Dear Book Snobs: It’s Okay To Read YA

YA (Young Adult) fiction kind of gets a bad rap amongst some echelons of society, a phenomenon that’s been well-documented by bloggers and defensive book influencers all across the Internet.

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YA (Young Adult) fiction kind of gets a bad rap amongst some echelons of society, a phenomenon that’s been well-documented by bloggers and defensive book influencers all across the Internet.

(So, is it a nefarious plot of our patriarchal society to hate on anything loved by teen girls? According to the Twitter keyboard warriors, totally! Just the latest way upper middle class people who buy hardcover romance novels every week are horrifically oppressed.)

As a teen girl, I, indeed, do not feel that I can exist authentically, as everything I hold dear is constantly criticized and belittled by m*n. You must never deny the literary merit of Twilight.

Jokes aside, a lot of people do look down on the YA genre for a few main reasons, some of which I think are justified and some of which aren’t. But today I want to talk about why it’s okay to read YA.

Let’s Talk About Young Adult Fiction

Why Do People Look Down on YA Books?

Might the distaste for YA actually have something to do with sexism? Perhaps, but I think it’s largely a more general “teenagers-don’t-have-taste” thing.

In general, I think the hate on YA books simply stems from that fact that people want to seem intellectual and mature, and you won’t exactly get that reputation by telling people you read YA because it’s written for teens and teens aren’t exactly considered intellectual and mature.

And the reasoning behind this makes sense, to some degree: after all, in general, media created for kids is not going to be as sophisticated as media created for adults, simply because younger people don’t have as much life experience or understanding of the world. In general. Proportionally, adult books are more sophisticated.

The problem, though, is that this is not true all of the time, and by writing off the YA genre, you’re missing out on a lot of books.

Besides– not every adult book is Dostoyevsky– do you have the same judgement for harlequin romance, terribly-written thrillers and books like Fifty Shades of Gray?

At the end of the day, good books and bad books exist everywhere you go in the world of literature, and it’s unwise to write off an entire category, like Young Adult fiction.

Reading for Entertainment vs. Enlightenment

What I see as one of the key factors in this debate is people’s motivations for reading, since YA is often criticized for its (usually) lighter and less complex subject matter.

If you’re reading purely for some fun escapism, you’re not going to head for literary fiction or classics. Most likely. And that’s okay– you just want something entertaining to pass the time. If YA fits the bill, that’s your prerogative.

Besides, people read different genres for different reasons. On my blog, I’ve reviewed a huge variety of books, from so-called highbrow literature to random YA thrillers I read on a Saturday afternoon to pass the time.

Most of the bloggers I have met online have similarly eclectic tastes– and there’s nothing wrong with that. The person you see reading a book you consider “trashy” probably reads a ton of other books as well.

Not to mention, the distinction between “literary” and “genre” fiction is a social construct and oftentimes means very little. The “literary merit” of any given book is very subjective.

Yes, some books are more worthwhile reads than others, in my opinion, but that’s simply what I think based off what I want out of reading and what I value in a book.

Should Adults Read YA?

Then there’s the whole “can adults read YA” debate.

My short answer is: of course.

My long answer is: everyone can read whatever books they want. However, I do think it is slightly weird if you’re an adult and still ONLY read books written for and about teenagers.

I would not stop anyone from continuing to read only YA if that is what they want to do, but I think it’s important to expand your horizons.

I read predominantly YA from age 13-15, and then I started shifting away from it as I liked reading books about people who were older than I was rather than younger, and also the current trends in general fiction more closely align with my reading tastes than the trends in YA. My favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, and mystery/thrillers and the only one of those that gets a lot of buzz in YA is thrillers.

(There is also a lot of stuff YA Twitter and a lot of politicization in the genre recently which kind of rubs me the wrong way, but I have other posts on that)

What I find insidious, though, is the idea that no adult should read YA ever, because it is always trash mindless entertainment that only vampire-romance-loving idiots could stomach– which is simply not true of all YA books.

The official distinction between YA and other literature is that it is written with teens in mind– which doesn’t necessarily make it bad. So even if you’re an adult, there’s nothing wrong with reading some YA. As C.S. Lewis once said: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

5 of My Favorite YA Books

To close out this post, here are five of my favorite YA books that I’d recommend to people who don’t believe the genre is worth reading:

turtles all the way down cover image
between shades of gray cover image
speak by laurie halse anderson cover image
the light in hidden places by sharon cameron cover image
ella minnow pea by mark dunn cover image

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: an actually-accurate and sensitively explored portrayal of a teen with OCD (my review)

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: a historical fiction novel about Stalin’s deportation of Lithuanians in the 1940s and the oppression that was covered up by the Soviet Union (my review)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: a novel about a high school freshman dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault (my review)

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn: an extremely creative allegorical story about the slippery slope of authoritarianism

The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron: a slightly fictionalized account of how a teen named Stefania Podgorska hid thirteen Jews in the attic of her apartment in Przemysl, Poland during Nazi occupation.

Do you read YA books? What do you think of the disdain for Young Adult literature? Let me know in the comments!

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37 comments on “Dear Book Snobs: It’s Okay To Read YA”

  1. Excellent post.

    I grew up with the YA Movement was getting HUGE (mostly due to both “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”) and the “popular” books kept gaining more attention than the “well-written” YA books. YA continues to get a bad rep, but EVERY GENRE across ALL AGE GROUPS have “crappy” and “amazing” books.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with all of the points in this post- I don’t understand why YA is belittled so much either! We’re already dealing with high school which seems no less than a place right out of hell sometimes, we would obviously want to read about something that is better!
    Also, Turtles All the Way Down is one of my favourite YA novels too, and I recently bought Between Shades of Grey and I am pretty excited to read it!
    Also, you should try reading Holly Bourne, I think you might like her books!
    Great post Emily!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I completely agree – I usually use YA novels as a “palate cleanser” (for lack of a better word) not meaning that their plots are simplistic (because a lot of them aren’t – my school has a semester-long class reading the Harry Potter series and talking about the complexity of this COMPLETELY YA series – for another example, the 39 Clues series), but because I typically have an idea of what I’m getting into with them, in a way that I can’t normally say about authors like Dostoyevsky (to use your example – and also because I loved Crime and Punishment 😄). Sorry – that became a rant very quickly 😂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely! They can definitely be easier to get into while remaining complex and sometimes I just want to read something fun. As a sidenote, I have not read Crime & Punishment but it’s one of those books I need to get to one day so hearing you liked it is encouraging me to read it soon

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly! And on the side note, I’m glad it encouraged you, but I just want to give you fair warning, as it’s set in pre-revolution Russia, there are some pretty heavy topics that get brought up, BUT it’s still a very good read, ya just gotta be ready for it 😂

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve read a few YA books, and have enjoyed every single one I’ve read. I don’t seek out YA books because I feel like they are not targeted to me, so I don’t feel like an authority on YA books. I never realized that people look down upon YA books, and always thought it was a strong genre. Thanks again for this insightful post!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It’s so sad that YA has this rep. I also feel like people forget that YA authors are adults too and YA books are not badly written! There is definitely this idea of being ‘above YA’ as in people think that they have outgrown it and are better than it, which is frustrating because YA is great and I wish people would at least appreciate what it does for so many teens. I don’t care if someone doesn’t like YA, I only care when they start looking down on people who read it and not seeing it for what it is. YA books are just books written for a younger audience.

    Did you see Pages Unbound’s post about ‘It’s 2022 and apparently people are still bashing adults who read YA’? Highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it yet!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “I wish people would at least appreciate what it does for so many teens” well said! You don’t have to like YA yourself, but regardless it has had a huge impact on the world of publishing and appeals to its target audience– teens

      Like

  6. I have such a soft spot for YA. As much as I love my serial killers and murder mysteries, I can’t help but enjoy curling up with a YA, and some of the plot lines are more detailed than ‘adult’ novels. Great post! x

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This was such an interesting post. I love YA books, always have and always will. Of course I read other genres of book (sis here loves range hahahahaha), but I don’t agree that reading YA books as an adult should be looked down upon. In fact, it’s kinda sad that YA has this rep bc some of the books in this genre are pretty good, enjoyable and maybe even better than some adult books out there.

    Anyway, I’m new to your blog and just wanted to let you know I think it’s great and I really enjoyed reading this post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I must confess that I already read this post a lot earlier, found it super interesting, but didn’t comment because I was in such a rush that I wouldn’t have gotten to say everything I would have wanted to say. And then I forgot to come back here! Whoops… 😅🙈

    But anyway, I really enjoyed this post, Emily! And I think you’re right in saying that YA has a bit of a bad rep because it just isn’t considered as challenging and because it makes some peope (🙄) feel smart to have something to look down on. And that really makes me wonder – does something have more merit because it is boring and super convoluted and all about the **themes** (Hello, Heart of Darkness and Absalom, Absalom! 😅) and not a book that is simply good fun to read? I don’t think so. And I would argue that even a book like Twilight has the potential to spark indepth literary discussions if you look at it from the right angle, so I don’t think “trashy” should necessarily be equated with “mindless junk” either. I think the beauty of literature is that there are so many different books out there that mean so many different things to different readers out there, and, like you, I don’t believe you should ever judge people for what they like to read! (Unless all you read is super racist hate literature or something, then I might start to get concerned… 😅)

    However, I do also agree with you that it’s advisable to branch out. It’s only natural that you will gravitate to protagonists in a similar age as you, and relate to books targetted towards a more adult readership as you get older. So if you never try those books, you’re probably missing out on a whole bunch of new favorites! Like, when I was 16, I couldn’t fathom ever not reading primarily YA – now, those books only make up about 20% of my overall reading. But still, I do love a good YA book every once in a while, and don’t think I would ever abandon it completely! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhhh noo not Heart of Darkness lol
      You’re right, something like Twilight does have potential for discussion depending on how you look at it, just goes to show how subjective everything always is when it comes to literature. I agree, YA will always be pretty fun to read, I’m sure

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting perspective; I appreciate how you took the time to consider both sides for such a contentious topic.

    As someone who is now slightly out of the age range for most YA fiction (I’m now turning 19, and notice most YA protagonists are >/=18 or still attend high school), I have to admit I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with the genre and can see why some people strongly dislike it. As we age, we’re inundated with responsibilities that leave us with less time for reading so our novel choices become a lot more particular and scrutinising. For an adult that is seeking engaging entertainment in their past time, there is a lot of YA that can fulfill that need, but I personally have found that there are many clichés and tedious elements that make YA more so annoying to read than energising (love triangles, miscommunication tropes, emotional immaturity—all not necessarily exclusive issues to YA but definitely more prevalent than what you’d find in their adult fiction counterparts).

    Returning to the topic of my limited opportunities to read, with the vast adult fiction selection available I simply don’t see the rationale in tackling the myriad of YA books that I personally don’t see as morally insightful or relevant to my life situation. I don’t have a significant reading history unlike most book reviewers, so I still have a lot of classics and adult fiction staples that I’ve yet to read and hope to try one day. However, this is just my individual stance, and since I’ve just recently reviewed a middle grade novel I wouldn’t say I intend to completely write off non-adult genres—I just won’t be as avid about keeping up to date with the newest releases. Consequently, I can understand the frustrations of similar readers who are looking for obscure adult fiction recommendations which are unfortunately lost in the swathe of YA promotion in the booktube community.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting! To some degree I agree with you— I don’t read many mainstream YA books for similar reasons and I am just 2 years younger than you, but I have found several YA books that do not have the same plots/tropes. At this point, there are too many books to read so I just read whatever sounds good whether it’s YA or adult

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly– that’s also something I forgot to mention, it’s also not good when adults read YA and then criticize it for being immature because they are not the target audience. This doesn’t happen as much for MG. When I started finding YA immature I moved to reading adult
      I also could write a whole post about the way YA has started to cater towards its retained audience of women in their 20s, with the uptick in series that suit this demographic more than actual teenagers, such as A Court of Something or Other series, which I haven’t read but I’ve heard… things…
      And yes, people can read whatever they want and I am not going to go up to people and tell them to stop reading YA but at the same time I wouldn’t encourage adults to stay reading only YA, because there are so many other books out there. There are also the people who try to claim that YA is not usually easier to read than adult and the people who claim it’s sexist to not like YA which are both not really true

      Like

  10. I read this post because I have a novella going to an editor next week. I am trying to decide if it is YA or not, and if not, what it is. I will follow the blog as I go along. I read American Road Trip last summer and really enjoyed it. I would call it YA, The next book was the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Variety is the spice of the mind! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. As someone studying literature in uni, YA books are considered as works to be studied so I don’t get the snobism.. I think people should not look down on books simply because it is not ‘for’ them. If adults don’t want to read YA, it is fine, just don’t bash it because it isn’t written for them

    Liked by 1 person

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