The Debate Over YA Is Over

Discussion Post Stars

Yesterday, I published a post about why I’d like to see bloggers provide more evidence in their blogs.  As an example of a time when I would like to see the blogger cite a representative example of a trend they see and provide a link, I used the line, “People are always making fun of adults for reading YA.”   Many comments disagreed with my desire for links, suggesting that this attitude is well-known among bloggers.  However, while I agree that there are lingering vestiges of this attitude, I disagree that this a real argument we need to be engaging with.  And any blogger who does research on this trend would see why–it’s an argument that’s outdated.

By Googling a combination of phrases such as “YA Adults” and “adults shouldn’t read YA,” it became clear to me that much of the criticism of adults reading YA occurred between 2012 and 2014.  2012 was the year Joel Stein wrote “Adults Should Read Adult Books” for The New York Times.  It was also the year a survey showing that 55% of adults read YA was published, indicating that people then were becoming interested in the trends surrounding YA, perhaps wanting to figure out why it was so popular, who was purchasing it, etc. This study gave solid grounds for others to continue to observe and critique the trend.  Ruth Graham, for example, cited the survey in her 2014 article for Slate, “Against YA,” in which she criticized YA for being a form of escapism and replacing literary fiction in the reading habits of adults.

Graham’s article inspired Caitlin White to respond on Bustle (2014)and defend adults who read YA.  Alyssa Rosenberg responded to Graham for The Washington Post (2014).  Her article is titled “No, you do not need to be ashamed of reading young adult fiction.”  Simply skimming the first few Google results showed me that, besides an interview Graham did with NPR in 2014, no one else in the mainstream media seems to have been belittling adults for reading YA a this time.  All we have is one opinion piece from 2012 and one from 2014.  In 2015, The Guardian explored the question “Why are so many adults reading YA and teen fiction?” but by this point it seems to have been taken for granted that they were and it was acceptable.  The reader responses quoted in the article generally advocate for the sophistication and delight of YA.  And most of the other search results were articles or blog posts advocating for reading YA, not against.

Although no doubt there will always be individuals who believe adults should not read YA, a quick research of the criticism surrounding adults and YA indicates that this conversation was one was that was taking place years three to five years ago.  Even then, it seems there were a few disgruntled critics fighting was what already a lost battle.  To me, spending energy trying to convince people that YA is a valid art form is generally a waste, much like trying to convince people that comic books are a valid art form.  Just about everyone knows this.  YA and comics are widely read.  Journals, panels, academic conferences, and college courses are devoted to them. Maybe every now and then a critic will write an article against YA to see what kind of fuss they can kick up.   Perhaps a few educators here and there worry that reading comic books will hurt literacy rates.  But it’s counterproductive for us to act like this is a discussion we still need to have.  That makes it seem as though the critics are more numerous, more powerful, and more influential than they really are.  We’re hurting our own cause by pretending that this debate is between equals and that it is ongoing.

Do you think we still need to defend YA as a legitimate art form?

Krysta 64

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24 thoughts on “The Debate Over YA Is Over

  1. DaniellaWrites says:

    I don’t think we necessarily have to defend YA as an art form. I can see your point in that the media shit storm about it has passed, so for the most part people have already defended adults reading and enjoying it.

    Though I’ve never felt ashamed for reading YA or middle grade as an adult, it’s something I encounter very frequently at work. I work at a small bookstore, and the amount of kids and adults who are shamed for their reading choices by their friends or family is honestly astounding. It seems that no matter what someone enjoys, a loved one will be there to not so silently disapprove of it.

    I think that the discussion that should be had is about reading whatever brings you joy or purpose regardless of what people think. Because the ones who shame you about your book choices aren’t likely going to be reading my book blog article about literary acceptance.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, there will always be those people who don’t appreciate YA. I still see adults go into the library and say graphic novels aren’t “real” books, for instance. But these people also aren’t reading my blog, so for me to write a post defending YA as if it’s being besieged is giving a false representation of what most people think. I don’t think we need to overblow the reaction in order to make our point that we enjoy YA.

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  2. La La in the Library says:

    THANK YOU! I have been thinking this for forever. What really makes me roll my eyes is when bloggers say their non-bookish friends say this. My non-bookish friends don’t even know what YA is, my sister’s non-bookish friends don’t know what YA is, and my college age son probably wouldn’t know if I didn’t talk to him about it. I doubt his friends know what it is. People read Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Divergent because they were popular. Some of my non-bookish friends read these books and just thought they were, well… books. I have never had anyone say anything about me reading YA. I did see a blogger who reads and blogs about Adult Fantasy titles recently tell another blogger it was time for her to read “real” Fantasy, meaning Adult and not YA, but he has made other behind the times remarks too. This and the physical books are better than ereaders discussion posts need to be put to rest.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, and you can see from the two critics I referenced citing YA that they’re mainly criticizing the big names–Twilight, The Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars–which kind of makes it seem like they’re not necessarily too familiar with YA themselves. True, those are the names their readers may have heard, too, but I don’t think I can buy an argument if I can’t tell if the author’s even read THG, much less a representative sample of YA.

      Well, actually, there are studies showing that physical books help readers remember more of the content, etc. so I would say there’s a case for that in terms of literacy/school, but if someone wants to read for fun on their ereader I don’t see why we should stop them!

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  3. Briana says:

    I think you’re right. Of course there are always going to be some snotty people who think adults shouldn’t be reading YA. I’m sure some of the people who were writing articles in 2012 telling adults to stop reading YA still abide by their opinions. But I think the general cultural trend is acceptance, or just not caring at this point. People have even moved to discussing publishers are actually publishing YA FOR an adult audience and whether that’s a problem. If any new “YA books are stupid!” articles pop up, most people just roll their eyes because, yes, the conversation is so old at this point.

    I also agree with the comment above that people who are particularly non-readers often don’t know what YA as a category is or what books would be classified as YA. They know the book is popular or a bestseller, not always that it’s “supposed” to be for teens.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      I guess the final question of “Is this really an ongoing debate?” might be the one most to the point. Or, “Is there anything interesting left to say on the issue?” Yes, some percentage of people will always think YA books are not “real” literature and beneath “intelligent” adults, but we’ve been over and over this before. A lot of people have come to their conclusions on the issue. If some newspaper wants to publish a YA-bashing article once a year as quick clickbait, we can probably safely ignore it.

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      • Krysta says:

        Right. Obviously I can go into the library and find Snotty Patron saying I should not be reading YA, but does that mean Snotty Patron is representing a real debate? No, it means Snotty Patron doesn’t understand what she’s talking about.

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    • Krysta says:

      I’m half-convinced the “YA is dumb” articles are written just because the writers know that they’ll generate huge page views from the backlash. They’re in a clear minority and so like to be “provocative,” but I don’t see the point of telling adults of what they “ought” to be reading.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I’ve written before about how YA is often just a marketing label based on the protagonist’s age. You can write the exact same book, make the character 12 instead of 13 and now it’s MG instead of YA. Doesn’t mean the book is inferior or less sophisticated. Though I do think many YAs share what I think of as generic features, such as the love triangle, insta-love, etc.

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  4. saraletourneau says:

    I think it’s terrible that some people discredit or refuse to see the value in YA literature. While I can see where some of those critics might be coming from (e.g., they dislike the perpetuation of YA tropes, it’s unfair of them to judge all YA novels that way. Books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Book Thief, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy, Ruta Sepetys’s historical fiction – they’re all great stories, period. Yes, their protagonists are in their teens. But those and other YA novels are well written, wonderfully crafted in terms of characters, and chock-full of themes that make them as meaningful as any literary novel. I’m 32 years old, and I’m proud to be a fan of several YA authors, because I love what they do.

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    • Krysta says:

      The funny thing is, critics don’t tend to reference many books besides Twilight and The Hunger Games. I don’t think they have read enough of some of these stellar titles you mention to have a really good grasp of the field or judge it. And, yes, saying adults shouldn’t read YA is also insulting to the authors who worked so hard to give us such great books!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    I will actually keep this one short haha (I know- shocking). I recently made the decision to move away from YA for my own personal reasons. There will still be times I still venture back because I enjoy certain authors and series. With that said, I love GNs and Manga, and I become tired of hearing that this is not reading or I should not being reading these titles.

    Why should anyone else be determining what another should read? All forms of reading are still stimulating the audiences and typically providing the same brief escape from reality. I personally never listen to anyone who feels that they are justified in saying what another should or shouldn’t read. It just seems silly to me.

    I feel all authors put a lot of time into their work as well and agree that it is very insulting to attack them from writing YA.

    Fab post once again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lee says:

    Honestly at this point, I think this isn’t an issue so much. I mean yes, there are some shitty people who like to judge other people, but those people are snobs and would find a reason to judge you no matter what. For the most part, YA books have bled into popular media in such a way that YA books are some of the most well known titles out there. I’ve also found that, as long as one doesn’t say “this is a YA book” a lot of adults don’t think to ask, they just enjoy the story. I’ve yet to have someone tell me “I couldn’t enjoy this book because the character was a teenager” when I recommend them a book. My only complaint is that lots of library’s still use “Teen” instead of “Young Adult” so it makes them sound more juvenile than they really are.

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  7. DoingDewey says:

    This is the example I thought of reading your previous post, so I’m really glad you fact checked it! I definitely think this post is an argument for some solid research and references in discussion posts. Fascinating!

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  8. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction says:

    This is so interesting because I don’t think that people do check on current thoughts about these types of things, those articles from a couple of years ago stick in people’s heads. You’re so right that it makes sense to check on updated info. I hear a lot of people say that they’ve felt a stigma against YA in general everyday life (though I haven’t really experienced that—at least not in any major way), which affects their thoughts on that topic too.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I think we do meet people in everyday life who have set ideas of who should be reading what. I’ve seen it happen in the library, where the adults in the children’s section tend to be there for their children and tend to have an understanding of reading being about literacy and not much else. That’s why wordless picture books are so confusing to people–picture books are “for children” but they aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do with a wordless picture book in terms of teaching literacy. But, generally, I think YA has been accepted as a valid art form for some time. You can take YA courses in college and academics have conferences for children’s lit. They take it seriously.

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  9. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight says:

    This is an interesting post! I personally have not encountered the “adults shouldn’t read YA” criticism, I’ve just seen other bloggers talk about it a lot. I wonder if maybe this argument is a combination of outdated articles combined with people’s own self-consciousness? Like, maybe they’re afraid they’ll be judged for it, so they just kind of assume they are and that they need to defend it. Considering how popular YA is though, I can’t imagine it would need defending. But of course, as you said, there will always be individual people who will look down on it, but that goes for everything, really.

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    • Krysta says:

      I think it’s easy to find people on the street who judge other people for their reading choices. For instance, a lot of people in libraries and bookstores equate reading with literacy so they really don’t understand why everyone is reading “at reading level.” However, I think that academia, people in the media, etc. have accepted YA as a valid art form.

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