When I was about thirteen and deep into my historical fiction phase, I was in the bookstore searching the aisles for the newest installment of a series I was reading on the Tudor court. I remember seeing a woman, probably around twenty-five, browsing the Young Adult section a few rows over. While my adult self knows better than to judge anyone for their reading preferences, thirteen-year-old me was a brat. Why would anyone that old want to read that? Those books aren’t even good. I should have thought Well, kid, just wait.
These days, nearly twenty-five myself, I’m carrying around books like Quiver, Tower of Dawn, The Goose Girl, and an advance copy of Everything Grows. All Young Adult. And I can’t put them down. Okay, twenty-five is still pretty young when you consider the wide reach of “adulthood.” But when we’re talking about YA literature, the demographic is supposedly teenagers, specifically those between twelve and eighteen.
I’m not only long out of my teens, I’ve earned a college degree and studied writing from professors and authors who drilled it into me to “be better than YA.” My junior year of college, a professor handed out an article titled, “How to Write a Shitty Young Adult Novel” that went over all the common tropes, from chosen ones to love triangles.
The problem here is an assumption that’s often made with readers of YA – that they can’t also enjoy the classics, or more literary works, or “higher quality” books. It took me a long time to be able to look past the stigma surrounding YA, and to remember how to just enjoy a good story. I like to read YA when I want a relaxing, low-effort read. Like a year-round beach read. Something I can throw in my bag and read at whatever intervals suit me best. I can devour it in one sitting, take time to digest every little detail, or skim a few chapters every few days. Whatever way I read it, I’m coming out the other side with another story under my belt. By the end, I’ve met characters I enjoy, I’ve gone on adventures that allow me to escape my own reality, and I’ve experienced something I never would if I stayed away from the genre.
The reality of it is this – the clichés and the stigma surrounding YA exist because of common styles within the genre. These similarities are common because of a saturated market. The market is saturated because it’s popular. Because readers enjoy these stories. Because they identify with the diverse characters. They share them with friends. They stock up on them like squirrels. And these readers aren’t just teens. “By some market estimates, nearly 70 percent of all YA titles are purchased by adults between the ages of 18 and 64,” according to Valerie Peterson.
Young Adult has absolutely blown up as a genre. The number of YA books published more than doubled between 2002-2012, expanding from 4,700 to over 10,000 books.Young Adult literature is a force to be reckoned with, claiming entire corners of stores rather than lone shelves, and challenging the preconceived notions of what an author’s audience looks like. So, if you want to read YA as a guilty pleasure, don’t. Don’t feel any guilt at all. Read YA because you want to read YA. Your bookshelf is yours to fill as you please. Take a lesson from Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and remember – the world is yours for the reading.