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Young adult romance: Not just for kids anymore

May 21, 2012

By Jesi Lea Ryan

If you would have asked me a few years ago what I thought about Young Adult literature, I might have said something like, “Sweet stories with stereotypical characters, living sugar-coated lives. Not worth my time to read, but okay for thirteen-year-olds.”  Of course, I would have been basing this opinion on the last YA books I’d read which were The Sweet Valley High books when I was twelve. Once I graduated into my teens, I wanted more substance than YA could give me, so I moved on to adult fiction.

My reintroduction to YA lit was similar to a lot of women my age…Twilight.  When a friend of mine suggested that I read this teenage vampire series, I thought she was nuts.  Hadn’t I outgrown YA ages ago?  However, the friend insisted and I was weak, so I bought the box set read the whole thing…in four days.  When I was done, I read it again.  I enjoyed the Twilight series so much that I began seeking out other YA books.  I read books by Laurie Halse Andersen, Neil Gaimen, Alyson Noel, Richelle Mead, Maggie Stiefvater, and others.  As my rekindled interest in YA literature grew, I noticed many other adults reading YA as well.  I began to realize that the new YA books have evolved the genre into mass market appeal, not bound by generation or age limitations.

What is it about today’s YA books which make them so much more appealing to adults than the YA books of the past?  For me, it’s all about the emotion.  The teen years are such a dynamic time.  We experience our first loves, get our first tastes of independence and make decisions about what we are going to do for the rest of our lives.  On top of this teens experience heaps of social pressure, a rigid caste system of cliques and the seriously messed up hormones—no wonder there is so much to write about!  While I couldn’t wait to get my teen years over with as fast as possible, I now look back at that time with a different perspective, one of wonder and hope.  Reading YA books lets me enjoy the teen years in a way that I missed the first time.

This led me to wonder if other adult YA readers felt the same way, or if they read these books for other reasons.  I sat down with several adult readers to get their perspectives.  First, we discussed their motivations for why they read YA.

“I read and write both adult and YA.  I don’t prefer one over the other, but yes, they each have their own feel.  Good YA lit has a near-constant fast pace, and since the word count is generally lower, the wording is much more punchy and efficient.  Adult lit sometimes feels over-worded to me, especially after just finishing a YA novel, but there are times when I’m in the mood for a slower read.”  Lydia, age 32

“I’m in a stage of life where I prefer YA lit to adult. I think this is because my youth was painful, and I like reading about teens going through hardships and coming through them. I’m grappling with pieces of my past, and YA helps me to see that these issues are real, they exist for other people; and just like me, these characters do the best they can. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes not, but they survive.”  Schuyler, age 40

“YA lit gets to the point! They don’t mess around with 30 pages of introspection and 100 pages of back-story. Sure there is angst and (occasionally) very silly emotional mistakes, but usually the stories are better written and better crafted. Kids won’t cut writers any slack so they better get into the story and keep it moving.”  Jennifer, age 45

Next, I asked them how YA has changed since they were teens.

“I think they’ve gotten more specific regarding technology references, clothing/pop-culture styles, etc.  Also, I think the YA books that deal with more controversial subjects (teen pregnancy, suicide, sexuality) are now more likely to be mainstream books, rather than something that a librarian would have to point out to a kid.” Victoria, age 33

“The main difference is that there are many more YA novels published now covering a wider range of genres. The best YA authors continue to deal with difficult issues with sensitivity, honesty and respect for their readers intelligence.” Mike, age 42

“I think authors are daring to put more controversial issues in YA these days, and I say, ‘Heck yes!’ There are so many topics that used to be taboo in the YA genre, that now are becoming more common. Sex, drugs, alcohol, and all those right/wrong, black/white/gray topics. I think books have a lot of power to change a person, and I think they can be extremely influential, especially in teens. I’m loving how today’s YA is bringing up topics in a real, honest, and open way.”  Shannon, age 23

So now I would like to turn this blog over to you.  Should authors keep both the adult readers and the teen readers in mind while writing, or will trying to cater to both audiences leave the work feeling divided?  How do you think YA authors can take advantage of the adult market in a way to maximize sales without alienating their core teen readers?  I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Jesi Lea Ryan is the author of Four Thousand Miles. Join her at her blog.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2012 2:11 pm

    YA novels will appeal to adults for the same reasons they appeal to teens. An interesting story with empathetic characters that elicits real emotions as you read.

    A good “coming of age” story will trigger powerful memories of love, loss, hope and ultimately joy (gotta have that HEA!).

  2. May 22, 2012 8:47 pm

    Hear hear! I love reading MG and YA. What a neat idea, to interview readers of all ages.
    I think as long as the author concentrates on telling the story in a natural voice, it’ll appeal to everyone – like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.

  3. May 23, 2012 12:47 pm

    Great post. For me, as an adult, the appeal of YA is that (in good examples) it concentrates on story and character without a need to ‘be clever’ getting in the way of storytelling. Character tends to come out shown through actions and reactions rather than through morbid introspection.

  4. Lindsey Hebel permalink
    May 23, 2012 10:09 pm

    I am in the same boat as you Jesi! Didn’t read YA again until my “book dealer” got me hooked on Twilight and then other fascinating YA books. I am so glad they are improving and that more people are investing time to write them! Thanks for your great post! 🙂

  5. August 7, 2012 2:46 pm

    Nice post! Okay I think we were separated at birth! Same deal with Twilight. My neighbor loaned it to me and it sat for two weeks before I even picked it up. The writing was blecch and I almost stopped reading it… until I got to THAT part. I was hooked, and went on to read Fallen and all those other angel books, in addition to contemporary YA which is what I write.

    I prefer reading and writing YA because the experiences I had as a teenager shaped who I am today. These are the things I know. I’ve been down the road. It is a cathartic experience to share the stories and weave them into something brilliant and moving.


  6. sabi permalink
    December 1, 2012 6:50 am

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