Should *Everyone* Like YA Books?

Young adults books, of course, have received their share of insults both from the media and from casual readers as people accuse it of not being “good” literature, being overly simplistic, being too commercial, being “only” for children, etc. In response, YA fans have offered a lot of good responses about the value of YA for both its teen target audience and readers at large, and they’ve become used to pointing out that people should read whatever they like and enjoy. In spite of this last point, however, that people are free to like different things, I’ve still noticed a strange converse trend where YA readers will sniff at and dismiss readers who don’t read or have no interest in YA literature–and I increasingly think this is unfair.

Of course, I think anyone who actively bashes YA books, particularly in public places and platforms, should face opposition for that–especially if they’re insulting the entire group of books without having read any. However, not all the comments I’ve seen are about these types of uninformed critics; often they are complaints about individual readers who just don’t see anything of interest in YA. These can range from disgruntlement that “My professor whose specialization is nineteenth century literature doesn’t read YA” to “My elderly neighbor doesn’t read YA and seems not to have heard of it” to “Some guy in his 30’s at my work who doesn’t have or seem to know kids thinks YA is not worth reading.” And in these cases, as long as the people aren’t being rude to people who do read YA, I have to wonder…does it matter?

Personally, I do not think books need to be “relatable” and believe it’s important to read widely, about people who are like you and people who are nothing like you at all. However, a very large percentage of YA fans say they like the books very specifically because they are “relatable.”And doesn’t that leave room for a reader, for example, who is in their fifties to say they don’t find YA interesting because it’s not relatable to them? Isn’t it fair if adults want to read about adults because they find the experiences of those characters more relevant or interesting with regards to their own lives?

I think often of a book event I was at with Elana K. Arnold and another author where an older gentleman asked after the reading of an excerpt of Arnold’s book (which included a fairly detailed description of a teenage girl getting a pap smear) why he should be interested in YA. I’m not a great judge of ages, but I would say this man was perhaps in his sixties, and it was clear he had barely even heard of YA as a book category before. He listed to the readings and author talks because he happened to be in the bookstore when the event began and apparently thought it might be interesting. His question of why YA would be of interest to him was polite and, to me, seemed genuine. He sincerely wanted to know. Arnold, however, was clearly offended, and as much as I like and defend and value YA, I’m not sure she gave a good answer.

The man persisted (another sign I think he actually wanted to understand and was not trying to insult YA as a category) and asked follow-up questions about why he, an older man, should be expected to pick up a book about teenagers and really enjoy it. He also had questions about the content and seemed a bit baffled by the idea of reading about teenagers having pap smears or having sex and whether it would actually be widely perceived as a positive if he went around pointing out he read frequently about teenage girls and their sexual experiences. Arnold pointed out that it’s good to understand other people and maybe if he had grandchildren he could relate to them if he read YA, but one could also argue that he could relate to his hypothetical granddaughters by talking to them and he could understand things about pap smears or sex by reading nonfiction or experiences had by adults rather than minors.

So…who was wrong? Is this man–and everyone who doesn’t really relate to YA and the trials and tribulations of teenagers–some kind of bigot who doesn’t care about or understand the youth? Or is it fair to say if teens like reading about teens and should be encouraged to do so that it’s also fair if older people would like to stick mainly to reading about adults?

Briana

25 thoughts on “Should *Everyone* Like YA Books?

  1. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    I don’t think anyone is required to like any particular genre or age range of books, and the older gentleman at the event was within his rights to wonder why he, a man in his sixties, should be interested in a book written for teenagers. Sure, it might be a good thing for him to know about pap smears, but is it really likely that he would be in a position to discuss that with his granddaughter? Wouldn’t that be extremely awkward for both parties? So no, adults shouldn’t feel like they have to like YA, just like teenagers shouldn’t feel like they have to like adult books. We are entitled to our opinions and preferences, and not having a desire to read YA (or romance, or science fiction, or….) is not, by default, a condemnation of the genre. It’s simply a preference. Personally, I don’t read contemporary YA novels. I have nothing against them, it’s just not a genre I am interested in.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Exactly. People should be free to read what they want, and “Ugh! My professor who spends all her free time reading about and publishing on Shakespeare in an attempt to finally get tenure doesn’t read YA!” is about as ridiculous a complaint as “What’s wrong with you for not reading mysteries???” or “Why haven’t you read all the Russian classics?!”

      You could probably make an argument that a lot of men don’t know about women’s lives or experiences in general (I was recently reading a Reddit thread where men were SHOCKED to realize smartphones don’t fit in women’s pockets and there are no shelves in toilet stalls and THAT’S why women ask them to hold their phones when they go to the restroom). So I guess one could make an argument that reading about a pap smear could be enlightening for people who honestly have NO IDEA it’s not a fun experience. But the idea this guy would then go discuss it with his grandchildren or otherwise relate to them better was definitely kind of wild to me.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Krysta says:

        It’s also a little odd to me that someone would assume a man would have granddaughters but no idea of women’s issues. Of course, it happens that men often don’t, as the thread you mention shows. But if this guy married a woman and had children (maybe daughters even), then…why would he need a YA book to tell him about women’s issues? Couldn’t he ask his wife, if she’s still living and they’re still together? Assuming he spent his life with her without women’s health issues never being discussed between them before?

        Also, not to sound negative about literature or YA, but is fiction really where a person wants to get their medical information? Is a YA book really the best place for ANYONE to learn all about pap smears? Wouldn’t a reputable non-fiction source with research cited be better?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          It wouldn’t totally surprise me that people of certain ages or from specific cultures might not talk much about women’s issues. Or just guys in general. There are married men who seem to know nothing about periods.

          I think Arnold asked if he had daughters/granddaughters before going on about relating to them, but I don’t remember the details.

          I’d see fiction more of a starting place to spark this idea of “What? Pap smears can hurt? Or be scary?” But some people would definitely be more persuaded by statistics. Saying, “70% of women say it’s extremely painful” or whatever might be more convincing than “This one made-up character had this experience.”

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Anushka Anand says:

    Great post! I think we should just let people read what they want to read and judge anyone on their choice! All books are books and deserve appreciation! I used to love YA but now I find myself slowly drifting off from it because I want to read other things. I guess different things work for different people! Although, this is a great discussion and you put it very nicely ✨

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I like YA as well but seem to go through cycles. I think YA has kind of developed a “voice” or prose style or something, and a lot of it honestly sounds the same to me, even across different authors and genres. Someone I know recently read Twilight for the first time and was like, “Wow, that wasn’t really that bad,” and one thought I had was that it was published before YA books started “sounding” like YA books. Combining themes/characters/plots targeted towards teens and a voice that goes across genres…it’s fair to me if someone decides they just don’t have an interest in YA.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mina @Stacked says:

    What a great idea for a post! Each person has different reading taste and that’s generally accepted, expect in the case of YA. As someone who doesn’t like YA and avoids it, I’ve heard some comments about how biggoted my attitude was.

    I think this whole problem stems from the sudden popularity of YA. We surely wouldn’t discuss whether everyone should like thrillers or romance novels.

    I bet that, if YA had been a thing when I was a teenager, I would have loved it. Now, as an adult, I just think I’m too old for it – to me, they bring to value. However, just because I don’t like them, it does not mean that everyone should share my opinion.

    So, to answer your question, I believe that there isn’t a single book genre or category that everyone should like. It’s OK to dislike YA, whether you are a teenager or adult. It’s also OK to love it, again for both teens and adults. We should all read what suits us and respect other people’s tastes even if they’re different from ours.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I was thinking this could be part of the “issue” for older people like the guy in my story or people’s professors who don’t read or like YA: that it wasn’t a thing until very recently so definitely not a thing while they were growing up. I’m not sure *exactly* when YA got big, but even if I say 20 years ago, someone in their 60’s would have been 40 at the time. It seems perfectly reasonable if they never got into it.

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      • Krysta says:

        My experience is that most adults don’t even know what YA is because the category is so new. I often refer to YA books as “teen” books to people who don’t read a lot or follow the book industry because “YA” doesn’t mean anything to them.

        I once heard a mother say “YA” as one word instead of “Y–A–“and it seems like something that’s kind of amusing at first, but it’s actually completely understandable. She didn’t grow up with YA and she’s never read it, so why would she know how to pronounce it?

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      • Mina @Stacked says:

        I agree. Even though there were always books aimed at young people (Judy Bloom, Harry Potter, etc), they were called children’s books or at best teenage books. It also went without saying that once you’re not a kid anymore, you should move on to adult books. I’m sure that only a decade or two ago, people would frown upon a 25-year-old reading something meant for children. With the popularizaton of YA as we now know it, the whole concept changed. For example, I see that Harry Potter is now considered a YA series and you can find it anywhere. But when I was a kid, it was labelled as a children’s series and you could get it only in the children’s library, not in regular ones. That’s probably why the gentleman from your story has hard time accepting them – they were taught that adults shouldn’t read them.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. cryptomathecian says:

    YA books are written with a certain reading public in mind, so it’s not astonishing that some people who fall out of that category can’t relate to these books anymore. On a personal note; every now and then I’m picking up a YA novel that got a couple of five stars reviews to stay in touch with the perceptions of the upcoming generation and how they relate to the world. It’s a little like with LGBT- literature; most people don’t read it because they can’t relate to it while I sometimes pick up such book in an effort to understand how those people tick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Exactly. If teens or college students are reading YA because they DO relate to it because the characters are younger and the general themes are specifically targeted towards young people…it’s equally fair to say that an adult might relate more to books about adults and want to read those instead. It’s puzzling to me when people seem shocked and aggrieved that adults, especially older adults, don’t read YA and have no particular interest in it. (And it’s always YA. I see very few people aggrieved that adults aren’t reading more middle grade novels or picture books, even though many of those are ALSO very good and could appeal to adults, too.)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Krysta says:

    I actually don’t know that reading YA will make a person “relate” more to teenagers, unless that means that the teens read YA and the adults can talk to them about a shared interest. YA books are almost always written by adults, edited and marketed by adults, sold by adults, and sold to adults (teachers, librarians, parents, adults who have money and like to read YA…). So there is an argument to be made that not all teens in YA are written as teens today think and behave–they often are written as adults imagine teens to be, or as adults remember their own teenage years, even though things have obviously changed since then.

    There’s also the rather obvious fact that all teens are different. This gentleman reading about a pap smear may not make him relate to his hypothetical granddaughters if they aren’t having pap smears or are not reacting to pap smears the way the protagonist does. I agree he could relate to his hypothetical grandchildren more just by, you know, talking to them and finding out what their interests, concerns, and feelings are–not what an adult author, who may or may not have experience with teens today, thinks those things interest, concerns, and feelings must be because apparently one book about teens represents all teens.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I think this is true, as well. Contemporary books might have something more of “teen issues” or “the average teen experience” than fantasy books (but even then it’s clear that some authors are more familiar with actual teens from today than others), but fantasy is really out there. Arnold was “lucky” in the sense she was reading an excerpt from a contemporary novel about a common life experience, but she would have been hard pressed to read an excerpt from Six of Crows or ACOTAR or His Fair Assassin and sit there and say that reading those books would “help you understand your granddaughters.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Krysta says:

        I was just thinking, “But what if he read YA fantasy? Reading about a 16-year-old gambler and sharpshooting prodigy will help him relate to his granddaughters??”

        I think a better response would be that YA stories are good stories because good stories can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of age. I would encourage him to try a few highly regarded titles in genres he enjoys. If he doesn’t like them, that’s all right. He was interested in YA and he tried some YA books and that’s all he can really do.

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  6. ireadthatinabook says:

    Of course not, there may be some work of pure genius that everyone who read it would like but more likely something that aims to be likeable to everyone would be terribly bland. I’d rather have YA authors focusing on writing the best books they can for teenagers and other YA-lovers than trying to please everyone. I’m fairly sure that some of the changes that would make YA more interesting to me would make it less enjoyable to teenagers and I believe that when it comes to YA their opinions should matter more than mine. So I’ll stick to adult fiction and some MG (which I for some reason enjoy more than YA), with only an occasional YA novel thrown in to let me know what I’m missing.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I completely agree that there’s probably no genre everyone likes. (Even accounting for the fact that YA is an age group and not a genre, there are characteristics that tie the books together that might not appeal to everyone, and that’s fine.)

      I also often like MG more than YA. It can have trends, but I think less so, and can seem more original. I also like that there can be more fun and quirky adventures, and things don’t necessarily have to be high stakes and all “Game of Thrones for the youth” or whatever.

      Liked by 2 people

      • ireadthatinabook says:

        I wonder if there may not also be room for more complexities in good MG fiction than it is in YA fiction. Take The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as an example, a child reading it will read it as a great adventure story while an adult will also catch the Christian theme. My favourite MG novel The Brothers Lionheart is another example of a MG novel telling one story to children and another to adults, and plenty of other novels show at least glimpses of this double adult/children readership. However, I’m not sure if such duality would work in YA fiction where the readers could be expected to notice the duality but may struggle to handle a multi-layered story.

        Perhaps MG authors have more opportunities to hide enough information to let an adult reader read between the lines while a YA author may have to stick to one-layered stories (which may of course be complex and well-written in many other aspects).

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  7. Milliebot says:

    YA really seems to be the genre that’s most polarizing. Or maybe it seems that way to me because lots of people I follow in the book sphere tend to read and love YA. For example, a lot of popular accounts on YouTube seem to rave about YA. And I do think it can often be dismissed as a genre. But I also think YA fans can be overly protective. Sure, people should read widely, but they should also read what they love. I’m happy if they’re reading at all! I often criticize YA because it just never seems to deliver what I’m looking for, but I keep trying. I don’t think everyone needs to do that to themselves. Nor would I tell a teen or YA lover that they “need” to enjoy adult, romance, mystery, sci-fi. Idk if I have a point lol. I guess no, I don’t think everyone needs to like YA or any genre.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Charvi says:

    Whaaaat? Do people actually do this? Bashing other elder readers who don’t read YA? That’s absolutely insane! Everyone should read whatever the hell they want. And not every YA reader is fond of reading kid lit or middle grade books so that’s just being hypocritic.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Gosh I’ve noticed this converse trend (and was thinking about talking about it) it’s not something I like at all- especially because I now see people (who admittedly have felt beleaguered for years for reading YA) turning on other genres- and I just feel like it’s a case of two wrongs don’t make a right. I also agree that people who criticise YA should face criticism- but that doesn’t mean bashing anyone who doesn’t read YA- it’s just so counterproductive (and incidentally won’t get anyone to take reading YA more seriously). Personally I don’t think people should be judged for not wanting to read YA. I actually think it’s more of a problem when grown men read YA, don’t like it, and then question the taste of teen girls- I think that’s a far bigger issue, because (while I also agree that books don’t have to be relatable) it really isn’t going to be something they relate to/have to relate to (though understanding it would be good- but like the person in the story said, they might get more out of non fic for that).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      It makes me so happy you have also noticed this trend! I don’t think I’ve seen anyone mention it, and even a lot of the comments here are basically, “What? People do this?” Maybe it’s not always *overt* but the random complaints that people’s professors and elderly aunts and supervisors at work or whatever don’t read YA are really quite common, and I also think it’s unfair. People read different things, It’s fine.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

    I hadn’t heard of this and didn’t know it was a thing. Last I knew, people were still getting poo-pooed for reading YA after hitting adulthood. xD It’s interesting to see it turning around and there being another side to the argument.

    Short answer: no, YA will not be for everyone. For that elderly gentleman in the story, there may not be a good answer to his question. The answer may just be that YA *wouldn’t* be of interest to him, and that’s perfectly okay. I personally tend to stray away from the books that involve a lot of sex and weird situations (like … I would not want to read about someone having a pap smear … I don’t even want to be present for my own, thanks). But that’s just personal appeal.

    For me, I love YA because I’m in love with that moment where a character discovers their own worth, or learns that they’ve had it in them all along and just never noticed. I love rooting for the underdogs and seeing them conquer. I like watching people grow into themselves and have their lives and everything they thought they knew questioned. Sure, you can find these themes in adult works sometimes, but they’re just so common in YA.

    I can’t say that it helps relate to teenagers, though, because … well, unless you’re maybe reading contemporary (which is just one genre in a rather large age category), it’s not like most modern kids are taking down governments, assassinating people, and flying dragons. At least, I think. Maybe things have changed drastically since my teenhood, I don’t know. xD

    Liked by 1 person

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