Why Adults Read Young Adult Fiction (And Why That’s OK)

It depresses me that this argument even needs to be made. Adults should be free to read whatever they like, without censure or judgment. However, frequently we aren’t.

Adults who read young adult fiction are often judged for it. How many times have I been glad for my Kindle, which hides the YA book I’m reading? How many times have I hesitated to bring a book on a trip with me because of its adolescent cover? How many times have I had to stop myself apologizing for liking the books I like, for finding meaningful messages in books that are considered immature or beneath me as an adult? How many times has my own status been subtly diminished because I read YA books, particularly YA fantasy?

There are several reasons why adults should be free to read YA fiction if they choose, without censure. First, because they’re adults. Achieving a certain number of years should enhance your freedom to read, not restrict it. Part of adulthood is knowing what you like, and taking responsibility for your choices, whether these are life choices, career choices, or reading choices. No one should have the right to judge what a full-fledged adult reads. Doing so is just another, more insidious form of censorship.

Secondly, it’s adults who write young adult fiction. Yes, I am aware that most adults do not write YA books; but the vast majority of YA books are written by people over the age of 18. Naturally, YA authors need to read YA; how else are they going to produce quality books and stories? The argument could be made that YA authors should read even bad YA books, to gain full exposure to a vibrant genre—and, to be completely honest, as an example of what not to do. Artists need to be fully aware of the trends and styles of their art, whether they’re rebelling against those trends or not, and this applies to YA authors.

Thirdly, and most importantly: these are good books. Young adult fiction is an important genre, with many wonderful examples (also, I’ll admit, many bad examples—but that’s true of any genre). Young adult fiction deals with many important themes and messages, from the battle between good and evil, to finding love, to coming of age. These are universal human messages, and they apply equally to humans above the age of 18. And YA fiction isn’t just meaningful: it’s often beautifully written, with wonderful style and amazing characters and fascinating plot lines. We shouldn’t shun good books just because they’re not “old” enough.

Indeed, I sometimes think YA fiction is a better vehicle for certain messages than adult fiction—messages that resonate with many older adults. YA, after all, deals with growing up, achieving mastery of oneself and one’s situation; and this is, sadly, all too relevant for many adults. How many times, after all, have adults turned away from the news as it depicts politicians—many of them quite old—acting like malicious toddlers? How often do adults have to deal with other adults acting in an immature or stupid manner, motivated by spite or irrationality, instead of clear-sightedness or maturity? Or, for that matter, how often do adults have to try and resist those same urges within themselves? And how often do we find ourselves giving in? Just graduating high school, or getting white hairs, is not a guarantee of maturity or intelligence. YA fiction addresses issues of personal development, of learning from one’s mistakes, and of the many ways one can come of age—and these issues are just as relevant to adults as they are to teenagers. We should never stop learning, no matter how old we get, and there are always new challenges that will require bravery and personal development.

So I think it’s time that adults admitted that we enjoy YA fiction—and that’s OK. These are good books—these are important books. And it’s time we gave ourselves some respect for reading them.

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