I am Not Ashamed to Read YA

Writing Rambles


I interrupt an otherwise pleasant Friday morning, to rant for a few moments about an article from Slate. First, you should check it out.

Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read Young Adult books.

Are you back? If you are a reader of this blog, you likely also read Young Adult fiction. Maybe you are a young adult yourself, or maybe you are also a 29-year-old mom and wife living in Texas and taking her kid to swimming lessons.

There is nothing wrong with the article, unless you count everything she says after:

“Not because it is bad—it isn’t—but because it was written for teenagers.”

No doubt her statistics on the amount of adults that choose to read YA fiction over Adult fiction are accurate. On one hand, she speaks to the larger issue of prolonged adolescents among twenty-somethings, which is a topic we should absolutely examine and discuss. The breakdown for me comes a few paragraphs below all that:

Let’s set aside the transparently trashy stuff like Divergent and Twilight, which no one defends as serious literature. I’m talking about the genre the publishing industry calls “realistic fiction.”

The two novels she calls out as “trashy” are paranormal romance and dystopian, and she touts realistic YA as being the only sub-genre worth discussing (though, still berating) at all. She then acts as if there is something wrong with reading for escapism or enjoyment. That reading as an adult has to be about more than that.

Reading can be anything you want it to be. It can educate, inform, inspire. It can help you cope with reality, face hard questions, create a new world to push boundaries and challenge accepted truths. Reading can be a form of entertainment, and in a world where entertainment comes by streaming video and instantly downloadable music, the thought that a book can still capture the mind so effectively that it competes with film or music is something we should all support.

I was raised on genre fiction. The first book I remember reading, and loving, was C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, but before that my mother read-aloud Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time and all the Little House books. Genre fiction has shaped my mind and fueled my imagination well into my teens and twenties.

In fact, I still read mostly genre fiction. If it’s not YA then it will likely be science fiction or fantasy, magical realism or paranormal. And if that makes me an immature adult — still being a kid at heart, raising my own son to value his imagination, valuing my own imagination in a very pure way — then fabulous. Then yes.

Life is full of constant pressure to evolve, to suck-it-up, to make hard and fast choices. Reality is plagued by loss, by the reminder that the world we live in requires us to be brave, to work hard. Forgive me —or don’t — if I choose to read fiction for the sheer enjoyment of it. If I choose to write for teenagers, and to read extensively in the genre I write in, not just because I want to give young adults fantastic fiction they can relate to, but because I want fantastic fiction I can relate to.

I am 29-years-old and still honing my identity. I would argue that beyond the teenage experience young adult fiction is about the quest for identity. Who are we and how will we impact our world —whether our world is a small town in Texas or Middle Earth or Hogwarts — and what must we do to find out?

The author of that article goes on to say:

But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.

Why is that not enough? It seems she, and those who support this idea, expect adults to read fiction for some higher purpose. Many adults do and can. I would argue that I read fiction for a higher purpose. I read for the passion of reading. To look inside the mind of someone unlike me, or to see pieces of myself reflected. That can happen no matter the genre or age category.




11 thoughts on “I am Not Ashamed to Read YA

  1. I didn’t read the rest of the article because as a YA fan, I thought it just too ridiculous to waste my time. You know? I doubt the author of that piece has read any YA. There was another article not long ago slamming Harry Potter readers – whatever, silly article writers! You are being mocked, not hailed as the Voice of Reason! (Also, did the article shame those who WRITE YA?)

    1. No shaming of the writers, though I think that is implied when someone is bashing the genre you write. The article wasn’t just about adult readers of YA, but YA as a literary genre. Anyone who denigrates Harry Potter can crawl in a hole and die as far as I’m concerned.

  2. I’m 24, and I really can’t see myself ever not reading YA novels. There’s no shame in that – I read what I want to read, not what society thinks I should read.

    1. Preach it! I don’t understand this movement of criticizing someone’s reading choice. Who the hell cares?

  3. A big huge yes to all of this! I’ve been ranting about that article non-stop since yesterday. I love what you said about a quest for identity. That’s so true, and there are plenty of us still trying to figure out exactly who we are even with middle age creeping up. I’m glad you posted that C.S. Lewis quote, because one of the first things that came to my mind was how he and Tolkien both advocated for adults reading fairy tales. Madeleine L’Engle also criticized the way society strips children of the ability to imagine after a certain age.

    Since my son was a baby, I’ve always shared books with him. Now that he’s a teen, we can bond over YA books. He’s been reading TFIOS this week (and loving it) and we have a “date” to see the movie together tomorrow. I see it as my duty to pass on inspiring books to my son, but how can I do that if I’m not reading books pertinent to his age? And that doesn’t mean I only read YA. Ms. Graham needs to remember that many adults read from a variety of genres and age categories, meaning we’re perfectly capable of taking on classics or adult literary even if we prefer YA. But apparently we’re the ones limiting ourselves.

    I could go on about this forever, but anyway, I loved what you had to say here. Thanks for posting this, Rebekah!

  4. Well I’m 47 and still love YA. I’d like to point out that we didn’t even call it YA when I was a teen. They were just good stories with teens as protagonists. People want good stories, not beautiful writing, which continues to confound the literary snobs (did I say “snob” out loud…sorry…no I’m not). I do read the literary novels from time to time just because I appreciate beautiful prose. But most of the time I want a story with a satisfying ending (shocking, I know). Thanks for defending us Rebekah!

  5. I’m not going to read the article because just the quotes you pulled are enough to want to make me rage-dragon.

    Also, some adult fiction is utter crap compared to YA fiction.

    Also, who does she think WRITES YA? It’s written by adults! Why would they write something they didn’t want to read?

    I appreciate the mention of C.S. Lewis. There’s also a great Tolkien quote about the value of escapism in fiction, but especially in fantasy. And personally, I think that usually a genre is just a veil to trick you into reading about a theme or topic that’s much more serious, immediate, and relevant. But give me the “genre fiction” any day.

  6. When I was 17, my mother was just about finished drinking herself to death, and my girlfriend would periodically call, late at night, while she was searching her parents’ house for her father’s gun, to kill herself. (She survived. My mom didn’t.)

    Back then, I didn’t read “realistic” books, because life was way too realistic already, thanks–instead, I mostly read science fiction, because six hundred light years and two future centuries away was just about the right distance from my actual life. I survived my adolescence by floating away on a vast raft of genre fiction, and that raft of thousands of books taught me a wonderful lesson–that terrible, awful things can happen to plucky protagonists, but those protagonists will find a way to (mostly) survive and either triumph or learn something important, and change in the process. There is no better lesson, anywhere.

    I’m (several) decades older now. I survived my adolescence, and thrived in my adulthood, because I learned that lesson. These days, I write realistic YA (including, coincidentally, a really funny and touching book about childhood sibling cancer that I hope will be coming out in 2015) and I read a ton of YA, realistic and otherwise, because so much of today’s YA is incredibly great. I am not ashamed to write YA or to read it, because there is nothing wrong with the authentic, immersive, fierce _now_ of reality experienced as an adolescent. Or about reading about it.

    Thanks for the great blog post.

    Dean Gloster
    @deangloster, on Twitter

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