The wonderful thing about the novel as an art form is that its appreciation is subjective. I don’t care for The Great Gatsby, but some people find it amazing. I’d rather pick up Stephen King than Jane Austen, although these days I’m reading a lot more YA than horror.
Market statistics point to more than 50% of YA readers are adults like me. This information has led many to speculate on the trend, but I’ve come up with 13 reasons why I think adults love reading YA:
1. Amazing Story
First and foremost, I want a great story. I’m a plot junkie. I want pages that turn, chapters that beg me to leave the light on for ten more minutes, and twists that I don’t expect. Not every book is a suspense thriller, but I don’t want the whole novel to be predictable. Surprise me a few times.
Recommendation: Missing by Kelly Armstrong and One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus
2. Real, Sweet Love
It seems the teenage love triangle has fallen out of favor these days, but I still enjoy a sweet love story, like Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon. When the emotional stuff is done well, not love at first sight or some other contrived device, but the excited fever that comes with new, young love—that’s something! It’s complicated, clean, and messy all at the same time.
Recommendations: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
3. Delightful Writing
Some of the YA novels have witty and beautiful language. David Arnold’s Mosquitoland is particularly lyrical: “So I float in silence, watching the final touches of this perfect moonrise, and in a moment of heavenly revelation, it occurs to me that detours are not without purpose. They provide safe passage to a destination, avoiding pitfalls in the process.”
Recommendation: The Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
4. Tough Topics
Many of the breakout novels and films in YA have been in the category of issue-driven fiction. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why tackles the topics of bullying and suicide. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is about children with terminal cancer. Some critics argue that authors are too cavalier with their treatment of topics like mental health, eating disorders, physical illnesses, self-harm, depression, or other issues, but others applaud such books for taking on the challenging stories and handling them with honesty, humor, and a bit of hope.
Recommendations: All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven and The Future Unborn by Khristina Chess
5. Memorable Characters
The best characters stay with me long after I’ve closed the book, and YA has characters with strong, memorable voices.
Recommendations: Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl and By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters
6. Breadth of Genre
Within YA, there’s so much variety. In addition to contemporary literary novels, I’ve discovered books that are historical, like Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The dystopian future is popular in YA and adult alike. My whole introduction to YA started back with a teen vampire named Edward and a friend who said, “You have to read this! You won’t believe how good it is.”
Recommendation: Razorland Series by Ann Aguirre and The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
Because YA novels focus on story and have a reduced page length from mainstream literary fiction, most authors don’t waste time on fluff. Descriptions are not overly complex and drawn-out, and characters are developed without so much backstory that you know their kin’s next-of-kin. The language is meant to be readable at the high school level. This is not War and Peace or Waiting for Godot.
Recommendations: Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
8. Universal Experience
Most YA novels have some coming of age aspect to them, and all readers relate to this, young and not-so-young. The journey of change is one that most of us continue into our twenties, thirties, and beyond as life events and stages continue. Leaving high school to go to college and having your kids graduate high school are similar moments, evoking common feelings and memories.
Recommendations: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer Smith and The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
YA novels seem to make a more concerted effort to include diverse characters in them, as well as to publish books by diverse authors. This opens the genre to more inclusive voices and stories.
Recommendations: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
10. Creative Techniques
Many YA novels employ creative storytelling techniques. They can be more visual, a step away from picture books, as if still in transition from their middle-grade and elementary levels. This format gives the novels a fresh appeal that reminds the reader the characters are still students.
Recommendations: Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Sometimes the movie tie-in is the hook that brings adult readers to YA novels. YA novels have been made into movies and television series more than ever: The Maze Runner, Divergent, The Hunger Games, Thirteen Reasons Why, If I Stay, Pretty Little Liars, The Fault of Our Stars, and so on. Sometimes the movie is the hook that brings adult readers into the world of YA fiction.
A lot of YA fiction is cheaper than adult books because of its shorter page count.
13. Positive Escapism
For those who read for respite from lives that are full of stress and worries, YA fiction offers positive escapism. Even in those “tough topics” books, the themes are overwhelmingly full of hope and good messages. The novels portray strong young women and men who are learning about life and finding their voices. The characters explore friendship, love, loss, and the other range of experiences that it means to be human.
All of these are great reasons to pick up a YA book. They’re some of the reasons why I love reading and writing them. It’s become my go-to genre, slowly displacing the literary fiction on some of my bookshelves at home.
What about you? Start today by exploring new authors of contemporary YA.