Is this the post where I finally acknowledge the fact that I’m properly in my twenties, in the next age bracket and multiple years away from when I was a teen? Maybe.
Today I want to talk about being a YA reader who is no longer young adult. The book blogging community has YA readers of all ages – from teens to people my age (I’m 24, I’ll admit it!) and older. I am beginning to feel like these books aren’t always for me which is a strange feeling because I’m sure I was 18 yesterday.
Let’s Blame it on Millennials
I studied English literature at university and like a fool picked modules that required heavy reading. As a result I basically stopped reading for pleasure and any book series I had started reading at 17 fell by the wayside. But that didn’t mean that I suddenly stopped wanting to read those books. In fact, after graduating, my aim was to get back into reading YA. Where my older work colleagues were reading literary fiction and books I had not even heard of, I was quietly inching my way back into the YA community.
Studies have shown that more adults buy books in the YA category than teens. Do we have more spending power or is it simply because it appeals to us? Or is it a symptom of Peter Pan syndrome? Statistically more of us are living at home, getting married later and having children when we’re older. It makes sense that this state of extended adolescence manifests in our reading habits. (Confession: I’ve only just begun to feel like a ‘real’ adult.) We feel so young and out of our depth that reading about teens who are 5, 6, 7 years younger than us is not that big a jump. After all, a 13-year-old is going to feel vastly different to an 18-year-old but how different is a 23-year-old going to feel?
Same Book, Different Experience
On the other hand, I definitely don’t feel like a teenager anymore. I don’t have the same insecurities. I have more life experience. I’m not as naive. (I hope!) And I certainly feel this when reading some books aimed at younger readers. My main example of this is reflected in one book: Throne of Glass. I devoured and loved this book as a teenager. Obviously, Sarah J. Maas is a huge name in YA fantasy now. Moving to a job at Bloomsbury who publish Maas, with access to a staff discount meant that I felt it was the right time to invest in the Throne of Glass series.
I bought the first three books in the series. I read the first. Reader, I was sorely disappointed. It’s been months and books 2 and 3 sit sadly unread on my bookshelf. Putting aside the fact that this is a debut novel from a then-young author, I was surprised at the marked difference in my reading experience. This book dropped from a 4-star read down to 2 stars. It missed the mark in so many places from the characterisation of the assassin to the love triangle to the introduction of magic to the story. I remember a completely different reading experience at 17. I’m older, yes, I’ve read more widely, I have had new life experiences, I’ve got a degree in literature, I’ve consumed more media since. All of that colours my perspective and there’s no going back.
Growing out of it?
I came across a blog post where, among other things the topic of ‘book boyfriends‘ came up. Is it creepy that adult women refer to teenage characters as such? Disclaimer: I never really did this as a teenager so I don’t do it now either but I definitely understood being on a ‘team’ or having a character crush. Male love interests that female readers are supposed to fall in love with are prevalent in YA books. I read a YA book recently which had a male teen love interest who is a Galaxy Caramel: soft under a hard shell. I couldn’t get on board. A broody 19-year-old boy has had very little life experience to be that broody. Not to state the obvious but at 13-18, a 19-year-old love interest is an older boy. To me, that is someone in a completely different stage of their life.
I’ve always been a harsh critic but I’m increasingly finding that I don’t fall in love with as many books as I used to. Meanwhile I’m part of a community that shouts from the rooftops about books I’ve felt okay about, or liked but thought weren’t brilliant. At first, I chalked it down to getting older and therefore more jaded (yes, I’m a bit cynical). Having rewatched Doctor Who last year and being fully immersed in the subreddit, shows that the geek inside me lives yet and I still have the ability to love things with a passion (yay!). So, have I grown out of YA a little?
The Development of the Teen Reader and Young Adult
Stories have existed for millennia, the earliest Western examples being the oral tradition of Homer’s The Odyssey, followed by folk and fairy tales. The printing press only has a history of a few hundred years and the novel is an 18th century invention. Children’s literature is fairly new, dating back to the Victorian era with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland often cited as the first children’s book published in 1865. Teenagers didn’t really exist until the 1950s.
What’s the point of all this history? Well, in the grand scheme of things, novels haven’t existed for very long, teenagers have only been defined as such for less than a century and books being catered specifically to a teen audience is a new idea. So it’s natural that it’s not as well defined a market and that the YA audience has a huge overlap between teenage readers and adult readers. The problem is, these books are not being written for adults and adult books aren’t written for children/teenagers. That’s not to gatekeep who can read what, it just means that there’s a lot of misadvertisement on certain books to target a niche where readers my age want something in between.
New Adult Fiction
The answer to this is of course New Adult books: this term has been floating around for about a decade but it hasn’t taken off quite as well. Does the industry think there isn’t a large enough audience for it? As a quick experiment, I searched ‘New Adult’ ‘New Adult Fiction’ and ‘New Adult Marketing’ on the publishing industry news site, The Bookseller. Although I only went back 10 pages (100 most recent articles), the word new and adult didn’t appear side by side even once. On the other hand, YA brings tons of results.
What’s the conclusion?
I think this is a long-winded way of me realising that I want to read to read more ‘New Adult’ books. That’s not to say I want to give up YA altogether – I loved Six of Crows for example – I just think that not everything in this segment is for me anymore. I’m okay with that. The problem is that the books I’m after – the inbetweeny ones – are not marketed as such and when you look up ‘New Adult’ you get a list of steamy romance books which are just not my jam. Bizarrely, my best bet is to look for adult books that are either marketed to teenagers or authors who have crossover appeal. So bring me The Poppy War and more V. E. Schwab, bring me Jay Kristoff, I’m ready for you.
Just to finish off, here are a few interesting posts on the topic of YA books and reading that I would love to share
- Fran Laniado talks about reading outside of your demographic in her post here
- The Orangutan Librarian talks about defining YA here and how certain adult books are advertised for the YA market
- Natasha wrote an excellent discussion post about not shitting on YA here
- Kristen’s blog post talks about what New Adult fiction is and how a huge difference in the writing is specifically the perspective it has