“Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books”: A Response

June 5, 2014 Opinion 16

Today I was browsing the internet, going through my Facebook feed, catching up on my emails, that sort of thing, when I bumped into an article, published over at Slate by a woman named Ruth Graham. It was so eloquently titled “Yes, Adults Should be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books.”

I’m an adult. I’m twenty-six years old, which according to most definitions of the young adult age group, is way outside the group. Most definitions cut it off at about eighteen or nineteen years old so that is definitely behind me. However, as most of my readers know, I am someone who delves completely into the world of young adult literature. Most of what I read is young adult literature.

So I was curious. I decided to read the article. I appreciate opposing opinions. I do. I welcome them. I tend to very vocal when it comes to my opinions and so I welcome those that differ from me, as long as they’re presented in a mature and respectful manner. So I was curious about this article.

By the end of the article, I was steaming. In my personal opinion, it was less about the writer’s personal preference to adult literature and more about insulting the genres of children and young adult literature and defending their “holier than thou” attitude. It wasn’t about convincing adults to broaden their mind and seek out books more geared toward their age group. No, it was more playing on…adults should not read YA because it is bad, and it makes them seem unintelligent and you should be massively embarrassed to be toting one of those books around.

“Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.” 

I don’t understand this. Should I never pick up a Dr. Seuss book again? Should I say, thanks Harry Potter for being so important to my childhood and young adult years but I’ve grown past that? Why should we not get enjoyment from books that were written for ages younger than us. I still pick up a Dr Seuss book and smile, get a sense of nostalgia and laugh my ass off. Those books are SO fun. Why should I feel embarrassed about something that I enjoy? This seems like a very high school approach. I should be shamed for something I like. I should be embarrassed if I’m not what my peers think I should be. That’s wrong. I thought, as adults, we had grown past shaming each other for the people that we are, the things we like and the passions we have.

“Let’s set aside the transparently trashy stuff like Divergent and Twilight, which no one defends as serious literature.”

I’ve defended this up and down, side to side, all around, a million different ways. Until you can pick up a wide variety of young adult literature, please do not sit here and judge it as not serious literature. This blogger admits while she loves indulging in a Twilight reading marathon, I do not consider it to be a serious piece of literature. On the other hand, I definitely consider Divergent to be. When I consider serious literature (which is so vague and opinionated, in the first place), I think of the themes. What can we gain from reading this book? Can we look at themes of family and death and sacrifice and class and all those sorts of things and in Divergent, I think the answer is yes. And don’t ever be so blanket as “no one defends”. I know plenty of people that would shoot you down on that one.

“I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged.”

She mentions The Fault in Our Stars quite often. This is difficult for me to address because I tend to be of the unpopular opinion that this book is highly overrated. I like it a lot, I enjoyed reading it, but I tend to like John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines way more. Its less…romantic. Perhaps I am a grown up because I cringe a little at the relationship in TFiOS. I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend for going on seven years now and I’m fairly sure my boyfriend has never said anything remotely close to what Augustus Waters says in TFiOS, but I love him just as much and more than Hazel loves Gus. I’m just saying. So this one is hard to tackle. But, I don’t think an adult should be ashamed of reading the book, ever. Its beautiful and, yes, a bit cheesy but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose yourself in this seemingly perfect relationship (minus, you know, the cancer…). 

“But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called “YA for Grownups,” put it in an essay last year, “At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.”

Um…what’s your point? Yeah, I read for enjoyment! What is wrong with that? I hate this idea that every single time I pick up a book, it is to better myself, to better my mind, to make me a more intelligent person. Putting aside the fact that yes, I do think young adult literature can make for better readers, and more intelligent people, who cares if I want to pick up a book to just have fun, and enjoy? Why does every move I make in the day have to be for the betterment of my character and my mind? Why take the general pleasures out of every day life? Some days I want to watch a show about super dramatic vampires instead of watching the news. Some days I want to watch a movie with mischievous chameleons and singing snowmen instead of watching a movie that makes me question my country’s political system.

Going back though, who is to say that there isn’t young adult literature that is there beyond enjoyment and nostalgia? I recently read a debut YA novel by an author named Catherine Linka. Her novel, A Girl Called Fearless, focused on a very familiar Los Angeles, where a huge chunk of the female population has been wiped out. Because of this, the male population has responded and heavily so, in controlling what is left. While this is sort of a futuristic, almost dystopian type of novel, the premise of it did not seem so far fetched to me. Every day, politicians debate on what choices I can make on my own body. Girls are kidnapped and sold as child brides (which, by the way, kind of happens in this novel). Girls are kidnapped by the hundreds for seeking an education. This book made me more aware of those things going on around me and how important it is to be thinking about them and to be doing something about them.

Look, the point is, not every book that you read has to be for a purpose other than enjoyment. Sometimes I just enjoy reading books. Reading is my hobby, my favorite pastime, what I literally spend most of my time doing when not working, or writing or any of that sort of thing. I want to enjoy it.

“-but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults. When chapter after chapter in Eleanor & Park ends with some version of “He’d never get enough of her,” the reader seems to be expected to swoon. But how can a grown-up, even one happy to be reminded of the shivers of first love, not also roll her eyes?”

This is where I feel the holier than thou attitude totally starts to play in. Of course I recognize that the relationships in some of these novels can be over the top, cheesy, dramatic, unrealistic but again, why should I be embarrassed to read about those? As an adult, I can recognize that this is untrue of reality but also enjoy it as a book. Why can’t you have both? I do shake my head a little at “He’d never get enough of her” because trust me, there are days when I want to tell my boyfriend to please go away, you’re driving me absolutely nuts and I need a break from you right this second, please, baby jesus. And I’m sure he feels the exact same way. However, why can’t I enjoy a book with a romance like that? It makes me feel happy and I get enjoyment out of that? An adult can still read this novel, enjoy it, and recognize the differences between those romances of your young adult years while also recognizing that reality is much different.

I’ve also read adult books that indulge in the same sort of thing, so why is this something that is being restricted as a “young adult literature” thing. We are grouping an entire genre of novels together, just as you are doing the same with adult literature. There is some bad young adult books and there are some bad adult books. That’s just the way it is. Also, bad is relative. What is bad to me could be something incredibly enjoyable to another reader. But no one should be embarrassed for enjoying the novels that they read.

“Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering.”

Um, no. No. Definitely not. Have you ever even read a young adult novel before? Seriously? I don’t like simple endings. I don’t like endings that make me cry just for the sake of crying. I don’t necessarily always like endings that make me feel like cheering. I like complicated endings. I like endings where I feel a sense of happiness and loss. I like endings that leave me both feeling like its wrapped up but also leaves me wanting more. There are so many young adult books that accomplish this, and I’m wondering if you’re reading the right books. She mentions Eleanor and Park and there is an ending right there that is not quite solved. It leaves it open ended. Things could work out, or they couldn’t and you close the book, wondering.

I recently read the final book of The Mortal Instruments series and found myself disappointed in the ending. I found it safe, too simple, too happy. I recognize those books that have an ending that doesn’t seem to add up to reality so much, and I do get sort of disappointed in that.

But, I repeat myself, what is SO wrong about reading a novel that has a happy ending? Some days…they can really suck. Somedays, my car is on empty and its two days to pay day and I’m hungry and there’s nothing to eat in the house, and my boyfriend has a bad attitude and I just don’t want to deal with it, and there are bills piling up and I’m not sure if I can pay them. There are days that just blow. And if I want to sit in a YA book and read it because its beautifully wrapped up in the end, than I’m going to do so. Somedays I crave an unrealistic, happy ending. There’s nothing wrong with that. Somedays I need to be reminded that things do work out and it takes getting through these rough times to remember that.

“Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this.” 

You do sound snobbish. Joyless and old, that’s something I won’t even tackle. But snobbish? Yes. You do. Because you are literally telling scores and scores of adults that you are better than them because you read a different genre of books than them. You are not really addressing a group of people and telling them that they are better than that. You are literally saying, I read adult books, I recognize their literary superiority to young adult books and, therefore, that makes me better than you. You read young adult books and you shouldn’t, you should read adult books, and you too can be better than them (them being this horrible group of adults that enjoy young adult literature). You are literally saying you are better than them. You say “oh yes, we can read what we want to read” but you don’t really reflect that. You are saying adults are better if they read adult books. You are being judgmental and snobbish, yes. No risk there.

“When I think about what I learned about love, relationships, sex, trauma, happiness, and all the rest—you know, life—from the extracurricular reading I did in high school, I think of John Updike and Alice Munro and other authors whose work has only become richer to me as I have grown older, and which never makes me roll my eyes.”

Congratulations, you learned about these things through Capital-L Literature. Fantastic for you. I learned about all these things through young adult literature. Authors like Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen and JK Rowling and Tamora Pierce and so many more are what taught me about love and friendship and trauma and happiness and LIFE as you so put it. I was taught these things by these books that you continue to put down. Teenagers are learning these things from books that you are continually rolling your eyes at. You’re not a teen, and you’ve gained that wisdom, that knowledge from books that you read when you were a teen, so of course, you’re not going to learn about life from these books. You’ve already learned that.

But I’ll say it again: who is to say that there are adults that haven’t learned that yet? Who is to say that I’m still struggling to learn about life. I’m an adult, in the adult camp outside of YA literature, but I’m still struggling to learn about love and relationships and trauma and life and if I learn about these things through YA novels, than I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s wonderful.

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Look, it basically comes down to this: you are literally shaming people, telling them they are not good enough, they aren’t adult enough because of what they read. You are literally saying they aren’t mature readers. They are unintelligent because they prefer the worlds of John Green, Stephenie Meyer, Rainbow Rowell, and Veronica to authors like Dickens, Fitzgerald, Shakespeare and Faulker.

Look, I was in advanced  classes for most of my educational career. I’m not an unintelligent person. I have always excelled in reading and writing and literature. These are subjects that have always been closer to me. I’ve read Dickens. I’ve read Faulkner. I’ve read those authors, and for the most part, I didn’t enjoy them. I’m sure that I gained something from reading them but that does not mean that I enjoyed them. And I choose not to read them anymore. I find them boring. They were written by mostly men, decades ago, and I just feel no connection to them or their story. I feel connection to today’s YA authors and what they are writing and so this is what I choose to read.

My boyfriend is one of those readers that chooses to read adult books. He’s currently reading Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, who also wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I have picked these up, read a few pages and put them down. Its not that I can’t read them. Its not that I won’t understand them or gain some important life knowledge from them. I just don’t want to. I have no desire to. Those are books enjoyed by my boyfriend, and I don’t judge him for that. I tease him sometimes for being into “hipster” books but that’s what he likes to read. I’m lucky enough that he has also taken my advice on some young adult literature and really enjoyed them, like the Harry Potter book series and Andrew Smith’s Winger. He sometimes rolls his eyes at the books that I get, but he would never judge me for what I read. One, because he knows better haha, and two, because we just enjoy different things and that’s okay. We have intelligent conversations about things, and sometimes he references the books, movies and TV shows that he indulges in and I do the same, of the things I enjoy. And yes, I bring things from young adult literature into these conversations.

I could go on and on and on for days about this. Young adult literature is something that I am incredibly passionate about it. Its something that I spend most of my time reading, and writing, or enjoying in real life. I’ve made incredible friends through my love of YA, readers, bloggers, librarians, booksellers, and authors. I’ve met amazing people, intelligent people, all who enjoy this literature that you don’t seem to think is real, legitimate or serious.

And that’s your opinion. If you don’t like YA literature, if it makes you scoff and groan and roll your eyes, then fine. That’s fine. I can’t change your mind. I wouldn’t hope to because you obviously have a VERY strong opinion about this. However, I would hope that, as an adult, you would treat your fellow adults with respect and acceptance in whatever they choose to enjoy. You may not understand the appeal and love for young adult literature but do not take that away from someone who does. Do not presume to think less of those adults who enjoy this kind of literature just because you don’t.

If you think that reading young adult literature as an adult is wrong, okay. If you think more adults should read adult books, fine. However, calling it an embarrassment is out of line. No one should ever feel embarrassed or ashamed for the things they enjoy to do. Ever. Shaming someone for liking something? Suddenly I feel like I’m back in high school…

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16 Responses to ““Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books”: A Response”

  1. ensconcedya

    Wow. Well, apparently this person doesn’t really enjoy reading that much. Too bad for them. They’re missing out :-) <3 I totally agree with your post!

  2. Bazingirl

    Yep. Agree. Though I DO like the happy endings and I’m NOT ashamed to admit it! I’d also like to add that when OotP came out? it BEAT a MOVIE in sales. A BOOK. A YA BOOK. A YA Book got the world READING AGAIN. Don’t EVER scoff at that. EVER. Way to go SARA!

    • Sara

      I agree so much with that. I think Harry Potter had an IMMENSE impact on how much people in general read today, whatever they read.

  3. Lindsey

    I read for enjoyment. I don’t think it matters what “genre” it’s in. If it’s a good story, I’m going to read it. To have someone bashing someone who enjoys a book is just sad.

  4. Lindsey

    Oh, and what she called “uniformly satisfying” endings. I love my HEAs.

  5. Nicolette Purdy

    Apparently someone is very unhappy with everyone else’s happiness. I didn’t read the other article (didn’t seem worth my time), but yours creates a clear picture of what she wrote about. Good for you for having the open mindedness of an Adult to accept other people’s opinions and preferences without judging. She needs to look a little deeper (with her Adult/sophisticated mind) into the saying “Never judge a book by it’s cover”.

  6. ericakingwrites

    Graham made me feel like if I’m just going to read YA fiction, then I shouldn’t be reading at all. As if once you turn twenty, your mind is full of so much mature insight that reading anything younger than you makes you less intelligent. I support all forms of literature and promote reading, regardless if it’s a YA book, adult fiction, web articles, whatever. And as a fellow writer, I would never disrespect someone else’s work in that manner.

  7. Meryt

    Was she thinking of YA or Mills and Boon? Though I do love a good bodice ripper.

  8. keekeepie

    Um, has this lady even read some of the adult fiction books? The Harlequin/erotica books? 50 Shades of Grey? I’ve read plenty of adult literature as well as YA and I know for a fact that like any genre, adult books has enough pros and cons. Don’t attack an entire genre because of the mainstream books she’s read. I mean, has she the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy? It has so much real adult life emotion and hardships and very rarely, a bit of happiness. Such a great trilogy! This lady needs to delve deeper into the genre before she judges it.

  9. Nerissa

    I’m not an adult but if I were, all that would be what I would say too. I was so mad when I read the article. I’m so happy about the positive responses from the YA community! Thank you for this response!

  10. Kayla Arnold

    AGREEEEEE. 10000%. Granted, I am a teen, but I plan on reading YA until I am 89, or whenever I want to stop. I think the sort of unrealistic element in these stories makes us better, because instead of settling for a plain adult life, we want to make our lives extraordinary. I’m so much more of a dreamer because of the books I read. Also, who does she think writes YA books? It’s definitely not teenagers, they are busy at school, no, ADULTS write them. If adults didn’t read YA books, they wouldn’t have such a good idea on how to write them, so YA books wouldn’t exist for anybody to read. People should read whatever makes them happy. Does it make me pretentious to read adult books while I’m a teenager? No! We true lovers of literature read bits of anything awesome, without shoving them into boxes and labelling them as we see fit. Great article/rant!

  11. Eileen S

    I read for enjoyment period. When I was a kid there was a campaign to get kids to read more. The slogan was “Reading is FUNdamental”, just like that, with the emphasis on “fun”. Have I learned from books? Of course. And they have ranged from Green Eggs and Ham (don’t be afraid to try new things, don’t judge something by the way it looks, don’t form hasty opinions, etc.), The Little House series (the importance of family and the rewards of hard work and perseverance), The HP series (too many to list! ), the Trixie Belden series (friendship, using your head) to “adult” books like Grapes of Wrath, Dickens, GWTW, Stephen King, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, William Blake, Homer, O.Henry, Jack London, Mark Twain. I could go on and on. Those children’s books? I often re-read them. I LOVE them! And I’m never embarrassed to carry them around!

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