That title should, by all rights, say "Adult", because I don't think I've ever fully grown up. I don't really plan to. I'm going to keep my Disney movies, and my dolls, and my fuzzy pink slippers, thank you. Those things aside, I am in all other ways an employed, rent paying, married twenty-something adult. Who occasionally reads teen literature.
My Journey Away From, and Back Into YA...
I read virtually no teen literature while actually a teen. The last arguably young adult thing I remember picking up was Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn when I was twelve or thirteen. By Christmas of my thirteenth year, though, I was pretty much exclusively reading adult paranormal romance. I remember this, because I asked for a bunch of them for Christmas and that's exactly what I got. My mother has never been one to forbid books...but that's a story for another post.
So, my teens went by with Harry Potter being the only under 18 MC in my life. There were a couple of reasons for this. The primary reason is that I'm always resistant to entertainment that reflects whatever is actually going on in my life. I wouldn't watch teen movies while I was a teen, or college movies while in college. I drove everyone crazy during my engagement because I wouldn't even watch Bridesmaids. I can't explain it, other than to say that it's not escapism for me if I'm going into the same environment.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I was browsing the internet for books. I came across Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers series. I was already familiar with her Shifters books, and liked those well enough, so I was thrilled to see that she had something else. But, oh whoa is me, they were young adult. It got me thinking things over, and I realized that I was now several years removed from high school, entirely past the teen stage of my life. Thus, it would now be much less uncomfortable for me to read a book with a high school setting. I knew it was going to be an easy read, it wouldn't take up that much time, and so it seemed like it would be silly not to give it a try.
I haven't actually caught up on the Soul Screamers books (someday, maybe), but what they did do was open the door for me to read a genre that I had bluntly ignored for eight or nine years. This meant that I had well over a decade of untapped authors and series to try out, and to say that I dove in head first would be an understatement. You can see on this blog that I've reviewed quite a few YAs, and I've tried out even more. I love these things.
The "Shame" of Reading YA
I put shame in quotations to emphasize that I personally, absolutely do not feel ashamed to read YA. However, shortly after I started talking about these books I noticed that there are plenty of people--in real life, on forums and blogs, in review comments--that are eager to shame adults who read teen books. It's usually along the lines of "I don't know why all of these adults want to read things meant for young people, what is wrong with them, this is yet more proof that literacy is in the toilet, no wonder there are so many stupid people..." and so forth.
I can't defend all adult YA readers, because I don't know all of them. It is entirely possible that some of them are stupid or barely literate or incredibly immature. I highly doubt that this is the case. It's far more likely that most of them are like me. There is nothing wrong with my education or my reading ability. I've read over a dozen Shakepeare plays, Jane Austen, the Brontes, Charles Dickens, and so forth, many of my own volition. I've slogged through scientific journals where the jargon is so thick you could cut it with a knife, and I've been made to write critical essays about them after the fact. My brain is in full working order. On an unrelated note, sometimes I read teen books.
As I said, though, I also read romance novels, so I'm inoculated to the shame of reading stigmatized genres. Sit is a cafe full of frat boys with a book who's cover looks like this--
Why Adults Read YA
Now that we've established that adults can read YA, you might ask "But why would you want to?"
The first reason is that YA is oddly nostalgic. I'm not saying that I'd like to relive my teen years, because they weren't exactly easy. But sometimes reading about a character who's dealing with the same issues that I dealt with back then is cathartic. I can say to myself, "Yep, I got through that. Phew..." Sometimes there will be a character that reminds me of an old friend, or a setting or circumstance that I remember. In other cases, the characters are dealing with such tough stuff that it makes me feel like I got off easy as a kid, and that is also a comforting thought. Sort of.
The second reason that I like reading YA is that I really enjoy good character focused stories with a lot of personal development for the main character. That is exactly what a good young adult book should be about. Most people take the biggest strides toward finding themselves between the ages of 15 and 25. Watching a character do just that, and find courage, integrity, and purpose, is absolutely fascinating.
...specifically, YA romance
Sometimes the characters also find love. This is the sticking point for most people that argue with me against the merits of teen literature. I encounter a remarkable number of people who think that a romantic relationship that begins in high school can't or should not work out. To which I say: Screw you. It's great that you think you've found the perfect formula to lasting relationships, and I hope that works for you. For me, personally, I don't think that such a formula exists, and I don't think that older people have a monopoly on love that lasts. I believe there's hope for teen couples, because I was once part of a teen couple, and we ended up married. After a very long engagement (I'm not reckless).
There are a couple of things that I like about teen romance. Primarily, I like that it's usually based on pure relationship development, where sex is a small or nonexistent factor. In adult romance, authors can get caught up in the physical aspects of the relationship and forget that there is also emotional development that needs to happen. I find that young adult authors are often better at the friendship, connectivity, and longing that are involved in the early stages of a relationship (for good examples, see Stephanie Perkins, and Jolene Perry).
And Now For A Break
All of this was my long winded way of saying that I do, with absolute conviction, love young adult novels. However, I may be taking a tiny "break" from them. Oh, not entirely, but I would like to cut it down to one or two a month. I get a lot of review requests from YA authors (you guys rock, and thank you for the opportunity), and as a result I feel like they've taken over my reading hours and this blog to a greater extent then I would like. In the coming months, I'm going to try to focus on the adult books gathering dust in my TBR. I miss them. I miss the gore, and I'm not going to lie, I miss the sex.
That said, to all of my adult readers, specifically those who have not read any teen literature in recent years, I really hope that you'll give it a try. There are a lot of amazing authors doing phenomenal work in that genre. These are authors that take their audience seriously, and we shouldn't be afraid to be a part of that audience.