle.

    • says

      Echo the sentiments in this post and in the comments. Good literature is simply good.

      Kristina – I pass on a lot of adult fiction for this reason – it is simply too graphic for my heart or mind or both. But, I hadn’t consider reading YA for this reason! Thank you!

  13. says

    Saying “you shouldn’t enjoy this book because if you do, you clearly aren’t mature enough” is a bit silly. It’s good to remember what both childhood and adolescence was like, because we’re surrounded by people going through those very ages. The worst adult is the adult that thinks they know everything because they’re “oh-so-mature”-ironically making them some of the least mature people out there.

  14. says

    Thanks for your defense of the YA novel! This article made me so angry! First of all, her insinuation that an adult who read less YA would be reading more literary fiction is completely ridiculous. I work at a library, and a good percentage of the adults who check out books written for adults are reading chick lit or romance novels or Westerns. I haven’t read every book in library, obviously, but I’d venture to say that YA books like Eleanor & Park would be a step up for some of these readers.
    I also hated that she called all the endings of YA books “satisfying.” Almost all the literary fiction I’ve read resolves in one way or another, even if I end up puzzling over the ending a bit. And I wouldn’t call books that end with a teenagers death “satisfying” even if it is cathartic.

    • says

      I am always, always delighted to hear the librarian’s perspective. Thanks for that, Amy. And yeah, I was puzzled by the “satisfying” ending thing, too. It could certainly be the specific YA novels I’m choosing to read, but that’s not my experience.

      Although Neil Gaiman does have a great quote about why kids should read scary stories that DO have satisfying endings: “A little bit of fear in a safe place is like being inoculated. It gives you something you can go through and be sure that you’ll come out the other end. It teaches you to be brave.”

  15. says

    Completely agree with you. I don’t know about other readers, but I like YA for the nostalgia factor- not just from books I’ve already read, but new books that remind me of what it was like to be young. I like the freshness, the intensity, and the naiveté of teenage protagonists- and I also like how their lives remind me of how grateful I am to be past those years. I’d rather get my nostalgia fix from reading YA than from more reckless activities- binge drinking with my kids in the next room, for example, or getting something pierced!

  16. says

    I can’t. Seriously? How could anyone who loves literature ever suggest we should not read from all genres? As Madeleine L’Engle said, “I am every age I’ve ever been”. I’m still a child, a teen, and a girl in my early twenties. Why not read something that speaks to any one of those ages?

  17. says

    Great post. I love Kimberly’s quote from Madeleine L’Engle, above. I am an avid YA reader, both because I love it (for all kinds of reasons) and because I think it’s important to remember what those years feel like. And I am so, so sick of people shaming other people because of what they read. I think people should sometimes read books outside their experience or comfort zones – those books stretch us and make us more thoughtful people. But we should not be ashamed of reading what we love. Books for all!

  18. Kelly says

    I’d also add that adults who read YA books are able to discuss them with the young adults who are reading the same books. It’s a way for parents/family/friends to connect to a younger generation of readers.

    • says

      I agree with that; my daughter & I have had great conversations about The Fault in Our Stars, Wonder, Rules, Mockingbird, and many other excellent teen/YA books. This also applies to music: if she and I hadn’t been listening to top-40 pop on the car radio this past weekend, we might not have had the interesting conversation that we did have about misogyny. (But with music you have to “kiss more frogs,” I think.)

  19. says

    Anne,

    This is a great response to this ridiculous article. There were so many holes in her logic. My personal favorite was her classification of Charles Dickens as adult fiction worthy to be read, when most of Dickens’s writings were originally published as newspaper serials. And, if I’m remembering correctly, she hadn’t even read Eleanor & Park, which is the cardinal sin of all book critiques – don’t judge a book you haven’t read.

  20. says

    Amen friend! I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have a little Betsy-Tacy to keep me sane every once in a while. I’m all for reading new YA books but revisiting the past and re-reading good ones is so calming as well!

  21. says

    This is the first time I’ve heard about this article. I wonder if they’re just trying to get attention? I don’t read a ton of YA (except for Harry Potter over and over.) I so rarely find anyone who reads books at all though that I’d be thrilled to find someone reading anything that I could talk to them about no matter if it is YA angst or child eating clowns.

  22. says

    No one tells me, what I should or should not read!!!!!!!!

    I happen to love YA and younger.

    A good book is a good book.

    The End…

    -grin-

    Tessa~

  23. Beth says

    Yes. And adults should not only read YA books but they should feel responsible to at least read some of the books that teenagers find appealing….helps you to connect with the next generation. I liked to discuss YA books with my jr high daughter, and now that she is in college we’ve moved on to Anna Karenina and War and Peace, while still enjoying “Fault in our Stars”.

    • says

      Absolutely. I’m reading more kid lit and YA this year than I ever have before because of my own kids’ ever-increasing reading level.

  24. says

    Your response to that article is pitch-perfect.

    I was just talking to my husband last night about how I was introduced to Harry Potter. I was in my freshman year at college as an English major and my 12-year-old brother told me that I should read the Harry Potter books (this was back in the early 2000s, when the books were still not all out). I clearly remember my reaction (though I didn’t say it to him): “Pffft, I’m an English major. I don’t have time for kids’ books.” But he wouldn’t drop it. I’d never in my life seen him get so excited about what he was reading. So I decided to give it a try the summer after freshman year, if not just for a way to connect with my little brother. Before I knew it, I was packing those thick books around everywhere I went, reading on my lunch breaks at work (incidentally, I was working as a waitress at the time would often see young kids at the tables reading the same Harry Potter book I was reading) and late at night. I shudder to think that I could have missed that experience by thinking I was above reading books for a younger audience.

    • says

      That is an awesome story! I hope your brother knows you have him to thank for the introduction, and I bet there are piles of teens and adults who got into Harry Potter the same way.

    • says

      I have a friend who introduces me by saying, “This is my friend, Kelly. She introduced me to Harry Potter.” We were in college at the time, and now she has a doctorate degree in literature. She also just recently sent me a chocolate frog from Harry Potter World. Good books are good books.

  25. says

    Wrinkle in Time, the Harry Potter series, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede, swoon! I have loved kid lit since our girls were little, and I stand firm on reading what appeals to you, regardless of where it is shelved in the library.

    I like books that don’t feel it necessary to use lots of swearing, violence, and/or sex to make up for their lack of a terrific storyline and engaging characters.

  26. says

    I think most YA books aren’t written by the author who’s thinking “I’m writing for Young Adults.” It’s just that those stories fit in the YA marketing mold. I’ve read the Graham article, and she talks about the lack of moral ambiguity in YA novels because the stories have “wrapped up” endings. Well, you know, when I read a book, I LIKE a wrapped up ending. I don’t necessarily like reading a story that never ends. Isn’t that more of a news article? This article screamed “I’m bitter because people who should be reading my books are actually reading YA books!”

  27. says

    I just have to add that those of us who write for children often have to face this “lesser” mindset, that our art is somehow less worthy, that what we do is practice for when we’ll wise up and write real literature someday. This is such a disservice to all readers and writers.

    • Alix says

      Alice Dagliesh has a line about this in her book, “The Silver Pencil” (marketed as a children’s book, but really not one, because it goes into the protagonists adult life quite a bit) that says a children’s writer must actually be better, because children are a more demanding audience, and they reread, unlike many adults!

  28. Cathy Armour says

    I’m a bit perplexed about the entire “YA” classification. YOUNG ADULT, to me, means they are adults who are young (dah!) When do you become an adult? Certainly everyone matures differently – so who is to say. But as a Mom of a 12 year old, I haven’t read very many YA books appropriate (for years) for him. He’s not an adult, he’s an almost teen. We jump in classification from children’s to young adult — jumping over an entire classification — TEENS.

    Until recently I was put off by the YA label — thinking my young-at-heart self was too old for them. However, the genre is wide and interesting, with fantastic storytellers. So now my only discriminating factor is excellent storytelling that pulls me in.

    Forget the labels — except let’s add a TEEN label so we can tell what is really suited for teens and what is more appropriate for young ADULT readers.

  29. Kathleen says

    I’m forever recommending books to my teenage kids and I love it when they return the favor. Currently reading the Chronicles of Narnia series recommended by my kids and I was delighted by the C.S. Lewis quote.

  30. says

    The genius of Eleanor & Park (and of Rainbow Rowell in general as she does it in Fangirl too) is that she makes you remember those feelings of first love and of discovering a wider world. So instead of rolling my eyes, I remember. And I’m more empathetic/sympathetic to the teenagers. Also, at my library we just started a “Forever YA” book club for adult who want to discuss the YA they are reading. With the rise of Hunger Games, Twilight etc. lots of adults are reading YA. And really a great book is a great book. Thanks for a great rebuttal to Slate.

  31. Ran says

    I love reading YA because it reminds me of a time when I could really, really, fall in to a book. Somehow that happens less and less, the older I get, but back in that YA age I was just engrossed. It might be the style of writing, bc YA often has grand adventures given pretty straight forwardly, or it might be that I was more easily impressed then, who knows. I recently read Watership Down, a kids book about talking rabbits, and I adored it. Turns out it’s popular for a reason. The authors note is the best part – he bases several characters off of men he served with in the military. These talking rabbits are real people, and any child or adult will be able to relate, YA genre or no.

  32. says

    I just read “Eleanor & Parks” and I loved it! I am 30 years old and have five kids and I have always been an avid reader. Maybe not so much when my older kids were little. I totally agree with your point – a good book is a good book. Like her other book “Fangirl” that I read a few weeks before, once their relationship took off things got a little weird, but overall I really enjoyed it and sighed over the whole mixed tapes/walkman thing. Oh, that takes me back.

    I enjoyed “The Tale of Desperoux” a lot and that’s a kids book. The picture book “Olivia” (the first one, before the whole thing got really annoying) was one of my all-time favorites when my girls were smaller. I just read the whole Divergent trilogy and enjoyed it very much.

    What I tell my older kids, over and over, is that we should read a wide variety of books. I think if all an adult is reading is YA then – yeah, that’s not great, and I think that is becoming more and more common with my age set, but if all you read is any one thing then that’s not so good either. There are too many really good YA series & stories to rule them out entirely.

  33. Julie R says

    I read YA novels for many of the reasons already stated, but also because reading YA books helps me to be a better parent. I have almost 9 year old twins who are reading far above their grade level, and I struggle to find appropriate books for them. Spending time in the YA section of the library/book store means I can steer them toward good books that aren’t too “gritty” (I love that term).

  34. Rachel says

    I too read YA for pleasure and have read and enjoyed your recommendations. I think it is becoming more acceptable for adults to read YA books but alas I cannot get my bookclub to read a YA selection yet. I won’t give up though. One of my favorite YA writers is Philip Pullman. I love “His Dark Materials” trilogy even more than Harry Potter. I also like his Sally Lockhart mysteries. I have never really analyzed why I am drawn to this genre and I think like all of you have said it is because it is just good writing. It is also time of life when feelings are new and intense which makes for a good story too. Bravo Anne!

  35. DebRN says

    I’m so proud of you Anne. You wrote an intelligent rebuttal without using the filet knife on the other author. I am a little weary of so called Christian bloggers using “Mean Girl” tactics to publicize their differing views. We can learn to disagree agreeably and you have hit the sweet spot.

    By the way, PBS ran a show last night re-inventing the P&P Regency Ball. Did you all see it?? Very well done.

  36. says

    I haven’t read or even heard of the Slate article until I read this post but thank you for rebutting it so perfectly! I too often choose YA for its lack of graphic sex and violence. (I have a hard time reading most fiction marketed to adults because I’m so sensitive to that.) Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is another novel that I just read (thanks for the recommendation)! I would say that it’s definitely not a YA mystery per se, although it has an 11-year old protagonist. So there’s another one that’s hard to categorize.

    • says

      Yep, that one’s hard to categorize. (I read and enjoyed the first, and now I read to read the rest of the series. So many books….)

  37. Anjanette says

    Great rebuttal, Anne.

    I love kids’ and YA fiction, and I’ve enjoyed many great discussions with my 12yo and 15yo that have come about as a result of books we’ve shared. My kids love that I respect what they read, and they are nearly as likely to recommend adult fiction to me as YA (My 15yo is dying for me to read The Goldfinch so we can discuss it).

    On a related note though, we had the pleasure of attending a panel with the the author MT Anderson in April. He is known for not “writing down” to kids and teens, in terms of both language and content, and he remarked that his book Octavian Nothing was marketed as YA because he wanted it to be, but that his publisher would’ve gone either way.

    Later, in response to a question about YA crossover appeal he mused that it was not just books crossing over, but teen culture as a whole, noting that in the past, our culture valued adult role models, versus the youth-obsession that exists today. So yes, YA gets more attention as a result, but it’s really just one piece of a cultural shift. Adults reading YA is not a problem, but he did wonder about other aspects, like how these days many adults are less likely to step up to take adult roles in their families, communities and in society as a whole (there’s a big difference between griping about something on twitter versus doing something that actively works towards a solution, or criticizing a politician versus being politically active yourself, for example).

    I thought it was an interesting point. Adults do have lots of responsibilities, and yes, we owe it to ourselves, our families, our communities, and future generations to take all of our responsibilities seriously. Maybe that’s why so many adults say they read YA for nostalgia or escape, and there’s nothing wrong with that–adults should get to read whatever they want! Or not read what they don’t want. Or not finish what they don’t like (loved that post too :)).

    • says

      That comment from MT Anderson is really interesting. Thanks for sharing that.

      I LOVE that your 15yo is dying for you to read The Goldfinch so you can discuss it together!

  38. Amanda says

    I just read Eleanor & Park, and I was so disappointed (everyone loved it, and I just could not stand it, and my poor husband had to listen to my tirade), that I was tempted, I admit, to swear off anything written recently and marketed as YA.

    I completely agree that a good book is a good book (I’m reading The Wind in the Willows right now, for instance), and the first two chapters of Twilight and E&P probably aren’t a fair sample of modern YA books, but it’s going to be a while before I can make myself try again. I just finished it yesterday, so I’m probably still to rawly negative about that particular example to think fairly about it. :)

  39. Kam says

    Anyone who states that YA lit is only for YA eyes has obviously never read “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.” While homeschooling my son, I was a co-leader with several other parents in a YA book club and all us moms agreed — we LOVED those books and getting to read them and calling it “our job” was the best “work” ever! I will unapologetically say I truly enjoy some pre-YA lit as well: “My Father’s Dragon” (trilogy), “The War Between the Vowels and the Consonants,” and “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.”

  40. Tammy says

    Anne, I totally agree with your post, especially your point about a good book just being a good book.

    That said, I think the author of the post had a kernel of a good point that was somewhat lost because she needed to fill up her word count, and decided to expand it with more pompous opinions. And that is, there are a lot of adults who seek ONLY to read the YA genre, simply because it requires less cognitive power and the novels tend to be significantly shorter, giving the attention span-deprived amongst us the satisfaction of having read a book in a day. (I also believe that the e-reader has given rise to the power of YA fiction, simply because they are usually so darn cheap on Kindle.) Seeking to read quality YA because it’s well-written? More power to you! Seeking to read YA – any old YA – because you never seek to challenge yourself with a read? That’s a problem, in my opinion.

  41. says

    When I was teaching a few years ago, I gave myself the Newbery Challenge. True, the Newbery Medal is “Children’s” and not just “YA”, but I have grown so much from reading these works of art, dating back to 1922. Even books I “should” have read as a child but didn’t for whatever reason, I am now reading in my 40s and appreciating in a way I couldn’t have as a youngster. As a writer, I bow down to these magnificent authors and their beauty in words.

  42. Betty Carlson says

    I just bought 5 books for my granddaughter’s birthday. They were written by a friend and I got them signed for her. I have to read them before I give them to her. 1) I have to read them if I want to discuss them with her. 2) I would never give a book that was not worth my time to read it. 3). I want to take her to meet the author and to ask the author questions after she has read the books. I want to be able to ask questions also.

  43. Kimberly says

    Yes to everything you wrote Anne! My 11 year old son randomly picked up The Westing Game from the Junior/Children’s section of our library (the horror!). Once he finished it, he slammed the book closed, promptly declared it one of his top 5 favorite books ever, and demanded I read it too. He knew I would like it, which, of course, I absolutely did. Now we talk about it in hushed tones so we don’t ruin it for his younger brother. If as a mom (and a homeschooling mom to boot), I ask my children to read books I believe to be important to their life/well-being/general well-roundedness/happiness, how can I not offer them the same respect and read what they have determined is important to them? It’s an easy way to honor them as distinct people with their own thoughts and preferences. Ok, lecture over. :)

  44. says

    Maybe this has been mentioned already, but my biggest beef with this article is that it doesn’t take into consideration that people ARE READING.

    In today’s world, that can be a rare thing. Isn’t the stat something like 33% of people never read a book after high school (and 42% after college)? And 50% of Americans can’t read past an 8th grade level.

    Well, shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that so many adults are finding themselves engrossed in YA lit? They are reading, and that is wonderful.

  45. says

    Good food for thought. A good book is a good book is a good book. Categories only exist to soothe our brains anyway. If it’s well-written and compelling it’s up for grabs!

  46. Karlyne says

    I couldn’t read all the comments (time constraints), Anne, because you obviously hit a nerve and everybody needs to comment! But I have to say that those C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle quotes have been favorites of mine since… well, practically since they were first said!

  47. says

    Wait, I’m not supposed to re-read Anne of Green Gables every year? What a load of…
    I happen to love a lot of fiction targeted to the YA market. I also happen to love a lot of the picture books I read my kids. Good writing and storytelling is universal.
    I agree with all your points, but especially that about books being a way to understand and relate to others in other stages/places in life. I also work with kids, and its cool to be able to discuss books with them.
    The bit about marketing was something I didn’t really think about. I’ll mention that I pick up books to read based on others’ recommendations and often never realized they were technically “YA” (Eleanor and Park was one of those).

  48. says

    Now I HAVE to read Eleanor and Park! Haven’t gotten to it yet, but now it’s on my summer reading list.

    I haven’t read through everyone’s comments so perhaps I’m being repetitive, but I love reading books that my 11 year old daughter is reading so we can then discuss them. We’ve done this with Wonder, Fault in our Stars, the Diverent trilogy, the Hunger Games trilogy and The Book Thief. It’s especially fun when she reads it first and then constantly asks me what part I’m at! Also, my book group reads a YA book periodically. Sometimes it’s new, but sometimes we revisit something we read as YAs ourselves – like Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. It’s a treat to reminisce about how we felt the first time we read it and the perspective we’ve gained over the years since.

    Thanks for this post, Anne!

  49. Molly says

    I haven’t read all the comment made here, but I agree with the poster who said (basically) just because one person loves a book doesn’t mean every else must as well, just because you hate a book doesn’t mean in ought to be trashed. I don’t love every book I come across, but I do recognize the value in the ideas. Hunger Games deeply disturbed me, and I refuse to read the rest of the series. The ideas presented to merit discussion though. I’ve tried to read Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye and simply can’t finish them for different reasons, but again the themes have merit and should be addressed. The YA fiction that was available to me in my teen years was (with some exceptions) a bunch of teenage romances which I never got into. I do think the YA fiction that is being put out now does seem to be of a higher caliber. Yay!

  50. says

    I will gladly take a YA novel over many adult fiction novels. I’m not a huge fan of language/ violence/ sexual situations in books (but I make a HUGE exception for GOT… weird, I know) and I know that with a YA novel, I’ll get a good story without having to dodge F-bombs. There seems to be this unspoken rule that once you pass a certain age, you dare only be seen with High Brow Literature and that pleasure reading is no more.

  51. says

    Thank you so much for this response. I was livid Friday night after reading the article and tweeted a few of my thoughts, but I haven’t had time to compose those words into anymore more than “GAH!” You’ve done a much better job than I .

    As a reader, my primary issue with Graham’s article was the idea that adults reading YA literature aren’t reading anything else. I’m a bookseller and a reader, so I know: That absolutely isn’t true. I read some YA, yes, but I also read memoirs and literary fiction and short stories and middle reader books. My interests run the gamut, and so do my book choices. And what’s more, most readers’ tastes vary. It’s why being a bookseller is a really hard job! I watch adults through my store day-after-day select a range of books for their shelves — and like mine, their tastes often run all over the board. Sometimes, grown-ups want to read YA fiction. And why not? Lately, especially, the YA genre seems to be bursting at the seams with thoughtful, well-written stories (thank you, John Green). And the stories so many of us read as children? The classics that shaped who we are today? Those are still worth reading, even as adults. Sure, now those books might be classified as middle reader or YA books (as you said, mostly due to marketing). But their stories are full of “adult” themes — love, death, sacrifice, friendship, family, loneliness… I look back at the books I read as a child, and those are the books that have defined me, and if I were to re-read them? I think, for the most part, I would still find comfort and truth in their pages. The C.S. Lewis quote says it all for me; good writing and good stories know no age.

  52. says

    You tell ‘em, Anne! I loved Eleanor and Park. It made my heart hurt.

    I guess if YA meant Sweet Valley Twins/High only……hahaha! That makes me want to read those. Well, just a little. ;)

  53. says

    I think this post is so popular, my first comment was eaten! Oh well. Anyway, I had said that as a YA author, I heartily endorse your rant. Oh, and another great quote is “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” ~ CS Lewis.

  54. Kat says

    I feel the need to agree with your post (along with everyone else besides Slate).

    As a marketing person, I heartily agree with the point “YA is a label bestowed by the marketers.” That is what segmentation does: it puts labels onto merchandise to appeal to certain consumers.

    I will admit that about 70% of what I read normally is considered YA fiction. And yes, I do sometimes feel self-conscious at the library or when the book has an obnoxious cover, but it hasn’t deterred me yet from reading and enjoying the books.

    I’m glad you are encouraging people to read what they enjoy without caring what other people think. Hopefully people will listen to you and not Slate!

  55. says

    Well said! I definitely prefer YA to adult “literary” fiction. Most of what is called “literary” is simply too dark and depressing for me. It’s as if they thought, “lets see how many horrible emotional experiences and/or depressing characters we can shove into one book!” Or something. I particularly like light and fun YA fantasy (eg: Patricia C. Wrede). I can’t handle most adult fantasy I’ve encountered…too dark, too r-rated. I am 31 years old, and I read YA!

  56. says

    I have such fond memories of reading as a teen. Much more so then than now I had so many hours I dedicated to reading.
    I was the 8 year old pouring through chapter books and finding myself in entire new worlds because of it. Even now in college, a lot of what I know of history I’m realizing is still from some of the fiction works I read years ago.
    To claim that any genre is unreadable is silly. When I read my one year niece a book I can learn. When I read to a five year old I can learn. Regardless of the book, there’s room for learning.
    Learning aside, there’s room for adventure and exploration and such great fun. Books expanded my world.
    All this to say I want to go back and reread everything by Kit Pearson, retread all the pieces I read about royalty and orphans (I had very romanticized thoughts on royalty and orphans). Long live the young adult book selection.

  57. Amy E says

    This makes me think about Tom Sawyer…it is marketed as a children’s book, and yet when I read it as an adult, I got so much more out of it. After all, it was written BY an adult! Same for Oliver Twist. Marketing is an empty ploy. Also I feel much better now about occasionally picking up a Nancy Drew or Anne of Green Gables. I will never give them up!

  58. Anne C says

    I could not agree with you more. Lately I have been reading a lot of GREAT YA. Who cares what label they put on it. Right now I’m reading The Mighty Miss Malone and love it. I have read some horrible YA too..think Twilight series. I had the option of not reading it any further than the first book so I took it. It is like any other book choice…we have CHOICES and isn’t that what is the BEST thing about reading!!

  59. says

    “Fiction allows you to glimpse the world through another’s eyes, and the world has an awful lot of teenagers in it. If you’re an adult and you can’t understand teens, there’s hope for you yet.” <—-Yes, yes, yes!

    Such a great response to that other {silly} post. Love. your. blog.

  60. says

    I have to say that I don’t read a lot of current YA–but I regularly re-read favorite books that (arbitrarily) fit the YA category: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the Anne books, and Harry Potter come to mind. As a high school English teacher, I taught books that moved me deeply (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Chosen, Fahrenheit 451) though I was pretty sure that most of the students would have to come back to those books again in later years to really get the depth of them. To quote Lewis again, “It must be a really great book because one can read it as a boy in one way, and then re-read it in middle life and get something very different out of it–and that to my mind is one of the best tests.”

  61. Stephanie says

    You should check out Slate’s “Culture Gabfest” podcast from this past week. I think you’ll see that not everyone at Slate agrees with Ruth Gordon & these opinions are those of the author not the website, as a whole. (Sorry…I love Slate & think many of their articles are great conversation fodder.)

  62. says

    No time to read through all the comments, but clearly Ruth graham has not read The Fault in Our Stars. Sigh. Amazing. (Sent me on a john green binge)

    Or The Book Thief. Even better.

    Although john green books have mature sexual content that I wouldn’t want a 12-17 year old reading, I sure love his writing for my 42 year old self. He’s quite the phenom.

  63. says

    I just read the slate article and see that she did read the fault in our stars. Poo poo on her. That’s a great book. Not for 13 year olds. :-(

  64. lifeinoregon says

    Personally, I’ve always found the YA section to be a bit confusing. I was an avid child reader, and I remember when I was looking for L. M. Montgomery books at the library and couldn’t find them. Finally, I discovered them in an odd section labeled, “Young Adult”. I thought it was so odd. But the books in it were kind of random. A Streetcar Named Desire was in that section. Really? If YA fiction is considered “for children”, I hardly think that book belongs in that section even if it is a classic worth reading for those who are mature enough to handle it. All that to say, I agree 100%. A good book is a good book. We don’t need a special “teenager” category. I read as many books (and types of books) as my mom would let me read, in whatever genre appealed to me and gave very little thought to what “age” it was aimed at.

    • says

      A Streetcar Named Desire? Really?? Yikes!

      I get what you’re saying. My library has some L. M. Montgomery books shelved and some in teen, which basically means I can never find what I’m looking for. Thank goodness for the online record system and the librarians who point me in the right direction.

  65. says

    Great perspective! I’m going to be linking to this post in my “The Week in Links” post on my blog on Sunday. Thanks for an excellent response.

  66. says

    “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”  ― Madeleine L’Engle

  67. Christina says

    Children’s lit is the very best lit out there. I am 44 years old and it makes up the majority of what I read and have always read. I am currently reading Katerina’s Wish to myself, The Indian in the Cupboard to the kids (ages 6-16) at bedtime, and The Brixton Brothers (number 4) to my three grade-school guys. All fabulous books!

  68. Shirley says

    I have to agree. A good book is a good book no matter who marketers think should be reading it. I mean Stephen King is now considered YA and when I was a teen, I used to sneak this books.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Books They Like?” as well as the rebuttal from Modern Mrs. Darcy, one of my favorite blogs, “Slate, you are drunk. Adults should be reading YA.” As future librarians, I think it’s important to respect the reading choices of all of our […]

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