Adult Readers in the Kids’ Section

Josie Leavitt - April 22, 2009

There’s a really good trend happening in our store right now. Adults are reading kids’ books. Not picture books, but novels written for young adults.  Slowly the awkwardness, the need to almost apologize for buying a kids’ book for themselves is dissipating.  Instead, it’s something the adults seem to be reveling in.  And really, isn’t it about time that adults realized the young adult section was chock full of riches, new and old, to read and enjoy?

There are several books this past year that seem to have spurred this trend. The first is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — while not a new title, it continues to be an excellent seller for us to adults. At last count, five adult book groups have read The Book Thief. Several women have called me immediately upon finishing to say how much they just loved the book. There is still an occasional adult reader who resists even holding a kids’ book in their hands, as if something horrible will happen if they read the back cover.  I’ve actually had to place it in a customer’s hand with a declaration. “You will love this book. Just read it. Trust me.”

Elizabeth had the best handselling moment I’ve seen, ever.  Two women had overheard me talking about The Book Thief and they were resistant to buy the copy I placed before them. They looked to Elizabeth for a second opinion, and all she did was arch her eyebrows with eyes bright and alert and that said it all. They bought two. 

Grown women are marching straight up the counter and asking for “that book.” Admittedly, they are a little sheepish about buying the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer. But I don’t think it’s because it’s written for young adults. It’s because they love it so much. They can’t wait to read more about Edward and Jacob, who they are more than happy to talk about, at great length with other women in the store. One thing I particularly enjoy about these Twilight women is they tend to buy the whole series at one time. Sure, they tell daughters to wait, space out their purchases, save some money, and maybe even borrow from a friend. There’s none of that with the adults. No borrowing, no waiting for the book at the library, no, they need it, they need it now and they’re going to pay for their immediate gratification. And I love them for it.

Another book that has adults happily clutching it is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  A real page-turner of a dystopian adventure set in a future society that deals with larger themes that adults are really sinking their teeth into.  This is a challenging book to book talk, as on the surface it deals with kids killing kids at the behest of the government. Adults look askance when I say that, but then I put the book in their hands and say, “Read it. It’s so much more than that.” Again, adults are proving to be less patient than kids. I had a woman who was actually whining about the release date of the sequel. “I’ve got to wait until September?!"

Lastly, there is an anecdote I must share. One of my favorite customers comes in every Monday to get her books for the week. Jill is the most vital, active, and vibrant 78-year-old I’ve ever met. She is a well-rounded reader with eclectic tastes. Last week she was struggling to choose a book when she went to the young adult section. There she saw I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. She had read the book when she was 19 and remembered loving it. Well, she took it with her last weekend and was still beaming when she came in Monday to tell me about reading it again. She sat in the sun in an Adirondack chair with Beethoven on in the background and a glass of Merlot nearby. She read the book she first loved 60 years ago. “It was just marvelous. Marvelous.”

15 thoughts on “Adult Readers in the Kids’ Section

  1. Debbie

    I’m a bit confused about all the wonderful things I’ve read about “The Book Thief” lately. I read the book and I liked the story, but I thought the book was a little confusing. It was written from the Grim Reaper’s point of view and it jumped around a lot and I kept thinking “I think a child would have trouble following this.” I thought it was just okay, but didn’t gush about it like many of the other reviews I’ve seen. Did anyone else find it a bit awkward to follow at times?

    1. Rachael

      I found that The Book Thief was compelling and also, I liked that it jumped around. I read it as an adult, 22 when it came out, but I think that to suppose it hard to follow for a kid/teenager underestimates the adaptability of the young. Granted, it requires that you pay attention to what is going on, but isn’t that the point? Aren’t the best books be the ones which require of us and for our efforts reward us with the experience of having lived several lives and learned to see the world a little differently?

  2. Inderjit Deogun

    Unfortunately, I can’t be of any help to you, Debbie. I think I may be the only person who hasn’t read The Book Thief. On another note, it sounds like Jill’s weekend was absolute bliss. I may just have to pick up a copy of I Capture the Castle.

  3. Charles

    I loved The Book Thief and had the pleasure of meeting Marcus at the Festival of Books at UCLA a couple years ago. So young! I Capture the Castle – another great book. I read it a few years back and then saw the movie – well worth a peek. I just recommended the book to a former employee, who put it at the top of her list.

  4. JGreen

    My sister got me to read I Capture the Castle, which I also loved. The movie is sweet, but not quite as good and makes the characters’ lives seem more unsettling than the book. While I respect the idea of encouraging teenagers to read with a special section for them, the somewhat arbitrariness of what’s YA and what’s not is frustrating. I know lots of women who are reading “YA” novels because they’re quicker reads, not as complicated or wordy as some adult novels, while still being compelling.

  5. Suzette

    So, now that I’ve read the Twilight series (I bought them for a friend who was previewing them for nieces. she loved them & recommended them to me. I sniffed – romances-bah!- but once started just gobbled them up.) I’ll get I Capture the Castle & perhaps The Book Thief. If the story & writing are good, then who cares what the label is? (I read His Dark Materials trilogy because of a post from Alison last year. Liked those as well) Go independents & hand-selling!

  6. Karen Ehrhardt

    speaking of loving kids’ books… folks in the SF Bay Area should check out KIDS OTTER READ DAY at your local indie bookseller on May 16 — open to readers of all ages, event features appearances by local children’s authors and illustrators from 1-3pm. check the kidsotterread website for a list of participating stores and authors!

  7. Elisabeth

    I frequently ‘sell’ Graceling by Cashore and the Maximum Ride books by Patterson to adults wandering by the young adult section of my library, in addition to the titles you’ve listed above. I’ve also currently got My 50+ father hooked on the Percy Jackson books by Riordan. Adults reading kids books – yipee!

  8. jennyhan

    I CAPTURE THE CASTLE is like, my favorite book ever!!! It makes me insanely happy when other people bring it up and give it its due. One of my copies (I have three, two of which are first editions) has the mightiest blurb one could possibly hope to get: “


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