Before I retired, I used to ask not only my students but any kids and young teens I met what they were reading and why.
The general consensus was pretty much this:
The readers liked stories in which something is happening.
Voice was important, though no one agreed on the perfect voice or style.
Relationships were good, but the emphasis was on the emotional interplay; those teens, mostly under sixteen, found graphic sex squicky. Older teens were divided on sex, some liking it, some giggling uneasily.
Edge—that is, explorations of what can be termed Issues—was okay for many, as long as the presentation of such was definitely from the kids’-eye view, as opposed to a book about Issues that seemed driven by a heavy message.
Humor was important to a majority, and “newness” as well.
Newness could be in the eye of the beholder: Some of my eager, passionate readers hailed Eragon for its new ideas. They were astounded when I could predict certain twists and turns in current popular novels, and how did I possibly guess that the farm boy who found the Sword of Destiny was going to turn out to be a prince in disguise? Some adults scorn kids’ books because they are obvious crap, and kids have no taste. Well, yeah. When you’re just discovering the world of books, your reading protocols are just forming, so you don’t see what adults despise as formula, cliché, awkward prose, trite plots and standard characters.
We adults certainly can think of books that we read to pieces as kids and shudder to think of now…and yet it’s not always true, and why is that? The easiest answer is, “What is left when the newness wears off?” The ones that have stayed with me changed with me. Lord of the Rings was a far different book when I first read it at fourteen than when I read it at twenty-four, and at forty-four.
But that’s adults and childhood faves. How about adults who are reading YA books being published right now?
As YA books become more popular, I’ve been asking why adults read books aimed at teens. Sometimes they say that they got into YA literature after discovering Harry Potter, or Twilight, or Hunger Games. Some have admitted that they’ve always read YA, it’s just that fifteen years ago, you got the fish eye if you were hovering over the YA section at the library or bookstore.
Of these adults, some have told me that they prefer YA because it’s cleaner (though anything pretty much goes language-wise these days), because YA books are shorter (though Harry Potter lifted the lid off the old kids-won’t-read-anything-longer-than-60k rubric), that they are usually better written (though I’ve seen some heavy criticism lately, especially of some of the teen vampire and urban fantasy series). One person said that she likes coming of age stories, even though she’s a grandmother—she loves closing a book with a sense of hope. (Though there are some YA books that end with darkness and despair.)
If you’re an adult and reading a lot of YA, why? And if so, have you encountered some books marketed to YA that you didn’t think were really for young readers, but the likelier audience would be college age and up? Can you name some books that you still love?