Adults who love Young Adult Literature






Some years ago, it could be said that young adult literature could be trusted as a safety net. One was less likely to find horrific or graphic matter, but that’s no longer true.

I like YA because it channels my inner kid, who has never really been smothered by the matters of adulthood. My sense of humor has stayed right in sixth grade. But also, I find I enjoy stories about the young figuring out life and deciding what to do. I’m not drawn in the least to fiction about the downside of being old: I’ve garnered enough experience of that, and don’t feel that there’s much more to be learned. It’s more fun to look back down the years, and “be” younger, sometimes with the insight of experience, and other times I’m taken by surprise.

Anyway, enough about my tastes: I’m more interested in yours, if you are an adult who reads YA, tell me what you read, and why? This can be old favorites revisited, or new books—anything you want to talk about.


 Sherwood Smith’s e-books (some written when she was a kid) at Book View Cafe



Adults who love Young Adult Literature — 42 Comments

  1. I don’t believe YA was ever completely a safety net. These days it’s a bit worse, but there were always books about fatal disease and Bad Things Happening. I had enough bad experiences with YA as a YA that I mostly read adult fiction. But as I got older I started to realize that I liked children’s and YA fantasy a lot more than adult fantasy, because it was unremittingly character centric, faster, and funnier.

    Now I’m writing YA, and for research I’m reading tons of it. I just read Rampant – the killer unicorn book (which was decent), The False Prince (fun and fast paced, but low on character and setting), and I’ve been glutting myself on Tamora Pierce (OMG, worldbuilding). When I was young I was a little traumatized by the first Alanna book and the third Daine book, but now, since I’m an adult, the ‘growing up’ and romance bits that horrified me aren’t as shocking. (I also read a Posse of Princesses a little while ago. It was awesome!)

    YA is more enjoyable for me now because most of the scary awful things it contains are no longer incipient, I managed to survive middle school and high school and all that that entails. But, I still find YA Contemporaries a little unsettling. I do like some plot in my character centric books, not just angst and death and suffering.

  2. Oh my! I forgot the Problem Novels of the seventies and eighties. Those hadn’t come out when I was a kid (or if there were any, I ignored them) and after a try or two, I strenuously avoided them as I continued to read YA fantasy and SF over the years.

    And thank you!

  3. Most of the stuff published as YA when I was young — or at least the stuff available in my libraries — was pretty much junk, stuff written to provide moral or cultural lessons and not all that focused on real teenagers. (Sue Barton, Student Nurse comes to mind.) I stopped reading it when I was about 11 or 12 and didn’t look at anything labeled YA again until the last few years. (I’m distinguishing YA from children’s books, which I have been reading ever since I could read and still appreciate.) I read books aimed at adults almost exclusively from about 13 on.

    But nowadays any number of books being published as YA are books that should please readers of any age. And, frankly, I find it hard to determine what the rules are for such classifications. Carol Emshwiller’s The Mount came out as an adult book at first, and then was reprinted as YA. If I were a publisher, I would not have released either The Hunger Games or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials as YA, but both are found in that section of the bookstore. It’s not that I don’t think these books are appropriate for teenagers — I think they’re great books for teenagers — but that I find them equally compelling as an adult and don’t think they should be marketed only to young adults.

    (And, thinking as an author, it marginalizes the writers. While I’m sure Suzanne Collins and Philip Pullman are doing well financially, you don’t see their books on lists for the “serious” literature prizes any more than you see great works published as SF/F or mystery there.)

    So I read YA because I think the line between good YA and good adult fiction is fuzzy and in the mind of the beholder. (Modern equivalents of Sue Barton are still being published. I don’t bother with them and wouldn’t expect anyone over 12 to do so either.)

    There’s a much clearer line between good children’s books and good adult books. While I don’t feel nostalgic for childhood when reading a children’s book, I do feel like I’m put in a slightly different mind set, a more innocent way of looking at the world. Reading them as an adult I sometimes layer on the adult knowledge that I have, but I’m well aware that, in most cases, the pov is that of someone who doesn’t know everything grown ups know. Ellen Klages does this brilliantly in The Green Glass Sea: As an adult, you can see what’s going on in the wider world and understand things the child protagonists do not, but Ellen gives you those girls’ view of the world so well that you can remember what it was like to be 12 or 13 and dealing with a world in which you didn’t quite fit. As an adult reader, I am in the child’s mindset while simultaneously looking at the world of the story in a grownup way.

    I don’t do that in The Hunger Games any more than I do it when reading Vonda N. McIntyre’s Starfarers.

    To sum up: I think YA is just another artificial genre classification and that label has very little to do with whether or not I’ll like a book, and probably very little to do with whether a teenager would like a book.

    But it has certainly widened publishing opportunities and a lot of great fiction has been published that way. Anything that brings us more good books is by definition worthwhile.

    • The library where I work bought copies of the Harry Potter books, Hunger Games, and Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief for the adult collection as well as YA, because so many adults are reading them. In fact, our adult copy of The Book Thief is almost always out when people ask for it, so we have to send them to youth services anyway. (We also put the “Pretty Little Liars” YA series in the adult collection, because our YA section skews young and the head of youth services didn’t want sixth graders picking it up by mistake. It’s mostly teenage girls who read those, though.)

    • True. When I was a teacher, I discovered that the kids (junior high) found Philip Pullman uniformly boring and confusing. In fact, few of them saw the movie, either. But adults raved about the books.

      Mercedes Lackey has been published for adults, but I found that mainly the thirteen year olds read and loved her books, whereas when I taught high school, some felt they had grown out of them.

      So these distinctions can be arbitrary, sometimes only marketing.

      I probably should have said genuinely YA, that is, teen or kid protagonists, and coming of age stories of various kinds.

      • genuinely YA, that is, teen or kid protagonists, and coming of age stories of various kinds.

        That still describes a lot of Lackey! I like Lackey for her characterizations and set-ups–she does lonely/misunderstood/bullied children very well–but her resolutions are often a bit unsatisfying.

      • I used to be a children’s librarian, so I always read children’s and YA books for both work and pleasure and though libraries are now in my long-ago, I haven’t changed my attitude at all. I read a lot of fantasy, science fiction and also a smaller amount of historical fiction and I don’t mind what age group it’s aimed at as long as it’s well-written. I write for all ages, too. The line between YA and adult is extremely fuzzy. Back in my library days I recall that Andre Norton’s Witch World books were published for adults in the USA and for the YA market in the UK.

        I’m with the kids on Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. They are the sort of books that adults think youngsters should enjoy. In fact I would imagine that most teens wouold much prefer Pullman’s earlier books: The Ruby in the Smoke (1985), The Shadow in the North (1986), The Tiger in the Well (1991) and The Tin Princess (1994). I certainly do.

        I enjoyed Hunger Games, but in retrospect thought the trilogy illustrated the law of diminishing returns. I read Mockingjay because I’d invested in the characters, but I didn’t find the ending – or at least the personal resolutions – all that satisfying. It will be interesting to see what they make of it in a cinematic version.

      • When I was a teacher, I discovered that the kids (junior high) found Philip Pullman uniformly boring and confusing.

        I adored Philip Pullman when I read him in… middle school, I think it was. I couldn’t have been older than thirteen or fourteen. I think it depends strongly on the kids involved– I read from the adult section at that point, too.

  4. I’ve always liked stories of people growing up, and learning things, which are major themes in YA, of course. I don’t like grim, or major angst, so a lot of the new YA books aren’t my cup of tea (neither are a lot of adult books!). Tamora Pierce is a favorite, as is Robin McKinley. I re-read both of those on a regular basis. A new find is Rachel Neumeier, whose books look like they are going to be familiar, and then head off in new and surprising directions.

    On the non-SF/F front, I’m fond of Gordon Korman’s high-school books. He wrote some very silly children’s books about boarding school early in his career, which are slight but fun. More recently, he’s been going off in other directions. But he has three which are smart, funny depictions of being a bright, somewhat alienated kid dealing with high school and related subjects. His heroes (always boys, but it doesn’t matter) are fairly normal kids surrounded by wackiness. A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag and Don’t Care High leave me howling with laughter in places, but they have heart, too. The third, Son of Interflux, is also a lot of fun.

    Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star is another recent find. Disgruntled girl sent to boarding school in London winds up dealing with the ghost of Jack the Ripper. Her non-genre books aren’t as much to my taste, but I enjoyed them, too.

    • Agreed about Korman! Will have to try Maureen Johnson’s, as long as it’s not a Disease of the Week tale. (One of them was. I adored Bermudez Triangle.)

      • The Name of the Star is not Disease of the Week by any means. Her other genre book is Devilish, in which some outcast high school girls are tempted….

        • I read Devilish and enjoyed it. I knew there was something holding me back from the newer one, and I looked it up: serial killers. Not my cuppa, alas.

          • Not mine either, and I still liked it. But that doesn’t mean you have to.

  5. I read YA because I was looking for a good story with non-icky characters I could identify with. Not a very deep or intellectual approach, but Dang! That’s still why I read them when I can find a good one. I thought Mockingjay really kicked up the ick factor though.

  6. I enjoy YA for the same reason i enjoy comic books — because by and large things move right along. No longeurs of description or decompression of plot for me! I have recently read Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN series with great enjoyment, and you could hardly beat Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus fantasy trilogy for crack cocaine between hard covers.

  7. Mary Aileen’s “look familiar and then head off in surprising directions” mention up-thread made me think of Hilari Bell. Possibly some of her stuff is children’s, but I think a lot of it is YA. I’m very partial to A Matter of Profit, which is excellent, and her Knight and Rogue series, which isn’t necessarily her best work, but I think is among the most fun (Of course, I’m very partial to upstanding hero and morally dubious sidekick), and the Farsala trilogy is also quite good.

  8. I cannot reliably tell YA and adult fiction apart, but I do read and love a lot of YA. I am haplessly fond of almost all of E.L. Koenigsberg’s books. I read every piece of fiction that Madeleine L’Engle published until she died and I still reread her books, both adult and YA, despite their occasionally making me hit my head against my desk. I love, love, love Sara Ryan’s two novels, The Empress of the World and The Rules for Hearts. I prefer Diana Wynne Jones’s works labelled as YA to the works labelled as adult. I think Karen Healey’s work is awesome and I’ve really enjoyed Naomi Kritzer’s trilogy though I am shamefully blanking on titles.

    I also read Julie Anne Peters when I’m feeling low, though she’s a bit hit or miss.


  9. My favourite contemporary YA writer is Melina Marchetta. She writes realism and fantasy and it’s all excellent. My favourite of hers is ‘On the Jellicoe Road’, which is dark in parts, but beautiful and also presents a a puzzle for the reader. Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm series is lovely and intricate. Her three heroines are so different from one another yet each is a complete, flawed, sympathetic character. Margo Lanagan’s novels ‘Tender Morsels’ and ‘Sea Hearts’/’The Brides of Rollrock Island’ are both good, especially the latter. It’s a retelling of the folk tale of the selkie wife. Sarah Rees Brennan’s ‘Demon’s Lexicon’ series is, yes, a highly publicised urban fantasy series, but I need to mention it anyway.

    I don’t tend to reread many realist YA books from my own childhood, perhaps because a lot of people writing in the 80s and 90s seemed to feel that you weren’t doing YA properly unless your characters were miserable for most of the book. I do have fond memories of some of Cynthia Voigt’s books, though. When it comes to YA fantasy pre-90s, I’m fond of Robin McKinley, some Madeleine L’Engle and Meredith Ann Pierce’s Darkangel trilogy (though I cried myself to sleep over the last one). I also periodically reread Michael de Larrabeiti’s Borribles series, which is grim, but electric and gripping. They should really republish and promote it, now that dystopias are all the rage.

    I’m not sure why I like YA so much. It’s not nostalgia – there’s no way I would want to be a teenager again. The sense of possibility, perhaps? The way authors can explore darkness without letting it prevail? The sense of fun? A little of all, perhaps.

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  11. I’m really enjoying the recent surge in dystopian/postapocalyptic YA books. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, with my main requirement being that the world MUST be logical and well thought out. I’m currently reading Julie Kagawa’s “The Immortal Rules” (with vampires–the non-sparkly type), and just finished Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” and Dan Wells’ “Partials.” The former left me burning with questions I hope the second book answers–such as, how in the hell did the Divergent world come about?–and the latter has all kinds of great themes, echoing the Cylon/human conflict in “Battlestar Galactica.”

    • Divergent seemed to have holes one could drive a truck through . . . not to mention someone discovering the same Startling Fact twice, eighty pages apart. Maybe the second one clears all that up!

  12. A couple years ago, I discovered the Clique books by Lisi Harrison. My! I’d never realized that such young girls (middle school) schemed so much. Harrison does this thing with verbs: she puts them together, like “slipped-slided”. These books, along with the it girl series are sold in the YA section of our bookstore. I don’t normally gravitate towards them, but somehow got caught on these, simply because I could relate to each one of the girls, even when they were acting mean. When a new one came out, there was nothing for it, but to go and get it.

    I was talking to a young intern (22 years old) at work a few days ago about the Hunger Games. She said she hadn’t heard of the books until the movie came out. I asked her if she normally goes into the YA section of the library or bookstore. She said no. That it might be embarrassing.
    Interesting, that. Somehow that thought never crossed my mind when I was her age. I never stopped reading kids or YA books, and some of my happiest times reading are when I find a beloved picture book that I’d misplaced for years.

  13. I’m not sure if YA, as a category, has enough common elements to trace patterns… I see a pattern in the type of YA books I choose… and how that connects with other reading choices I make, but I read YA books for the same reasons I read any other story. The easier to describe half is character – I’ll forgive much in a book with characters I believe in and care about – but GRRM has compellingly drawn characters, and his books are on the opposite end of the spectrum from anything I will voluntarily read.

    I hadn’t thought about it until I tried to respond, but… I believe that life has meaning, that courage and integrity and kindness are, and have always been, more present, and more important, than the violence, etc. …and I see that belief reflected in the books I choose to read. I do not deny that darker books can accurately represent a piece of the human experience… but, for me, personally, that is a piece I do not want to explore in depth – however amazingly well written.

    …but I don’t get deep satisfaction from wish fulfillment or posturing either… pain, fear, sorrow they all have their place, and they, and violence, do occur in my favorite YA books… but the context is… uplifting is too strong a term….

    Nancy Bond’s Another Shore and Voyage Begun are at the top of my YA list – neither gives easy solutions, both have sections that really hurt to read, but they ring really true to me.

    Cynthia Voigt has a few books I cannot stand, many I have enjoyed, and one I love: Izzy Willy Nilly.

    Peter Dickinson’s Eva – fascinating, disturbing, and very well done.

    Margaret J Anderson – perhaps on the younger end of YA? (I’m not good at labeling books!) Journey of the Shadow Bairns stuck with me more than any of the others… though I’ve come back to many of them repeatedly.

    Some of my favorite YA authors wrote historical fiction: John & Patricia Beatty, Hester Burton, Cynthia Harnett…

    Sorry, you don’t want five page long list of names!

    As I think more about it, I see that while I read both adult & YA fantasy works, frex, I seem to prefer YA historical fiction and non-genre to adult ones… When I try to imagine Hester Burton’s Beyond the Weir Bridge rewritten as an adult book it loses its freshness, its growth, and its clarity of focus (which could all be the failure of my imagination!). Perhaps the intensity of the young adult gaze… the way one sees the world differently as one goes through the transition to adulthood… and all the other things that are often true of that stage of life have the potential to give a story a viewpoint and complexity that a focal character at a different stage of life couldn’t do.

    Hmmm…. but on the negative side, I think one of the things that irritated me most about Twilight was how locked into a particular YA mindset it was (not the focal character, but the authorial voice as well, imho) similarly flawed adult books have never pushed my buttons the same way. (I don’t want to go through the other examples that come to mind – Twilight is both enormous and muchly ranted about, so I feel reasonably comfortable using it as an example…)

    Tangent: I’ve been going through YA favorites try to re-do them as adult works and I’m now fascinated by the idea of the Attollia books redone into an Inda-style series, especially my favorite King of Attolia…. they’d lose their flavor and charm entirely (as would Crown Duel, which I also love), but they could be utterly amazing in a completely different way.

    I’m going to be eyeing my favorites, adult & YA, trying imagine them switched around… and struggling some more to articulate, for myself, some of the thoughts you’ve stirred up.

    • I need to try some of those you listed–thanks!

      Oh yes, Crown Duel would be awful as an adult book. That is, it would be heavily political, a careful watching and building of the case against the Merindars, which means their evil, petty as well as great, explored. Blarg.

      King of Attolia would not be able to glory in Gen’s charismsa and greatness quite as much, I suspect, as an adult book, but it might be equally brilliant from quite another angle.

      This whole subject of turning YA gaze to adult . . . very timely! (But will not say more on that here.) Thanks!

  14. I seem to be reading more and more YA books of late, in large part because they keep hitting me emotionally harder. I’ve certainly been enjoying adult books as well, but it seems like a higher proportion of the YA ones leave stronger impressions with me. One of the reasons I like YA is I feel like there isn’t as much fuss about subgenre classification, so there’s lots of interesting genre bending going on in YA that would be harder to market in adult books.

    Honestly though, for me the most important part of a story is the characters, and in YA it seems to me the plots are much more driven by individual character’s wills, and I love that. I love the faster pace of many YA books. Probably just because the main characters tend to be younger, the characters have a different kind of intense energy to me–and more stories end on a hopeful note.

    My newest favorite YA author is Laini Taylor. Her prose style took my breath away in a way I haven’t felt since my first Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Some of these have been mentioned, but recently I’ve loved Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon trilogy, Dan Wells’ I am Not a Serial Killer trilogy, Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Franny Billingsley’s Chime.

    • The characters having a different intensity–would that be because their emotional lives are right out front, instead of their public (political) lives?

      • Yes, I think that’s a big part of it. The stakes have a heavier emphasis on characters forming their identities rather than attempting to shape the world in accordance with their ideas. I like both kinds, but there’s a distinction for me, and since YA tends to have younger characters, every little choice they make is inherently a Big Deal. I think another part of it is a matter of the POV distance, and I love the ones where I can follow along with the characters’ emotional arcs.

        • Ideally, a novel or story takes in the most important section of a character’s life. If your life from birth to death is a 6-foot long sub from Subway, the novel or story would be a slice from the very best, most exciting section. (The fashion has passed, for books that begin “I am born.”) And the easiest and most logical place for that most-exciting slice is in late youth or young adulthood, when the course of one’s life is set. Which is why even many adult novels involve young adulthood — as indeed DAVID COPPERFIELD does. It is a challenge to the writer, to find a slice of the sandwich from later on in life.

  15. Some years ago, it could be said that young adult literature could be trusted as a safety net. One was less likely to find horrific or graphic matter, but that’s no longer true.

    So how do you feel about the new, more graphic YA? From your comments above, it doesn’t sound like you’re avoiding the really dark stuff. Would you prefer it to be toned down a bit?

    I actually just reread Wren to the Rescue, which was one of my favorite books when I was ten or eleven, and was surprised by how light and gentle it was. Was it published as YA? I can’t see it being shelved as anything but MG now. Interesting how things change!

    I’ve actually read much less YA as I’ve gotten older than I did when I was actually in the age bracket. When I was a kid I mostly cared about fantasy (regardless of target age group), so I was already shifting into the adult section of the library when I was still in the YA age bracket.

    Now I’m actually writing a young adult novel, so I kind of have to read YA for the sake of professional enrichment, but I’m really selective about it. Lately, for example, I’ve read The Hunger Games, Cinder, Anna Dressed In Blood (which I adored), Ashes, and Wanderlove. I skew dark fantasy/sci-fi, obviously– and that’s what I read from the adult section, too.

    What really bothers me about YA is that I feel like there’s a lot of literary bandwagon-jumping. When I was reading YA as an actual teenager, there were lots of different kinds of stories: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy, Diana Wynne Jones’… everything, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, Patrice Kindl’s weird, lovely little fairy tales… Now there’s an entire section at Barnes & Noble for “Paranormal Romance,” and the “YA Dystopian” subgenre is ballooning at almost the same rate. It signals, to me, that a) the publishers are paying way too much attention to the trends, or b) a lot of YA authors are reading each other’s work almost exclusively and not exploring enough outside their genre, or some combination of a & b. I’m not dissing the stories that are being published– a lot of them are really brilliant, and I’m super glad there’s so much space for new writers in the YA section (especially since I aspire to be one of them). It’s starting to seem, though, as if YA literature is its own country, with its own rules and language and customs– and, while that’s a really fascinating phenomenon, and worth observing, it’s also really important to look outside the YA “box” at what’s being written for other age groups.

    Pardon my rant. This was a really interesting post! Thank you for the chance to vent. : )

    • There are rhythms in publishing–that much seems true to me, even if I’m not sure about anything else. Right now, the paranormal romance dystopians sell, so as long as readers buy them, publishers will. But if readers start going “I’m tired of those,” the publishers will as well.

      I also think that all along, writers have been in dialogue with one another. If there is a very popular idea, then people will engage with it from their own perspective. We will probably see more kid gladiator novels–which have been around for a while.

      Wren to the Rescue would definitely be called middle grade now, as there is no romance in it, and it’s fairly light on the violence.

  16. I have the problem that what I consider Young Adult (people around 20 years of age) seems to be called New Adult these days.

    Anyway. I totally fell in love with Andrea Höst’s Touchstone Trilogy this year and the people I recommended it to on GoodReads, if they read it, also liked it a lot. Cassandra is 16 when she gets transported to another world. It’s planetary romance with psychic space ninjas? You need to like her 1st person voice, though, otherwise you won’t enjoy the series.
    For that matter any of the books I read by her have been enjoyable. I’ll be getting the Medair duology which is somewhat darker in tone, too – have to be in the mood for that.

    Michelle Sagara West’s Silence is much more my YA idea, her first contemporary, set in the real world with ghost/horror elements but centering on family and friends. Loved it. And realised that it is the purest version of her favourite story that I’ve read so far.

    I’ve been checking my GR reading challenge, and these are – bar the manga – the clear YA reads of the past two years, heh.

  17. I am writing what is probably going to be marketed as a YA, although I am not thinking of it that way. Lots of violence, but they haven’t had sex yet, and the heroine starts out age 16.

  18. I have always loved YA because it takes me away from the real world’s problems. More of the sex and violence of adult literature is seeping into YA, but you can still find books that are pretty free of all that. For me, I know there are bad situations in the world, but I don’t want to read about them for entertainment.