When someone asks me what my favourite book is, I bite my tongue and lie.
“The Grapes of Wrath,” I say, or, “Animal Farm.” I watch as they nod their head knowledgeably and remark, “Oh, such fascinating symbolism, do you remember when …” and then I put on a strained smile, all the while pretending that I have read either of those books.
My favourite book is City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and you might not have not heard of it. It follows a young woman who, on the night her mother is kidnapped, discovers a mysterious underground civilisation called the Shadowhunters, and uncovers a secret that she may very well hold the key to their salvation.
It is a Young Adult book.
I am a life-long reader and have read profusely and hungrily, as if, at any moment, the book might be ripped from my hands. I have read Shakespeare, Austen, Woolf, and Wilde. I have devoured books from Dickens, Fitzgerald, Williams, and Murakami. But I have never experienced that feeling of intense excitement and shocked anxiety that I do when I read YA fiction. It’s like I can conquer the world.
In fact, I can.
I can be the predestined leader of a prevailing rebellion. I can be a disillusioned princess about inherit a kingdom. I can be a magical antihero about to undergo a change in heart, as the plot demands. I can be a WWII hero, a wizard, a nurse, a killer, a victim, a demigod, a lonely boy, or even an assassin queen. I can be many things and it comes back to YA.
So why am I ashamed to admit such a thing?
Despite the fact that YA fiction is amoung the highest earning categories for the book publishing industry, if you are caught perusing the YA section at a bookstore, and you do not happen to be a fifteen-year-old girl, doubtless you will be judged by the book community.
Helen Razer of the Daily Review likens Young Adult readers to fans of E.L. James. Journalist Christopher Noxon sees YA fiction as adults refusing to put away their childish things. Ruth Graham from The Slate says that “you should feel embarrassed [if] what you’re reading was written for children.”
As someone who has dedicated their life to the craft, I thank you journalists for making me suddenly question my desire to seek a career in the YA industry.
With articles such as these, it is easy to see why so many people, myself included, refuse to admit our love for this type of literature that encourages girls and boys to be whomever they desire. Why is it shameful when an adult finds heart and courage in the same thing a teenager does?
Even Harry Potter is not exempt from this shame. When Harry Potter blew the publishing industry apart, Bloomsbury rereleased the books with adult covers, so adults could also enjoy the work without feeling like they are reading a Children’s book.
But we know that adults love YA fiction, no matter what the rest of the world may think. In 2012, a study showed that 55% of YA readers are adults. With the rise of the online blogging world, as well as Amazon and Goodreads, it is easy for fans of YA to come together and have conversations without ridicule from our peers.
So when we are forced to return to the real world, we hide our love away like a dirty little secret, and carefully pull it out only when it safe to do so. We lie about our favourite books and talk nonsense about stuffy literary fiction, all the while wishing we could just discuss how awesome Katniss Everdeen is.
It is hard not to feel embarrassed when admitting to reading YA, but it is something I am struggling to persevere through. I no longer want to make that Gladwellian mistake of admitting to something I don’t actually like. By this I refer to the psychological market research conducted by Malcolm Gladwell. In his Ted Talk, Gladwell describes a survey about coffee in which 80% of people stated they prefer a “dark, rich, hearty roast.” In fact, the percentage of people who like dark coffee is closer to 20%, but we are conditioned to lie for fear of how we will be perceived if we say we prefer “milky, weak coffee.”
Like confessing to drinking weak coffee, admitting that I find pleasure in YA books can be humiliating, primarily when the wider society has been conditioned to view children’s books with contempt and disregard (at least when adults read it). It is not how adults should behave and therefore it is wrong.
We need to change the perception around adults reading Young Adult fiction. Books bring people together, not tear them apart. So the next time you see an adult on the train reading a YA book, or your friend confesses their favourite novel is Divergent, don’t say, “Aren’t you a little too old to be reading those books?” or, “When are you going to grow up?” We have grown up. We read YA to escape the humdrum realities of our adult lives.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.