Upon hearing that the majority of Young Adult (YA) readers are adults not teens I did a quick scan of my bookshelf. Amongst the Penguin Classic spines and weighty doorstops from the likes of David Mitchell and Michel Faber (i.e. all thoroughly adult, in the original sense of the word) were the Harry Potter series, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
Incongruous, would you say? Truth be told I’ve never considered them an aberration, but simply books I’ve enjoyed reading without giving a second thought that the target audience fell a few age brackets below than my own. I’m not alone. I form part of the 55% of adults who read YA, as a 2012 survey revealed. Book-shamed I am not.
That said there are others who feel quite differently. Ruth Graham’s ‘Against YA’ article for Slate.com provoked the strongest attack, decrying grown ups who prefer to delve into a world of so-called tangled adolescent feelings and pared-down prose. Likewise youths themselves are shooing older readers out of their patch, like a teenager intent on the privacy of their own world without us old fogies around.
We know it’s not just the teens lapping up The Hunger Games or the full-throttle rides like Patrick Ness’s incredibly popular Walking Chaos trilogy or emotional coming-of-age dramas such as The Fault in our Stars by John Green. Many adults hail the nostalgic element as the attraction for these titles, drawing them back to their own rose-tinted childhoods. Others claim – myself included – that like every genre it yields some pretty darn good reads.
But what, in fact, defines a YA novel? You might say easy-to-digest, accessible language, fast paced. Not always. Notable names have called out Donna Tartt’s critically acclaimed novel The Goldfinch as essentially a YA novel – which begs the question: if it had been marketed with that tag, would so many have read it with such gusto? It’s a tricky subject when the boundaries are so blurred.
YA detractors believe it is diverting us from picking up more challenging texts, which falls into a bigger discussion as to whether popular culture and society in general is increasingly infantalised. Should we refuse the diet of comic book films we’re being fed, shun the slogan t-shirts, or embrace the universal variety and shout YOLO to those that sneer?
I’m a believer in “reading diversely”, the phrase many BookTubers on YouTube especially promote. Translated texts, classics, fiction and non-fiction, poems and essays – why be limited by genres when so many categories leave you boxed-in by publishers? So next time you look at your bookshelf and find books like Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book hiding behind the rest of your more ‘grown up’ oeuvre, pull them out and let them stand proud.
YA books adults will love
The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness
A thrill-ride of a novel that barrels along at lightning speed following Todd, the only boy in a town of men where everyone’s thoughts can be heard. When he meets a strange girl called Viola he goes on the run with her and his talking dog, and begins to uncover the sinister secret that ties his community together.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time – Mark Haddon
A hit in the literary world and on stage, Mark Haddon’s tale of teenager Christopher, who makes it his mission to solve the death of his neighbour’s dog, puts you right in the head of a teenager with Aspergers Syndrome.
The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R Carey
The Girl With All The Gifts is YA dystopia at its very best. Think you’ve read every zombie novel going? Carey has spun an original yarn about Melanie, a 1ten-year-old girl who is wheeled from prison to school every morning under guard. It’s skilfully told and emotionally charged – with just a hint of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
When Neil Gaiman pens anything it’s worth reading, right? There are werewolves, a community of the dead and a boy called Bod, who’s been raised by ghosts. In The Graveyard Book, all of Gaiman’s inventive delights are in full spine-tingling flow.
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Death narrates the story of Liesel, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. She loves books, her family and a young boy named Rudy – but it’s her friendship with the Jewish man her family hides in their basement which is most heartbreaking of all. Tissues at the ready, The Book Thief is a real tear-jerker.