Should Adults Read YA?

Josie Leavitt - November 24, 2014

I love reading young adult literature. There are lots of other adults who feel the same way, but there are also plenty of adults who feel that reading YA is somehow not worthy of their time. I have a new friend who revealed that she doesn’t think adults should really be reading books written for teenagers. We have had several heated discussions about this. These I Read YAdiscussion always seem to end with her saying there’s a reason the last young adult book she read was when she was a young adult. There is also the subtle implication that the writing for young adults isn’t up to par with that for adults. I went ballistic when she dropped that bomb.
Lobbying for a beloved book genre serves only to crystallize how much I love it. There is so much richness to YA literature: great characters testing the waters of increased independence and the pitfalls that come along the way, fun topics, plots that don’t get bogged down in extraneous tangents that seem to befall so many adult novels, and there is something wonderful about reading about young people who are finding their voice and making grand mistakes along the way. My friend’s answer to all of this is counter with that she’s reading her way through the Penguin Classics series and that feels more significant to her. I countered with reading long-dead white men might not be as enlightening as she thinks.
Her insistence that some would consider Jack London a young adult writer and the last one she read, fell on deaf ears. I was practically hopping up and down throwing suggestions at her: Laurie Halse Anderson, M.T. Anderson, John Green, Ellen Wittlinger, etc. There is such a range just of realistic fiction, not to mention great fantasy and speculative fiction for teens, that the list of authors to choose from is staggering. I’m getting her The Book Thief because that’s one of my all-time favorites and has sold very well to adults who would never think of themselves as readers of young adult literature.
So, dear readers, what one book would you recommend to a very oppositional adult reader who is convinced that young adult novels are only for kids?

17 thoughts on “Should Adults Read YA?

  1. Melissa

    The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater or Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.
    If they like historical fiction, then The Book Thief would be my number one as well. Or Between Shades of Gray, maybe? Code Name Verity?
    If they are into magical realism/fantasy/sci-fi/anything approaching it I’d give them Graceling, or Grasshopper Jungle, or The House of the Scorpion, or Unwind, or The Knife of Never Letting Go.
    Contemporary? Wintergirls, or 13 Reasons Why, or Absolutely True Diary, or Aristotle and Dante.
    Oh. You asked for one.

  2. Ellie Miller

    All I could think of as I read what you had to say was oh-my-ghod-what-your-friend-is-MISSING! I’m a died-in-the-wool sf/fantasy buff sooooo…Susan Cooper: the entire “Dark is Rising” quintology plus an under-rated little jewel of a stand-alone “King of Shadows”; Diane Duane: the entire “Young Wizards” series plus spin-offs “Book of Night With Moon” and “To Visit the Queen”; Phillip Pullman: “His Dark Materials” trilogy to name only a few. Let me just add that I’ve followed the entire discussion in various places (including here) re: what constitutes YA fiction. I think trying to pin an age label…even a broad spectrum one…on such books is unfortunate. It leads to attitudes such as your friend is evincing….places them in a kind of literary ghetto if you will. IMHO Young people will and *should* read what captures and holds their attention…read what seems real and true to them because it’s well-written and tells a good story about characters whom they can relate to emotionally or intellectually. Age should not be a factor or the last factor to be considered.

  3. Summer Laurie

    I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslie Walton. Don’t even tell her they’re YA, just make the rec and then reveal when she gushes over how fantastic the books were. Gotcha!

  4. Rene Hohls

    Read anything by Laurie Halse Anderson (particularly her newest one ” The Impossible Knife of Memory”) and then anything by John Green (“Looking for Alaska” won the Printz Award). There is a lot of YA fiction that is intentionally written for short attention spans, with crush drama, peer pressure, ethical conflict, fairy tale endings and dystopic exploration of the human condition. These are things that fascinate, horrify, exhilarate, and compel many YA readers – and most adult readers too. But “YA” is just a label. The thing you won’t find is the adult weight of complicated and convoluted decision-making and multiple layers of responsibilities and entanglements of later life. Reading about life from an earlier perspective in time can be refreshing and reflective for us older folks. It sometimes forces us to revisit questions once asked and answers long since forgotten. And it makes for some great conversation with the teens in your life if you are lucky enough to have any camped out on your couch!

  5. Kate

    I second His Dark Materials and Jennifer Donnelly’s REVOLUTION, and would add A NORTHERN LIGHT, and WE WERE LIARS and LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP.
    When she’s ready for Middle Grade and Picture Books, let us know – I’m sure there will be endless recommendations.

  6. Lori

    If she doesn’t find anything of value in anything by Margo Lanagan, I guess she can safely avoid all YA. (Sometimes it’s more a marketing category than a genre anyway — does she realize that?)


    C. S. Lewis once described books as migrating from the drawing room to the nursery. Nowadays they sometimes stop in the teenagers’ rooms on the way. Much of what we classify as YA is what authors like Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson and others wrote for children of all ages. Story for the sake of story.
    I wonder what your friend would think of China Mieville’s ‘Railsea’, ampersands and all.

  8. Jodi Wallo

    Former Bookseller Wellesley Booksmith Wellesley, MA and Borders Books both in Boston and Ann Arbor, MI. I’d highly recommend Speak by Laurie Halse Andersen, Tangerine by Ed Bloor, Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, Savvy by Ingrid Law, and anything by Joan Bauer.

  9. Susan

    I once passed a copy of The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones around my office, I just didn’t tell anyone it was YA…everyone loved it!

  10. Nancy Siscoe

    Where to begin?!
    Pullman’s His Dark Materials of course.
    Margo Lanagan–The Brides of Rollrock Island, or Tender Morsels or Black Juice.
    Markus Zusak–The Book Thief
    Megan Whalen Turner–the Thief, The Queen of Attolia etc
    Code Name Verity
    So many more!

  11. Callie Grant

    Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is about a young girl with cerebral palsy who is incredibly intelligent and aware of what is going on around her, but cannot talk. Draper writes first person in the heroine’s “voice.” Our whole family has read it, and it has become my 11 year old’s all time favorite books

  12. SiskiyouSue

    Sh doesn’t know what she is missing! The quality of YA books has risen to be equal to or even above much adult fiction, particularly that called “Women’s Fiction.” Awesome! Lots of good suggestions above, I’d second any of them, but my favorite is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.

  13. Chance Cook

    I agree that adult novels can get bogged down easily so I’m willing to give YA literature a shot. I haven’t read one since I was in school. So I bet they’ve changed a bit but I’ll still find them entertaining.


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