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Should Adults be Embarrassed to Read YA Novels?

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Should adults be embarrassed to read young adult novels? That the question Ruth Graham asks over at Slate. The tagline to her article, “Against YA,” reads:

Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.

In her opening paragraph she states her thesis of why adults shouldn’t read YA. It’s not because the writing is bad, it’s simply because the books were written for teenagers. She then goes on to bash several popular YA novels, criticizes adults that enjoy them, and implies that adults that do read them aren’t sophisticated enough to get adult (read “real”) literature.

She bases her entire argument on her experience of reading YA books as a teen and how she just wanted to graduate to the adult aisle. She then assumes that all readers had this experience (as many, if not most, voracious readers do as teens) and simply can’t understand why adults would want to regress to the tripe of the modern teen novel.

It’s no secret that I read YA novels. In fact I love them, and I’m not embarrassed to say that. They’re fun to read. I can’t say they are great literature (whatever that means), but then again, I find supposed great literature to be pretentious most of the time. Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough to “get it.” Or maybe it’s just that when I want to read I don’t want to have to do mental gymnastics to understand what the story is about, then spend hours contemplating the meaning of it all. I just want to relax. I want to rest my brain, not exercise it.

Some of her other arguments against adults reading YA fiction just baffle me.

It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults.

Wait, what? Since when do adults always have to keep an adult state of mind?

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple.

Who says only teenagers want to see these kind of endings? I happen to enjoy them. I don’t want to read depressing literature with complex endings. But Ruth Graham knows better than all.

She follows up with this gem:

Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this.

At the risk? No, I’m sorry, Ruth, but you’re not at risk of sounding snobbish, you are a snob. A literature snob. And last time I checked, being a snob was not a positive character trait. If being a lit snob is what it means to be an adult then I want no part of it. Call me unsophisticated, dumb, or uneducated if you want, but perhaps you just don’t have the imagination that’s required to read YA fiction. In my opinion that’s your loss.

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2 thoughts on “Should Adults be Embarrassed to Read YA Novels?

  1. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.

    She obviously doesn’t have kids, because don’t conscientious parents want to have an idea of what their kids are reading? Especially novels which could be triggery or deal with subject matter which an individual teen may not psychologically ready for? Isn’t it responsible parenting to vet stories before a kid reads them, especially when there could be potential issues? What if a novel’s about self harm, and your teen is cutting herself? She’d deserve to be protected from such content until she’s developed the psychological tools to distance herself enough from the narrative to cope with her own triggers.

    Also, should librarians, editors & book reviewers whose job it is to read books for teens feel shame for being seen reading advance copies? FFS.

    I’m not a big fan of YA (which I wish would be called Teen) but shaming adults who read it? WTF. I call bullshit.

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  2. Jen Connelly on said:

    As far as I can tell she’s an idiot. Of course she reads the books, too, otherwise she wouldn’t know about what’s in them. She should stick to reviewing only the books she deems appropriate and good enough for adults and leave the YA stuff to those of us who enjoy it.

    Also her initial reasoning that the large number of adults buying YA books means that’s how many adults are reading it is flawed. She neglects to realize many of those adults are buying books for their children, not themselves. Otherwise all those adults buying picture books must be buying them only for themselves, not their toddlers. See… idiot.

    The links to my posts go to my facebook writer account where my cousin John (who is 40) admitted to reading all of his daughter’s YA novels when she was a teen and liking them. It’s usually women I find reading young adult so I was thrilled to find a guy that didn’t just read them, but enjoyed them.

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