When Teens Read Adult Books

Barbara Vey -- April 26th, 2011

It’s always exciting for me when people come over to my house to pick up books to read and write about.  Their eyes light up and they are like kids in a candy store.  I have hundreds of books and audio books for them to choose from and some don’t know where to start.  Most say, “I’ll take only two,” but usually end up with at least 10.

Today a mother and her two daughters stopped by.  The girls are 14 and 16, so I steered them to my YA section (I don’t have much organization here, but I do try to keep the YA and the adult books separated).  Mom easily found a stack that appealed to her and as I was entering them in the computer, she kept finding “just one more.”

By the time the girls had their selections in hand, they each had about 8 books.  I noticed that the 16 year old had a number of adult books.  I explained to the mother that it was up to her to monitor what her daughter read, but she assured me that if her girls had any questions about what they were reading, they discussed it.  Fine with me.

After they left, I had more time to think about what I was reading at that age.  Yes, I will admit that I always kept a book hidden under my mattress because it was considered an adult book.  I’m not sure I remember if I understood everything in it, but I know that I really enjoyed it and wanted to read more.  I wonder now if I really did have to hide it or if my mom would have been ok with me reading it.

With the onslaught of adult material on television and in the movies, I suppose it’s no surprise how much kids know nowadays.  Some of it makes me cringe, but, while I don’t hand out the books to the kids without their parent’s permission, I still think it’s definitely up to the parents to monitor what their children are reading.

So, tell me how old you were when you read your first adult book?  Are you ok with kids reading them and at what age?  Do you think it’s different when it’s your children reading it?

Bottom Line: I now wonder if my mom ever found any of those books and just never mentioned it.

169 thoughts on “When Teens Read Adult Books

  1. joysann

    Wow, how do you remember how old you were? For me, that’s, er…cough, a half century ago. I do remember that I was reading Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt in 7&8th grade, but don’t recall much more than that. Were those adult? Can’t recall. It’s a whole different world now.

  2. Nancy Silverrod

    I read my first adult book at the age of 7 or 8, about 47 years ago. I was staying with my grandparents and there weren’t any children’s books to read, and my mother told my grandmother I could read whatever I wanted. Used to asking my mother what words meant, I asked my grandmother at the dinner table what the word “prostitute” meant. There was a long silence, and then my grandmother said, “a prostitute is a bad girl.” My younger brother wanted to know what she did that was wrong, and for some reason my grandmother decided that the best explanation was that a prostitute was a girl who had a baby without being married. My brother replied that “she should just know how to not do that.”

    I have to say my grandmother was pretty game, though I can easily remember her discomfort with this whole conversation.

    I continued to read adult books, along with children’s and YA books — and in fact, still read for all ages today.

  3. Genna

    I read “adult books” for years when I was young. My mother didn’t mind. The first one I remember was “The Lovely Bones” at twelve. Accualy, now that I think about it, I read “Look Again” by Lisa Scottoline before that. Anyway, I’ve been read those books probobly for years before that.

  4. Kate

    By age 11, I’d read Mc Cullough’s Tim, The Thorn Birds and Blume’s Wifey.

    In my teens I regularly petrified myself with Stephen King’s books.

    However, the worst choice I made was as a pregnant 23 year old reading Ellis’ American Psycho. Yikes!

    1. Christine T.

      Oh, “Tim”! I love that book–the forgotten McCullough I think (and still better than the movie even though that stars a very young and handsome Mel Gibson as the title character). And “The Thorn Birds” Sigh–I still swoon.

  5. Delilah T

    My mom was a big reader and mother and daughter time was us reading together along with my younger sister… She had a lot of Jackie Collins books so those were my first adult books… I remember that when I was about 11 I wanted to read it but she said I was still to young… She let me start reading them when I was about 13…. I’ve recently started re reading those books and boy I didnt really understand what I was reading at the time… Lol…

  6. Sheila

    I remember reading my first “adult book” at the age of 15. It was Kathleen Woodiwiss and I still love her today! My parents didn’t care what I was reading. They trusted me to come to them with any questions. The problem was, I don’t think either us realized what was in those books or that I might be too embarrassed to ask about some it. I did ask some of my friends, which is scary all in and of itself. LOL
    I do see some books that have warnings on them or have recommended ages on them. Some day they will think to rate books like they do movies and TV programs. Not sure how I feel about that.

  7. Mikayla

    I just had to say something!
    I am only 15 and I read any and all romance! I was about ten when I first started to read them. At first what I read was not really…”romancy”. By that I mean, it was the small stuff. In 6th grade I read Undead and Unwed By: Mary Janice Davidson. Since then I have read a wide range of romance. My favorite is paranormal :)
    There are quite a few people who seem to have a problem with my reading romance. A friend of my sisters picked up I book I was reading, and when she found out it was mine she was…disturbed.
    My mother on the other hand has absolutely no problem with me reading romance. As a matter of fact, she, my eldest sister, my grandmother and I all read the same books XD We recommend books to one another and any time I go to my sister’s house she roots through my backpack to see if I have anything good to read!

    1. Barbara Vey Post author

      Mikayla, thanks for stopping by and letting us all know what a 15 year old is reading these days. It’s so nice that you can share books with your family. It’s always fun to talk about a book you really liked with others who have read it. Be sure to stop back and share what you think about whatever is going on.

  8. Ben

    I think I haven’t read an adult book. By adult you mean erotic stories? Then I haven’t. I’m 17 years old and I’m really inclined in reading YA literature. Sure, I like how they present ideas but it seems like they are holding back. @___@ I read random stuff with no parent supervision.

    1. Barbara Vey Post author

      Hi Ben, adult books aren’t necessarily erotica. Kind of think of it like R rated movies instead of X rated movies. YA books would be PG-13. So adult books could be considered so because of language, violence, nudity, sex and drug use, in a way like the movies are rated. I’m just thrilled that you enjoy reading. Feel free to stop by and let us know what you’re reading and how you like it.

  9. Vicki Bowland

    My first “adult” books were Healter Skelter and Jaws, they came out in 1974– I was almost 8 I think. My mother never restricted me from reading anything (first, she said I was breaking the bank and selling her soul to Scholastic; second, she said I should just read what she had…)– so, I was the first kid in grade school to read Wifey, Trablinka, books by Joseph Wambaugh and about the Russian Revolution. I was a really, really weird kid.

  10. Rebecca

    I think I was 12 or 13 when I stumbled on Lady Chatterley’s Lover–I think it was perfect timing! I did read it in secret–it seemed to require privacy! Probably at 14 or 15 I started reading my mother’s library books, mostly mystery (Dell Shannon…) and moved on through that genre, still a favorite. Then, there was the Communist Manifesto at around 15. My senior (high school) term paper was on Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. I’m sorry to say that most of YA looks to me like “lit. lite.” I can’t remember ever being told what I could read.

  11. Shawn R.

    By the time I was 10, I was reading exclusively adult books … I don’t even really remember there being a “young adult” section. I started with my mom’s library of Agatha Christie and ran from there. In bookstores, I browsed, found stuff that sounded interesting, and bought it (with babysitting & allowance money) without ever thinking about whether it was aimed at “children” or “young adults”. I’m grateful that my parents never censored my reading.

    And I am now in my mid-40s.

    Tweens and teens, then and today, are far more sophisticated and worldly than adults give them credit for, I think. Ultimately, it’s up to individual parents to make decisions about what is appropriate for their children. But you know, in high school (ages 14 – 18), the literature we were assigned to read – REQUIRED to read – was all firmly adult in theme, content, etc. I mean, really? 1984? The Crucible? Heart of Darkness? Dante’s Inferno? Dickens? Dostoyevsky? Poe? Faulkner? Parents and educators seem to have no problems whatsoever assigning such literature to their “impressionable” teens, but get all freaked out by the content in books their children might read for their own pleasure.

    I tend to think it’s a little silly to quibble about what is “appropriate” for YA fiction when hammering kids with the often very mature and unsettlingly adult themes of classic literature.

  12. Chele Belle

    As a 17 year veteran of public libraries I can assure you that while there are plenty of teens reading YT (young teen=middle school) and OT (older teen=high school) fiction…a large amount of them are reading the adult urban fiction. Things like HOODRATS TO WIFEY or THONG ON FIRE or DIVA’S ON THE STREET cannot be kept on the shelves because they are always checked out and overdue. I remember back in the 80s as a teenager reading Robert Latow, Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins. I also read books required for school and more mainstream pop lit i.e. John Irving, Alice Walker and such. I do not see teens mixing much of what they read…if they are reading urban lit then at least 90 to 95% of what they consume is urban lit. Just one observation from the front lines at a big city (Louisville, KY) library.

  13. Pingback: When Teens Read Adult Books « Beyond Her Book | Latest Search

  14. satschuck

    I read Clan of the Cave Bear in 7th grade along with a lot of Janet Dailey, and Victoria Holt (those I shared with my mom). At the time I also read YA (as it was then). Now as an adult I continue to read what I fancy weather it is ‘Adult’ or ‘YA’. Aren’t we all just looking for a good story?

  15. Herb

    I saw your link as an RT on twitter, and came to read.

    In the town where I grew up, you could get and “adult” library card at 10 – which mainly meant you could check out more than 3 books at a time. My parents never censored my reading, and I thank them to this day for that, as it exposed me to a world beyond that of “children’s books” at an early age.

    Somewhere around then, I came across my parent’s “Mandingo” books, which were decidedly “adult”; I’ve enjoyed romance novels ever since, some of my favorites being Elizabeth Lowell and Norah Roberts.

    I introduced my mother to Carson McCullers with The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (I had dragged her to the theater with me in order to see the movie when I was 14, as I couldn’t see it without a parent.) Following the movie, I had to find her books.

  16. Herb

    And more-or-less an afterthought – I was at a major chain bookstore yesterday (I rarely get out to real bookstores these, doing most of my purchasing on line) and was simply astounded by the breadth and depth in the YA market.

  17. Kristi

    I remember reading Joseph Wambaugh’s The Choirboys in 8th grade (I had been reading Stephen King for probably a year at that time). I know that there were things in that book that I did not understand. I was more of a bookworm than anyone in my family though and my mom never questioned anything that I read. For my kids now though – I am just happy when they actually pick up a book!

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