I love literature geared towards young adults. My favorite book is the classic Veronica Meets Her Match, I actively troll Goodwill for old copies of Sleep-Over Friends (Stephanie was the best), I still happily tell people that I was into The Hunger Games when it had just come out and no one even knew it existed (+5 cool points) and when I chaperoned a senior prom in 2012 I proudly wore a Mockingjay pin that made me very popular with the seniors (+ Infinity cool points). That's why I was disappointed to read Ruth Graham's most recent piece for Slate: Against YA
In her piece, Graham says this about readers of teenage fiction, many of whom are adults:
The largest group of buyers in that survey—accounting for a whopping 28 percent of all YA sales—are between ages 30 and 44. That's my demographic, which might be why I wasn't surprised to hear this news. I'm surrounded by YA-loving adults, both in real life and online. Today's YA, we are constantly reminded, is worldly and adult-worthy. That has kept me bashful about expressing my own fuddy-duddy opinion: Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.
Thank you, Ruth Graham for passing this proclamation. Listen up, adults: It's not good enough that you're reading, now you must be doing the right kind of reading to not feel that you are a raging loser who has accomplished nothing in your life. So when you're in bed scanning through the latest YA sensation (this week it is Panic, but that book is awful — trust me, I've read it), you should feel ashamed that you are not reading Ulysses or Dubliners or that one book by Christopher Hitchens that everyone likes but you don't because it is long-winded and was kind of a waste of fourteen dollars no matter what a brilliant thinker he was. Because, as Graham points out: "We are better than this."
But we're not, really. If Graham's data holds up then a large amount of the adult population finds books written for teenagers enjoyable, and is there really anything wrong with that? Sure, it's annoying when your friends tell you that you have to read the latest young adult book that will change your life, but it's just as annoying when someone tells you that you must read The Da Vinci Code because it is a brilliant work of fiction, or that you have to by the entire 50 Shades of Grey trilogy or you haven't really lived. Those books are for adults and yet they make me much more embarrassed than a copy of The Fault in Our Stars or It's Kind of a Funny Story.
I will grant you that The Fault in Our Stars is not the pinnacle of fiction that everyone is making it out to be (and I wonder how much of its popularity has to do with the fact that the author is a really nice guy who seems like he would make a great friend), but I completely understand why a book about teenagers dealing with cancer would resonate with both teens and adults alike. And I also completely understand why a book like It's Kind of a Funny Story would resonate with both groups. While Graham looks down upon the genre of realistic teen fiction, it feels like she hasn't actually read the books she's needlessly throwing onto a bonfire of shame (I imagine her cackling loudly as she does this, but my imagination is overactive because I read far too many Baby-Sitters Little Sister books when I was a teenager), because if she had she would understand the book's appeal: It's well-written and engaging, yes, but it also deals with the subjects of mental illness and suicide in a sensitive and relatable way. Sure, they're not real, but they're real enough that they can pull the same emotions from us that something like Memoirs Of a Geisha or Ready Player One (which I loved) might.
Look, I'm not going to tell you what not to read (because if you like Gossip Girl that is your business), but no one should be telling anyone (especially grown adults) what to read either. You're a grown-up. Sometimes you want to read David Sedaris with a glas of Ramona Pinot and laugh about human folly and sometimes you want to eat peanut butter cups for breakfast and not take a shower for three days. And sometimes, you just want to read about two kids fighting cancer and taking a European vacation together. And sometimes, unlike Graham, you really do want to go back and read The Westing Game again because it's always nice to revisit the books that remind you why you read in the first place.
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