Kids + Teens

9 Reasons Why Reading Young Adult Books Is Good for Adults, Too

We hear a lot about the growing numbers of adults reading young adult novels (also known as YA), and how that impacts the publishing industry. Why might adults be coming to YA in droves? For nine very good reasons.

1. Great Page-Turners

I’m a bookseller in my spare time, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve had an adult come in saying they want something highly readable—a book that will keep them fully engaged and turning those pages. So often in those moments I turn to the young adult section. The most recent YA I just couldn’t put down? Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.

Gena/Finn YA novel

2. Shorter Reads

Of course YA comes in all shapes and sizes, but on average they tend to be shorter than literary fiction, making it possible to read a full book on a weekend getaway, while still making time for a frolic on the beach, a glass of wine, and a hot tub under the stars. Shorter books are also great for book clubs filled with overscheduled, overworked people (sound familiar?).

3. Cheaper Prices

Perhaps because of reason #2 (shorter books), but also because teens don’t always have the same pocket money adults have, young adult novels are often significantly cheaper than adult fiction—$16.99-18.99 in hardcover for YA as opposed to $24.95-34.95 in hardcover for adult fiction. Read YA—and save up for your next vacation at the same time!

Falconer Series YA Novel

4. Strong Voices

YA is often written in the first person—not always, of course, but often—which means you find some of the strongest voices in that genre. M. T. Anderson’s Feed blows me away with its futuristic slang—its voice is so strong it feels like its own dialect.

5. Formative Stories

One of the reasons I am so drawn to children’s literature (which we define at Chronicle Books as ages 0 to 18, so the term includes YA) is that childhood is so formative, shaping who we become as adults. Reading children’s literature connects us with our younger selves, and those moments that define us. I just read Lauren Wolk’s gorgeous older middle grade novel Wolf Hollow, about a girl’s friendship with a homeless veteran, and the manhunt that ensues when he’s suspected of a crime. That novel transported me back to my childhood, bringing back vivid memories of my own. Similarly, Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young will transport you to the coming-of-age angst of middle school. And Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell will transport you back to your first love.

This is the Story of You YA Novel

6. Literary Masterpieces

YA sometimes gets dismissed as lighthearted or “dumbed down,” which just hurts my soul. The genre is filled with literary masterpieces, from M. T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing to Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun to Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. All of these books are highly decorated award-winners—check out the Printz, Morris, and National Book Award winners every year for ideas on what to read next.

Stoker & Holmes YA Series

7. Genre Lit

In adult literature, mysteries, fantasies, sci-fi, and romance are all separated out in separate sections, somehow implying that they’re lesser genres, and that readers don’t read across all of those genres. In YA, those genres are (nearly always) shelved together, giving them equal weight. So many novels are combinations of multiple genres, defying the categorizations so often applied in the adult literature world. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is a coming out story, with the voice of a contemporary realistic YA novel—but it also features giant man-eating grasshoppers, clearly flirting with sci-fi in genre. Looking for page-turning YA fantasy? Read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, and The Falconer by Elizabeth May—if you haven’t already.

8. Pioneering

So often children’s literature is seen as derivative of adult literature, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Children’s literature literally pioneers new research—material never before published for adults or children, such as in Phillip Hoose’s brilliant Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, based on original interviews with Claudette herself. But children’s literature also takes on topics not always tackled elsewhere, like Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Mine, featuring the complexities of gay and transgender life in Iran. And it takes on forms not seen before, such as Helen Frost’s stunning YA-in-verse Keesha’s House, or Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson’s highly visual Gena/Finn, a novel told entirely in primary sources like emails, online journals, and fanfiction (complete with a moving scroll bar going down the right-hand side of the novel!).

Gena/Finn YA Novel

9. A Little Hope

You’ll find content of all kinds in YA—it’s not all lighthearted romps. But although you’ll find tough topics, some sexy scenes, and a lot of depth, it’s nearly always accompanied by a little hope. And who doesn’t need a little more hope in their life? One of the happiest books I’ve ever read—a book I adore—is My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger. Next time you need a heavy dose of joy, check it out. Also, I hate to be a tease, but I can’t help but mention a book that’s not out yet, but which you’ll want to remember. Get a pen and write this down: Piper Perish by Kayla Cagan. Piper may live in a small town, but her artistic ambitions are much bigger, and her journey to create not only distinctive art but also to craft a future for herself will leave you glowing. It’s worth the wait, I promise.

If you need some YA to get you started, try these!

Gena/Finn By Kat Helgeson, By Hannah Moskowitz

The Falconer and Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

The Stoker & Holmes Series by Colleen Gleason

Novels of Intrigue and Romance by Michaela MacColl

 

Do you read YA? If you don’t, would you now consider it?

 

Ariel Richardson is a children’s book editor at Chronicle Books. Check out her other posts, So You’ve Written a Children’s Book…Now What? and So You Want to Work in Publishing: Advice from a Chronicle Books Editor.

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17 Comments

  • Lee Wind July 22, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Thanks for this piece. I think adults can also turn to YA to find the books we needed and didn’t get when we were teens. Almost like we’re reading for our inner teen, and the act of getting it now is a kind of healing. Certainly I feel that way about reading Queer YA today. The rush of Rainbow Rowell’s “Carry On” – the Harry Potter-esque novel with the gay love story – let me know *I* could have a magical future, too. It was one of those healing-me-from-the-inside-out stories.
    Best,
    Lee

    Reply

  • Cheryl McKeon July 22, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    At Book Passage in the Ferry Building we have a great many visitors whose first language is not English, and who ask for a “good story that isn’t too hard to read.” We always turn to YA!

    Reply

  • Jacquelyn July 29, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    One reason you forgot to list and for parents it is the most important. We will not allow our children to read a book we do not approve of. Yes our Children are getting older and should be allowed to make their own decisions but when it comes to reading they don’t always pick the right books. Their morals have not completely come into the for front when they pick a book especially if someone “Recommends” it. We all know that some books should not be read by young adults. I have seen soon YA books listed in emails I get for books and I would not read some of them. Children learn by example.

    Reply

    • Ariel August 15, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks for the sharing that thought. It’s true that another great reason to read YA is because it’s written with teens in mind!

      Reply

  • Nancy Hahn July 29, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    I live in a very small house…and I read a lot. Since I am SO limited for space I only keep most_loved and will_be_read_again. The vast majority is YA fiction. It is so evocative. But since I have grown since the last reading, it is,also, fresh each time.

    Reply

  • LeeAnn Rizzuti July 30, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Great post, Ariel. It always tickled my librarian’s heart when an adult would come up to me and whisper how much they enjoyed the YA title they just read. Just like a real book.

    Question: You mentioned an upcoming title, Piper Perish. I have a book titled Pieces of Piper Perish on my “Anticipation” shelf. Has there been a title change?

    Reply

    • Ariel August 15, 2016 at 12:41 pm

      LeeAnn,
      LOVE that Piper was already on your radar! It’s so good. Yes, it’s now called Piper Perish. Can’t wait for the cover reveal. It’s gorgeous!
      Ariel

      Reply

  • Aida Salazar September 1, 2016 at 12:31 am

    Yes! I too have been pleasantly surprised by the YA and children’s literature that I am reading as of late in my own research as a writer. I am especially moved by novels in verse such as, One by Sarah Crossan, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Crash Boom Love by our US Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, the CrossOver by Kwame Alexander and the list goes on… There is so much depth, articulation as they express emotion (albeit less real estate on the page). The sentiments of our human condition and in particular that of young adults and children are seen perhaps more closely through this lens. And is that not the very power of the arts and the written word – to see through others eyes, to feel sympathy and anger and love all at once? I’m inspired and will keep reading and writing, unabashedly!

    Reply

  • Maryellen September 6, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Such a great article–I couldn’t agree more. Thank you! I’m looking forward to exploring your recommendations and will add one of my own: Code Name Verity, which is also an outstanding audio book.

    Reply

  • Ariel September 7, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Thanks so much, Maryellen! I love Code Name Verity–and haven’t listened to it on audio! Thanks for the rec.

    Reply

  • leslie freudenheim December 10, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Wonderful article.

    Having just published Frank Lloyd Wright: The Man Who Played With Blocks, A Short Illustrated Biography which we thought was targeted at age 12 up, I am tickled to see we have had positive reviews ranging from age 10 all the way up.

    We purposefully included long, informative captions for the 110 photos so that if you only read the captions you still learn a lot, including previously unpublished material.

    QUESTION: Has anyone updated the 2012 analysis showing that 55% of YA books are read by adults?
    It would be great to know if this is even more true now, when people are so pressed for time.

    Reply

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