A couple years ago Slate published an article by Ruth Graham in which she criticized adults for reading Young Adult novels. The Young Adult market was designed for teenagers, but a surprising thing happened on the way to the bestseller list. Research has shown that 55% of Young Adult novels are purchased and read by adults. Graham’s article pointed out that adults between the ages of 30 to 44 accounted for 28% of the sales of Young Adult novels. Graham was wasting her time in writing the article that attempted to shame adults into returning to serious literature such as Hilary Martel’s Wolf Hall. Young Adult novels will continue to attract an adult audience and sales of this genre remain strong.
It could easily be argued that Young Adult literature has always been with us in the form of the novels written by the Bronte sisters or Charles Dickens. Coming-of-age books are popular literature. I have a couple theories about the reasons behind why the Young Adult market has attracted so many adults. I’ve heard the theory that adults are reading novels designed for their children in order to relate to them better, but that is doubtful, although some readers may have discovered the market that way. I prefer to credit adults’ enthusiasm for Young Adult books to Harry Potter.
When the Harry Potter series came out, many of us read the books aloud to our children. At first I thought I was the only adult who enjoyed them. I was writing a column of community events at The Fresno Bee when I happened to notice a Harry Potter wallpaper on the computer of one of my editors, sparking an enthusiastic conversation about the novels. I rapidly discovered I was surrounded by adult Harry Potter fans, all of whom wished they had been lucky enough to have gotten their own letter to Hogwarts when they were young. J. K. Rowling realized that her target audience had far more adults in it than she had first suspected, and toward the middle of the series changed to where she was writing for an older audience. None of the adult novels she has written since have been as popular as her Harry Potter series.
A lot of criticism has been leveled at Stephenie Meyer for the quality of the Twilight series, and her subsequent attitude toward her own works once she decided to become a film producer instead of a writer. However, she has to be given credit for a series that attracted readers who would not have normally been interested in reading at all. A large portion of her devoted fan base were adult women. I was actually turned onto the series by a teenage guy at a high school where I was teaching. Twilight is a Romeo and Juliet rip-off, combined with a whole lot of whining on the part of Bella, but the books are like the pleasure I get from eating a Kit Kat candy bar. Yes, it isn’t steak or Brussel sprouts. The books don’t even fall in the category of Godiva or Lindt truffles, but every once in a while I feel the need to bite into something chocolaty with lots of fattening calories.
Although I’m such a devoted Harry Potter fan it will be hard for me to ever imagine anything matching it (I read the series again about every two years), the Young Adult market is filled with books that are so wonderful I’m almost bitter that they weren’t written when I was a teenager. I suspect that is why adults enjoy Young Adult literature. These are the books we wish we could have read when we were teenagers. The worlds created in Young Adult fiction are fantastic, riches beyond anything I could have imagined. Some of the best among the paranormal series have been Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade series, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy and her The Raven Cycle series, Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series, and Rachel Hawkins’ Hex Hall series. One of my personal favorites is the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Holly Black’s The Curse Workers trilogy, consisting of White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart, is a series that is so good I recommend it to anyone who is looking for edgy paranormal novels or just great summertime reading.
Texas seems to have offered far more than most states when it comes to settings for great Young Adult paranormal series. Rosemary Clement-Moore’s novels about the Goodnight family are wonderful, as well as her charming Maggie Quinn series. C. C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series made me want to be a teenager again and end up in Shadow Falls because I knew that’s exactly the sort of place I’d have landed if it had existed when I was a teen. In the Texas vampire category are Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires, a great series that changed good guys from bad guys back to semi-good guys on a regular basis. The series had plot twists that kept her human characters living constantly on the edge of death. I have a sentimental attachment to books set in Texas, but the Texas writers have to be given huge credit for putting out fantastic books in the Young Adult paranormal genre.
The Young Adult novel market is putting out a lot of fantasy novels right now, and I suspect that trend will continue for a while. It is actually an extension of the Harry Potter/paranormal trend with a strong emphasis on world building. Rick Riordan started the current trend with his wildly popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series about a group of young demi-gods. However, there are several authors who are writing the sort of fantasy with rich, diverse plots that adults find themselves unable to resist. Among these are Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series and Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series. Although Terry Pratchett has passed away, his Young Adult fantasy books such as The Wee Free Men, A Hatful of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight, and The Shepard’s Crown about teenage witch Tiffany Aching are sure to remain favorites among his many adult fans.
John Green’s huge success has shown that there is still the same market for realistic coming-of-age novels that there was when I was a teenager. His novel, Looking for Alaska, reminded me of Richard Bradford’s Red Sky at Morning. Like Bradford, Green creates realistic teenagers, with the emotional turmoil and vices that many teenagers have. The book left me deeply moved, as if his characters had been real teenagers who had gone through a devastating experience and were grappling with their emotions in the aftermath. Green was criticized for the profanity and sexual situations in his book, but he has rocketed up the bestseller list and his books have been made into movies.
Only someone who hasn’t read Young Adult literature would assume that there are no messages, no deep themes, and no depth to this genre. Terry Pratchett always has themes on significant subjects in all of his fantasy novels, those for adults as well as his Young Adult series. Many Young Adult books deal with peer pressure, rape, suicide, self-sacrifice, and the decisions that we have all made at one time or another, to follow where our heart tells us, or to keep to the path we are encouraged to stay on. Adults read Young Adult literature because the books are entertaining, allow us to feel with the characters as they make the choices that will affect the rest of their lives, and understand our world a little better.
Photo of the Texas Longhorn in the middle of a field of Bluebonnets. Photographer is Texas.713.