Monday, February 15, 2010

Time for Adults to come out of the YA closet

I'd say at least 50% of the time I say that I'm a YA author, the adult I'm speaking to looks down for a second and then sheepishly back at me.  And then says something along the lines of "I actually read a lot YA myself."

YA is not just for kids.  And why should it be?  As most people who read YA know, the genre has blossomed in the  last 15 or 20 years, turning from didactic, simplistic fiction into nuanced, complex fiction.  The genre has evolved from Saturday-afternoon special to what actually happens on a Saturday afternoon.  It has authors like Sherman Alexie and Francine Prose contributing to it now, authors who have found critical acclaim in the adult world.  

Why are adults, both as writers and readers, turning to YA?

Story and plot are key to YA.  We YA authors believe that there should be a chain of events in the story (a.k.a. a plot), that kids (and adults) should want to turn the page and find out what happens next, that kids (and adults) are busy and have 400 other things pulling at their attention, and so we try to rivet the reader's attention to the book.

See full size imageNow, to those authors and readers who will start waggling their fingers at me and telling me that plot-driven stories are too-Hollywood, that plot is necessarily formulaic, and accusing plot of being the downfall of literature, I reply: Ever read Beloved?  How about As I lay Dying?  Hmmm... maybe there's some plot in those novels.  And yet, they are anything but formulaic.  Without a doubt, these books also contain excellent characters who experience moving character arcs.  In fact, good literature isn't about the absence of plot; it's about marrying plot to character so that the story is rich.

Plot and character are not at odds, fighting for space on the page.  Instead, they can be and should be united. Any good plot is character-driven.  A character has a goal, something to solve and, as the character tries to solve her problem, she creates plot.  As the effects of her actions affect her, she evolves, which is to say, she progresses along a character arc.   In this way, character fuels plot and plot fuels character.

Adults are turning to YA lit because it is good lit.   It hasn't sacrificed story to a higher belief that plot is for amateurs and because, yes, we YA authors are addicted to plot.  So, if you are an adult who enjoys reading YA, don't hang your head in shame.  Celebrate it and demand that the literature, whether YA or adult, give you both a story and deep, compelling characters to care about.


  1. Our teen librarians started a very successful Teen Books Club for adult readers and it is going gang-busters. Even folks who can't make the monthly meetings read the books and we chat on the fly.

  2. I'll be 40 in March and spend the majority of my reading time with teen books and series. Since I read about 3 books a week, this is a significant amount of time, money, and investment in the genre.

    When I was a kid, reading saved me from a turbulent childhood. Perhaps that's why I love the genre--it makes me feel safe; it gives me pleasure and escape; and moreover, it gives me a sense of growth and potential. As a nearing-middle-ager, I like being connected to trends and concerns of youth. The fire and passion of youth to stretch, to risk, and to fail in young adult lit is amazing.

    There are times I've felt uncomfortable when I'm reading "Going Bovine" by Libba Bray or "Graceling" by Kristen Cashore, and people dismiss the books as "easy reads" because they are for kids. So not true. I'm challenged to think by these books, and other like "Hate List" by Jennifer Brown, as much as the adult writers I read.

    I would love to attend a Teen Books for Adult Readers book club! Maybe one for Twitter or Facebook?

  3. Whole wide Words and Marge need to powwow! Also, I don't know where you are in the country, but Children's Literature Network is having these great book clubs, just like you describe! Check them out at children'