It’s true. Despite being a thirty-something mother with greying hair, a passion for early mornings and elasticated waistbands, I read books aimed at teenagers. Why? The simple answer: for research, because YA is primarily what I write. There’s so much about it I want to challenge as a writer. Yet, when it comes to reading for fun, I confess to being frequently drawn to YA stories. And I’m not alone.
Although some people still hold the notion that adults should be embarrassed reading YA, the fact is over 55% of YA readers are adults. [But really, who cares what someone else is reading, unless it’s 1) Amazing, 2) Spectacularly awful, or 3) Meh?] Of course, like many readers of YA, I enjoy adult fiction too. From a young age, I’ve read books unsuitable for kids. Liking one is not a rejection of the other. Reading The Fault in Our Stars as an adult left me contemplating the value of life, even if teenagers don’t actually talk the way John Green writes them. Then again, at thirteen I read The Exorcist and hold the same opinion of it now as I did then: William Peter Blatty waffles. What a person chooses to read, when they happen to read it, and how much enjoyment they get from it isn’t cut and dry. It’s simply not down to age.
Don’t be angry at those who’ve never tried it. When you’ve not read much YA, it’s tempting to assume the majority are childish, predictable, or lacking complexity. Of course, some are, but there’s equally superficial adult fiction. Choosing to give YA or even children’s fiction a miss on these grounds isn’t just inaccurate, it’s a crying shame. I say this because I’ve been there. In 2002, I distinctly recall scoffing at the notion of reading Harry Potter because it was a children’s book and lived to eat my words. If you know someone reluctant to try YA because it’s not “proper reading” then recommend Markus Zusak's The Book Thief or Are You Experienced? by William Sutcliffe. Alternatively, remind them The Catcher in the Rye and Sunset Song are both coming-of-age novels, the YA of the time.
When it comes to depth, there’s plenty in YA to offer satisfying reflection from an adult perspective. No matter what I read, save for the likes of Peepo and Goodnight Moon, I form a critical opinion. That’s who I am. I don’t forgive YA for poor writing, lack of profundity, or thin characterization, and I don’t tolerate them in adult fiction either. Personally, I can’t be bothered with obligatory graphic sex scenes and blatant titillation in fiction, which are all too common in adult books. Seriously, fiction is not my go-to for those things! Often, it seems the only reason they’re put there is to ensure a book will appeal exclusively to “grown-ups”. As established by my reading The Exorcist at thirteen, that’s not how it works.
Fine, reading YA isn’t particularly ambitious, but I get annoyed if I have to get my head round every book I read. I shouldn’t have to toil over a book in order to appreciate its significance. Besides, sometimes it’s good to stay comfortable and get carried away by a story. It’s not about clinging to the same things I loved at thirteen. What I value is connecting with the part of me that’s still young, recalling a time when everything was urgent and vital, but from the position of an experienced adult.
Simply put, I can’t see how I’d benefit from limiting myself from YA except for research purposes. So I’ll remain a YA impostor until the day I no longer enjoy reading YA books. Which doesn’t look to be any time soon.