Riley: I love YA, apparently. I say that I love it because I’m never entirely sure what exactly constitutes YA. So it’s fiction aimed towards young adults, I get that, but what does that mean? Teens? Not necessarily. The generally accepted definition is that ‘teen’ fiction is aimed at 12-14 year olds, and young adult fiction is for 14+. YA books are likely to feature – that’s right – young adults as their protagonists, and they tend to openly and frankly discuss topics such as sex, relationships, mental health issues, and other challenges.
It’s sometimes referred to as a genre, but it’s really not a genre. A YA book could be fantasy, romance, contemporary fiction, horror, and so on. So yeah, I read YA and I enjoy YA, apparently, since I can hardly ever tell when it is that and when it isn’t. But I often hear it said (granted, normally by non-readers) that adults shouldn’t read YA because it’s not for them. So I’ve invited Omar back to debate this with me today.
Omar: Okay so, this debate has been going on for a really long time. Should an adult be reading YA (Young Adults) books? First of all, nobody has the right to tell anybody what to read or what not to read. You can do whatever you want. However, this doesn’t stop what you are doing from being silly! YA books are mainly written for – you guessed it – young adults, a reader group that differs from adults emotionally and psychologically. Those books are tailored for them. Why would an adult read such books?
Riley: I sort of get what you’re saying, Omar, but honestly – do we really need to keep putting people into smaller and smaller boxes? Can’t we just agree that we’re all human beings and leave it at that? I mean, can you imagine ever saying to someone “you can’t read that type of book because you’re the wrong gender,” – or worse – “because you’re the wrong race”? No, didn’t think so.
If you can, it doesn’t mean you should
Omar: Let’s get this concept clear, most of the stuff that is made for younger users can be used by adults. However, this doesn’t mean they should. Baby food is safe for adult consumption. There is nothing stopping you from eating baby food. However, should you be really eating baby food? Is this the best option available for YOU? Well, perhaps, that depends on your personality. Some adults might find baby food tasty and love to eat some from time to time. They are free to do it, but we cannot say that this is normal.
In my opinion, the same goes for YA books. They sure won’t hurt you, there is nothing stopping you from reading them, either sparingly or all the time. However, they definitely weren’t written for you.
Riley: It’s easy enough to flip that on its head though. Just because something wasn’t made for you, does that mean you can’t enjoy it? Of course not! Okay, okay…baby food is not for me when there is sooo much deliciousness out there, but plenty of people enjoy a glass of milk or a bag of sweets that have been marketed towards kids.
And you’re right, they won’t hurt you and they weren’t written for adults, but many of the issues tackled effect adults too. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, for example, is about anxiety and that’s something that many, many adults have to deal with. So sometimes, YA books will not only not hurt you, but they may even help you.
Books with a Commercial Recipe
Omar: Young adult books are aimed at teens, a reader group with a specific taste that is to a very great extent, similar at its core. As a result, YA books that are a hit have a recipe for success. Vampires and fluffy love are essential for writing a YA book that sells. Throw some random werewolves to the mix and you have got yourself a blockbuster that will very soon be made into a movie. You can throw in as many parts as you like as well, sounds like too much of a good deal for any publisher to pass.
The result is a genre that is not very rich. Powerful stories with big ideas are few and far between. You have all the right to enjoy books with teen girls fantasising on vampires and werewolves. However, it is definitely weird and you are most definitely missing out. Choosing to focus your reading on books that are directed more towards a younger age group surely limits your options.
Riley: First of all…wow! That’s a fantastic generalisation! The thing about YA is that it really isn’t as narrow as you say. Okay, I admit, there has been a spate of fantasy YA and for a while, there was a fashion for teen girls falling madly in love with vampires/angels/elves/other other-worldly beings, but that is so far from all YA is. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is about the Nazi regime in the second world war, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is about cancer sufferers, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is about a police shooting, the list goes on. Yes, there are plenty with a supernatural element and almost all contain some element of romance but let’s be honest, that’s true of most books, YA or not.
Omar: I’m not saying that all YA books are bad. I personally love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games books. Reading a good, well-written YA book every now and then is fine. However, choosing to opt for YA books, in general, is definitely not such a great idea for adult readers!
Riley: I agree that focusing your reading like that is not a good idea – but I’d say that about any genre or collection of books. After all, variety really is the spice of life!