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 And any blogger who does research on this trend would see why–it’s an argument that’s outdated.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?