The Great YA Debate: Why Adults Should Read What They Want

By: Rebekah Sack

This subject always causes controversy, particularly among professors. The problem is this: “young adult” generally refers to teens — we can give a rough parameter of, say, 12 through 18 or so.

The thing is, there are a lot of adults out there picking up the YA titles — about 55% of them.


That’s bothering a lot of people. Ruth Graham, a writer for Slate, wrote an article called “Against YA” where she voiced her opinion on adults who read YA lit. Here are some quotes from her as well some others on why adults shouldn’t read YA and perhaps why they should.

Against Adults Reading YA

“Adults should be ashamed that they’re picking up books written for children.” -Ruth Graham, Slate (2014)

“Adults should be reading literary fiction, not fiction written for teens like Fault in our Stars.” -Ruth Graham, Slate (2014)

“You accidentally agree with the parents rather than the lovesick teenager.” -Cait @ Paper Fury (2015)

“You abandon your mature insights when you read YA literature.” -Ruth Graham, Slate (2014)

“You get an intense crush on the love-interest until you realize he’s 16 and you’re like 10+ years his senior.” -Cait @ Paper Fury (2015)

“But how can a grown-up, even one happy to be reminded of the shivers of first love, not also roll her eyes?” -Ruth Graham, Slate (2014)

“The endings are always satisfying. Aren’t you tired of it?” -Ruth Graham, Slate (2014)

For Adults Reading YA

“What draws me to YA lit is nostalgia.” –Meg Wolitzer, NY Times (2014)

“There might be a really rather honorable reason for adults to read young adult fiction: so they can discuss those books with their target audiences.” –Alyssa Rosenburg, The Washington Post (2014)

“As we know from Pixar movies, sometimes the children’s section has more true to life elements than art geared toward grown-ups.” –Caitlin White, Bustle (2014)

“The passage to maturity can be a shattering thing. Preparing yourself for that transition or looking back on that metamorphosis is hardly an un-serious act.” –Alyssa Rosenburg, The Washington Post (2014)

“’Young adult,’ ‘adult,’ and other publishing labels are nothing more than marketing tools. Sales, marketing and booksellers need to classify in order to sell and market books. Readers, however, do not.” –Caitlin White, Bustle (2014)

“To simply give up on romance novels or young adult literature as hopeless categories of fiction, fit only for the weak-minded or young and incapable of improvement, is to embrace a kind of snobbery and rigidity about what is worthy and what is not.” –Alyssa Rosenburg, The Washington Post (2014)

So, you get an idea of what each side is saying, and both have valid points, don’t they?

The thing is, people are reading less and less — the number of people who don’t read anything has tripled since the 1970s. That being said, shouldn’t we be happy that adults are reading… at all?

The idea that an adult is socially banned from reading a specific type of book seems outrageous. The reasons for reading YA every once in a while are vast — there are mothers wanting to connect with daughters through literature, there are fathers wanting to remember what it was like to be a teenage boy, there are book clubs trying to dissect this arguably literary material.

Not every adult is sitting there reading Twilight and falling in love with Edward is what I’m trying to say.

In the end, you can read whatever you want to — and you should. If you enjoy indulging in a casual teen love story, why not do it? If you desperately need the satisfaction of knowing that a happy ending is coming, why not pick up that old favorite? If your brain is fried from all that ambiguous adult literary fiction (that’s a mouthful), why not pick up an easy read book for once? (Not that all YA lit is easy to read.)

Reading is reading, and while adults should pick up age-appropriate books often, there’s nothing wrong with reading younger material every now and then.

In the words of Georgina Howlett, writer for the Guardian:

“I know that turning 18 (and thus legally becoming an adult) changes very little, and in particular it changes literally nothing about your reading preferences. You don’t automatically begin loving classics, and you don’t start gravitating helplessly towards the general fiction section of bookstores – you just continue buying what you know you’ll like to read.”

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