Why Do Adults Read Young Adult Books?

I’ve been reading young adult (YA) books since I was a teenager. I’m one of the lucky people who grew up with them. I first started reading the Twilight series when I was in high school, and though I’m not a huge fan now, it hooked me on YA. After reading mostly classics in college due to my focus on English literature, I went on to read mostly literary fiction and poetry. But it wasn’t until three years ago that I discovered BookTube and truly learned what it meant to be an avid reader.

BookTube is YouTube for books. While you can find a lot of different categories of books discussed on BookTube, YA takes the cake. When I stumbled upon Christine Riccio’s writing episodes, I found the lovely world of BookTuber recommendations. It was through BookTube that I rediscovered my love of young adult books. I now proudly read more than sixty books a year, and at least 70 percent are categorized as YA. I’m twenty-seven––far from YA’s target age range, which is twelve to eighteen.

Teens are not the only people reading young adult books. A Publishers Weekly article from 2012 states that more than 55 percent of YA books are purchased by adults. The article specifies that the adults are not buying these books for their children; 78 percent of them are purchasing these books for their personal enjoyment.

As a lover of YA, I became interested in the reasons why adults read young adult fiction. There have been a lot of theories, and many online articles address this topic. Most of these articles give similar explanations: nostalgia, escapism, and “the Harry Potter effect.” However, there has been very little research aside from theorizing and observation, and I wanted to know the opinions. I wanted hard data rather than just assumptions. I decided to focus my final research paper for my graduate degree on the following question: Why do adults read young adult books?

I interviewed four publishing professionals to get their point of view. I asked them all the same questions: Why did they think adults read YA? Was YA “aging up,” and was this a problem for representation of teens? I then went to the readers. I received an overwhelming number of responses: 2,139, to be exact.

Seeing the data from readers was the most rewarding part of the process. Many people said that YA was fun to read—more interesting to them than adult fiction—and that it was less pretentious. Many said that it was all about the escape. I also noticed a lot of responses about female-driven stories––something that adult fiction, and especially fantasy, doesn’t always offer. One of my favorite responses was, “Less whining about mortgages, co-parenting/divorce.” Others said that there was less violence in YA than in adult fiction. Some even mentioned price: the average YA hardcover is $17, whereas the average adult hardcover is $26 or more.

But perhaps my favorite responses were about the tone of YA in comparison to that of adult books. Many people said that YA left them feeling hopeful. One respondent said, “Adult books are about learning to live in the world we have. YA books are about changing the world.” They are empowering reads. Many readers also said that YA books embraced diversity, which is demonstrated by the success of books like The Hate U Give and Children of Blood and Bone. YA books are simply giving readers some magic. What’s not to love about them?

Do you read YA? If so, what do you love about it?

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