Why YA Works for Adults, Part I

Why YA Works for Adults, Part I

Written by Grant Goodman, 9/24/2014

You don’t have to hide it anymore. You can come right out and say that you read YA, even though you’re an adult. YA-focused book clubs are popping up in every major US city. Book signings are filled up by post-grads and young couples.

So what led us here?

Part of it is the ongoing nerd revolution. The central tenets of geek culture have seeped into the mainstream. Maybe it’s that the people who loved the stuff as kids are now finding themselves in positions of power and attention. Or maybe that Harry Potter kid broke open a fissure in the collective hearts of humanity and everyone realized that books starring teens can connect to all of us on a very deep level.

Much of the appeal of YA for adults, I’m going to posit, comes from a sense of nostalgia. We’ve had time to recover from the hormone rush and the anger and the senses of loss that run deep. The media we consume at that age stick with us for life. There are studies that have been done and they tie adolescent experience to why we hold so tightly to the music from our teens. It should make perfect sense, then, that a book centered on teenage life will invariably trigger memories of our own lives, the kind that are soaked in intense emotion, that really light up our brains.

This could be for better or for worse. There were moments in Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart that absolutely made me cringe, because David’s social oversights and blunders reminded me so much of my own (you know, despite the fact that he’s busy trying to kill supervillains in a wrecked version of Chicago). And then, of course, there are moments in which you witness a character get something right, and you remember how it felt to finally get something done that even the adults in your life couldn’t accomplish. Read Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave and you’ll get several examples of that. (I’ll leave it vague, no spoilers here.)

This topic, why YA appeals to adults, is one I plan to come back to every now and again. Until then, though, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

What are your thoughts on why YA is taking off among an older readership?

3 thoughts on “Why YA Works for Adults, Part I

  1. The quality of the writing of YA lit has improved over time.

    When I was in middle school, I was reading thrillers by Christopher Pike – not quality writing but interesting plots (to me at the time). In all fairness to Pike, I haven’t re-read his books as an adult. Maybe they’re better than I remember them to be.

    I do think that J.K. Rowling opened up the field to “legitimate” writers with her success. It became possible to write YA lit, make money, and be respected as a writer. That’s not to say that there weren’t quality coming-of-age stories prior to Rowling, but the proliferation of YA lit now is much greater than it once was.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the points you’ve made there. There have been sci-fi writers who, in the past, were slighted by people who would ask them why they didn’t write “real” literature, and I could very easily see that being the exact same case for YA writers.

    (As Kurt Vonnegut once put it: “I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled “science fiction” … and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.” )


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