When I explain my enjoyment of young adult (YA) books, the response is often less than enthusiastic. It can feel like other people’s opinion of me plummets faster than had I said I spend my weekends playing my little pony.
Like a lot of readers, I enjoy a range of genres, yet YA attracts the most cynicism. The older I become, the more YA books feel like my dirty secret, but why? If I said I was reading The Hunger Games then would I be met with such consternation? I doubt it. Yet like so many addictive dystopian reads, The Hunger Games is YA. So what is it about the label YA that draws criticism?
My guess lies in its overly broad nature. YA is not one genre, instead an overarching label applied to many. What dictates it is the age of the protagonist, not the content. The distinction is important because it means that YA books can mean different things to different people. One bad experience reading a vampire story might scar you against the rest of the genre. What is more, the term YA has a juvenile feel to it, lacking the ability to inspire confidence in older readers.
Interestingly though, adults read YA too. Perhaps even more would if not for the attached stigma. A young protagonist is no deter ant to many people’s enjoyment of a good story and there is much about many YA books that grabs a reader’s attention. From fast paced plots to emotion charged scenes, these books can have it all. Some cover the same conflicts as adult novels. Sex, murder, rape, abortion … although the more mature plot-lines are often co-categorised as ‘New Adult’; a warning of the dark content within.
Here are some examples of YA books that are in the same category as Eragon by Christopher Paolini and the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Would you say that they are all that similar?
YA- New Adult books
Paper Princess by Erin Watt Reason: Sex scenes
Bully by Penelope Douglas Reason: Sex scenes
Going Under by S. Walden Reasons: Sex scenes and rape
New adult seems to be a warning label for more vanilla readers, rather than a way of distinguishing the stories that might be enjoyed by adult readers too. Clearly content is not the issue in determining what makes a book YA. So why do I feel guilty reading it? Is there really a difference or are we just in need of more distinction between YA books aimed at young people and those that can be enjoyed by anyone? A new genre might help the issue,providing a label for books targeted at adults too, the same way the genre new adult now helps distinguish the raunchy from the regular. I don’t know about you, but I would love not having to trawl through an entire bookshop before finding a hidden gem.
Here are some examples of YA books I think deserve promoting to adults too. How many more can you think of that deserve another category? If you want to help grow the list then let me know the titles of your recommendations.
Adult YA books (AYA)
Red Rising by Pierce Brown Reason: Amazing plot.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater Reason: Beautiful writing.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Reason: Gripping plot.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak Reason: Heart-wrenching story.