Debbie's World of Books
My book reviews, book news & random rants

Adults Reading Young Adult Books

June 24th, 2009 by Debbie's World of Books

I have a confession to make…some of you may have already noticed this but…I love reading young adult books even though my teenage years are far behind me and I just turned the big 3-0.  With my friends and co-workers I often feel strange telling them about the books I read because when I say they are young adult books I get those strange, side eye look that is really asking “Aren’t you a little old for young adult books?”.  Then I had the recent added disappointment when I heard about the Simon & Schuster Pulse IT program being open only up to 18 year olds.  Now my logical side agrees with Dan’s comments in this posting about why membership to Pulse IT needs approval and has the age restrictions but the other half of me wishes there was some sort of program for adults that read young adult books.

So then I started to wonder, just how many adults do read young adult fiction?  Do we make up a significant number of the book buyers in this genre?  I know there are several members in my online book club that enjoy YA books.  I also belong to the Shelfari group, YA Books that Adults Should Read, which has 2399 members and the Good Reads group, Young Adult Fiction for Adults, which has 625 members.  Now I don’t know how many of these members are really out of their teens but that does seem like a lot of interested adults.

Then there is another question, are the book titles that are popular with adults the same ones that are popular with the teens?  I know books like Twilight and Harry Potter have attracted both young and older but how many YA books have that same appeal?  I will admit there have been a few YA books that I have read that I did not think was great but when I was writing my review I tried to think back to when I was in middle school or high school and if I would have enjoyed the book then.  Sometimes I find myself saying yes so obviously it’s harder to decide how to write that review since I was not a part of the targeted audience.

So these questions took me back to the idea of does it make sense for publishers and publicists to try and target adults for YA books they think may have a broader appeal?  Or have a program that publicizes any YA books and have those open to adults?  Is it worth their time or should they just rely on word of mouth and let people like me find interesting titles as I surf the blogosphere?  Am I over thinking this because I’m trying to avoid doing other work?  :)

What do you think?  If you are an adult reading YA books how do you go about finding titles of interest?  Is this a new phenomena?  When I was a teen I was not on the web surfing book clubs and I don’t think blogs even existed then so I have no clue if adults were big into reading YA books back then.

Posted in Books

29 Responses

  1. Pam

    I absolutely read YA books, especially when I just want an imaginative fantasty filled read that is a no brainer. I do think though as reviewers who the books are not written for our age range it is a mistake to be too over critical.

  2. Barbara

    I think I’m a bit backwards because I was reading adult books in elementary school. I do tend to read a lot of YA books. Well it does stand for young adult and I’m an adult and I guess I’d still be considered young. I always found the whole Young Adult thing to be very weird. Now look who’s over thinking? Sure they are aimed towards this particular age group but they have to realize that there are those of us who are so called grownups that actually enjoy the books.

  3. pusserboots

    That was me too. I read adult books when I was YA. It was only when I was an adult that I realized I had missed out on a lot of fun books. So now I include YA in my reading.

  4. dsuzuki

    I agree that as an adult reader we need to be careful about being overly critical. I am also curious in how to find books that other adults really enjoyed so hopefully I don’t run into too many that are obviously not going to appeal to me.

    Pam-I know what you mean about the no brainers. YA books are so much fun to read and some how go a lot faster but then sometimes I find myself lazier when I go back to reading other non-YA books.

    Barbara-I think the only adult books I read when I was younger was V.C. Andrews and I remember being scandalized :)

  5. Barbara

    I read VC Andrews too. Well I used to sneak into my sister’s room for the books. I’m so odd sneaking in for books instead of normal stuff like makeup or something.

  6. Karoline

    I love YA books and I just turned 29 :P I think they’re great to read especially after a finishing a previous novel that was long, and very deep and epic. Reading a YA after that is just so refreshing and you’d be ready to tackle the next big book! I actually search avidly through the library shelves, and amazon for new YA fiction. They’re really great books and they’re so fast to go through. :)

  7. Jo

    I’m 24, I read YA books… but upon analysis, most (not all) of them tend to be fantasy or paranormal genres. I wonder if that means anything? Maybe the characters tend to act older (because of whatever the circumstances/setting) in those genres?

  8. Jo

    I reread that and wanted to clarify – I don’t exclusively read YA.

  9. Mary

    I am well over the age limit for YA books, but I am drawn to them like a moth to flame. My Library recently started displaying the YA book along with adult titles on a wall with the headline: “If you like this, try that”. I read anything that interests me and is written well.

  10. Michelle

    This is a fabulous topic of discussion and one that I think many might be interested in. I too am an adult (closer to the big 4-0 than the big 3-0) and after reading my first YA novel (The Hunger Games) I was addicted. In fact I think the last 4 out of 6 books I’ve read have been in the genre. I can assure you that at least 75% of the books I’ve purchased this month fall in the category. So when you want to talk YA knock on my door I’ll be happy to!

    As for PR. I’m betwixt and between really. I fully understand S&S wanting to target that truly teen audience and I think that age restrictions (while annoying because I’d like in on the program) are smart. Kids that age don’t want to mingle with adults our age period. Allowing us access would effectively kill what they are trying to attempt, and what that is truly is a valiant effort. I also think that as adults we are more likely to go in search of instead of demanding it being brought to us. So not targeting us specifically isn’t necessarily hurting them. Having said that I don’t think it helps either. I do think we are a largely untapped audience and if they really wanted to increase those sales they would create a second community for this audience that is much like Pulse It.

    I do think you’re in the right places to network (Shelfari, GoodReads, LibraryThing). They all seem to have Adult YA Reader groups. You might be able to find further resources through them as well.

  11. I Heart Monster

    Well, I’m a whopping 27, and Monster is 29, and we both read more YA than adult fiction. Why? We find it to be cleaner, and less redundant. We recently listened to an adult audiobook and a YA audiobook on our roadtrip and found that we both liked the YA one a LOT better. We read for entertainment, and YA usually fills that objective better than Adult fiction, for us

    That said, I totally understand why publishers want to market YA towards the YA genre. But if you look at HP and Twi, the reason they were so successful was because adults all over the world were interested in them. Adults have the money. So, I think if you want an uber successful book, you need to market to both demographics. On a flight a couple of weeks ago, I was reading Carpe Corpus by Rachel Caine and I had three ADULT women ask me for YA book recommendations because they really enjoyed Twilight and HP, but didn’t know what else was out there. They enjoyed YA, a lot more than they liked Adult fic, but didn’t know where to get it, and I think that is because it isn’t marketed towards adults at all. {sorry to write a book!)

  12. dsuzuki

    I have also had adults ask me about books like Twilight because they enjoyed it so much. I usually tend to recommend Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series or Vampire Academy and both have been big hits with them so far but I don’t think either of those series have made it really big outside the YA world. Although I could be wrong since it’s hard to tell on blogs.

  13. trish

    I actually disagree on the idea that adults can be too critical of YA. If you’re enjoying it, then you should be able to discern which books are well-written and which books aren’t. The more I read YA, the more I stick by my initial disappointment in WAKE. I know at least one person thought I was too critical, but after you’ve read WINTERGIRLS or THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, you’ll see where WAKE falls short of how good it could have been.

    After reading THE SCREWED-UP LIFE OF CHARLIE THE SECOND, I’m convinced that even those of us outside of the target audience can still appreciate and enjoy a book, assuming the story is well-written and of a high caliber.

  14. The Brain Lair

    I’m lucky because I’m a middle school librarian so I get a few less crazy looks. I read mostly YA an am starting to branch out into MG. Although I say it’s for my job, it really isn’t! Most of the good adult reads I’ve found have come from those who also write YA. I just love it!! Sometimes I do remember that I’m not a teenager, I’m over 30, and over 40! But mostly, I just wish I had more time to just sit and read my YA. Like you, I cried when Simon Pulse posted the age limit. I forwarded the email to some avid reader students with the caveat that they MUST let me read the books too!!

    Do I read YA because I’m a school Librarian or am I a school librarian because I read YA? Definitely the latter – my job wouldn’t matter – I would still read it!

    But to answer your question – how do I find good YA? Get recs from students, bloggers, librarians, and staring at bookshelves in bookstores. I do that at least once a week – just stand there looking at the books – picking them up – reading parts – txting myself titles of interest. I read Shelf Awareness and The Daily Omnivore. I get newsletters from many publishers as well as read PW’s weekly children’s reviews. And I just read!

    Sorry this was so long! Feel like I need to do a post about it now!

  15. rdgrooter

    I also am a K-12 librarian and former middle school teacher, so I read YA for a variety of reasons: personal enjoyment, to know what is out there for teenagers and my own kids, and based on recommendations of former students now in high school. It’s a thrill to be able to discuss books with students I once taught in elementary or middle school–to have that ongoing connection! For example, I loved Hunger Games by Collins and read it in one day; I couldn’t put it down. But, I don’t think I ever would have picked it up to read just from the cover.

  16. Tyler Reed

    Interesting topic! Makes me wonder what it is that is attracting adults to YA books these days. Is it just that the quality of them lately has been so great?? Or perhaps we recollect our teenage years so vividly that the themes in these books really strike a chord?


  17. Michelle

    I tend to lean towards the quality more but do think it’s a little from column A and a little column B. I found that in the YA books I’ve read recently the themes tend to be heavy (death, war, virginity, etc) but are addressed with such depth and understanding. They are intricately woven within the larger plot and characterization whereas in fiction geared more towards adult themes of this nature, at times, tend to be events or points that don’t garner much focus beyond one or two chapters on their way to other parts of the story.

    I feel depth when reading YA, I feel a connection to the characters. Where in a lot of contemporary fiction it’s more one dimensional. Could those feelings be attributed to having had the experience of being that age, sure. But did what is happening to these characters at that age actually happen at mine. Most times no.

  18. dsuzuki

    Michelle, I totally agree. When I talked about The Chosen One and Willow to a few people they were shocked those were YA books dealing with such heavy topics but they were sooo good!

  19. Michelle

    I will also say that I think themes are sometimes more uniquely plotted in YA. The Forest of Hands and Teeth (which I LOVED) is a great example of that. Going into it I was like zombies….eh, that could make it interesting….but really it wasn’t a zombie story at all they happened to be that unique element infused throughout that influenced and nudged her struggle and decisions. It was powerful and fabulous at the same time.

  20. NotNessie

    I agree with Trish. I read and review lots of YA books, but I review them from an adult perspective, because I am an adult. I think there are TONS of YA novels out there that will appeal to adults, but there are also plenty that just don’t have the crossover appeal. As an adult, I look for different things in a novel than I did as a teen, and I don’t find the same books satisfying that I did then.

  21. Jen

    About half of my reading is YA. When I was young I didn’t read a lot of YA or children’s books so now I’m going back and reading some classics, as well as newer stuff. I just enjoy them more and as with most of us, free time isn’t plentiful so it’s nice to be able to read something quickly.
    I’ve never had anyone look down on YA, and most people I know do read some of it themselves.

  22. brokenwings

    I started out reading adult books when I was younger… Now that I’m 25 I find that the last 30 books or so that I read were Young Adult books… I get alot of weird looks about it but I try not to let it get to me… I’ve had the same problem that I try to join sites, but get rejected for being over the age of 18…I get most of my book titles through Goodreads or just browsing the teen sections of Borders and Barnes and Nobles… I find that YA books have more innocence and adventure than adult books… I also find that I can relate to them more than I can to adult novels…

  23. dsuzuki

    I love just going into Borders and browsing the YA section. :) Somehow the ideas in the YA books I’ve been reading have seem so much more original than a lot of the adult books out there.

  24. pusserboots

    I started reading YA books before I was online. I started reading them when I realized many of my favorite adult genre authors had also written YA genre books. From there I was addicted. Certainly now the book blogs I read help me discover new YA books and authors.

    As far as the two most popular series go: Harry Potter and Twilight, I have to admit to not liking either of them.

  25. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    Like others, I was reading adult books when I was YA, I was reading YA when I was in elementary school. I think a lot of people miss this point, but I think it’s what a lot of us who read like we breathe did. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I hope to blog more indepth about this at some point, but I love YA books.

  26. Lori A. May

    You’re never too old for YA! I think, personally, if someone is a reader at a young age they will always be a reader. That’s been touched on by others. Young readers become lifelong readers. We never lose that feeling of satisfaction in YA material. There’s something we will always connect with… and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

  27. Sheila DeChantal

    No confession necessary – I love them too. :)

  28. Laura Emerson

    I feel so much better as I thought I was the only adult who still enjoyed reading YA books! I love reading the older ones as they help me to escape back into the years when I read them the first time and life seemed so much easier.

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