The future of YA (part 2) | why do so many adults read YA?

Last month, I kicked off a series of blog posts discussing the future of young adult books. Part one of this series was all about trends within the age category, including the big books that have made a lasting impact and where I think trends are heading in the future.

Today, I’m looking more closely at young adult books and who reads them – specifically, why adults read YA books – and what this means for the future of YA.

Though I am certainly no expert in anything that I’m talking about here, I am technically an adult, since I’m 22 years old, and I’ve been reading YA since I was in elementary school. So I feel at least slightly qualified to be talking about this.

First of, I think we need to properly define YA. Like I talked about in my last post, “young adult” is typically described as an age category of books for readers age 12 to 18. However, plenty of people who are much older than 18 also read these books. According to a survey in 2012 (the most recent year I could find, unfortunately), about 55% of YA books were bought by people over the age of 18ย (x). Which means that YA isn’t just for teenagers these days.

Why is that? Why do so many adults reach for books that are categorized for people younger than them and unreservedly, unashamedly, unironically love them?

I can think of at least a few reasons…

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Diversity and representation

Within the last few years at least, diversity has become a major tenet of YA and, for many adults, a huge draw to pick up those books. Because YA isn’t considered as mainstream as other literary categories, it has always been a place to push boundaries and question what has already been established. As a result, the category has only grown more diverse in the past decade, highlighting more voices and experiences than ever.

In 2014, the organization We Need Diverse Books was founded by YA authors to push for diversity within children’s books. In 2015, YA author Corinne Duyvis created the term #ownvoices to describe books about diverse characters written by authors of that same diverse group. These are only a few examples of real, marked pushes for diversity in YA.

Even something as simple as looking at the New York Times Best Sellers list for YAย indicates the diversity within the category, with multiple books featuring people of color on the covers and books featuring LGBTQ+, mental illness, and other representation.

With this in mind, it makes sense that adults want to read YA books. Gen Z might be considered the most diverse generation in history, but people of marginalized identities exist in every age category, and they want to see themselves represented on the page as well. YA books make it easy to find that representation.

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Telling interesting stories in interesting ways

YA isn’t a genre, it’s a category. This means that YA can be ANY genre it wants to be! You like mysteries? We’ve got mysteries! What about fantasy? We have SO MUCH. Historical fiction? Contemporaries? Sci-fi? YA has it all, simply written for an audience of teenagers.

In my experience, YA doesn’t lack anything that adult fiction has. It still can have complex stories, interesting characters, plot twists, beautiful writing, thought-provoking themes, and all that jazz. The major difference is that it is usually written in a way that’s more accessible. This doesn’t necessarily mean simpler. It means that these books are written for teenagers, so they’re written to be understandable and interesting to teens.

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And honestly, that style is often so much more entertaining to me as a reader. Obviously, everyone has their preferences, but I would so much rather read a book where things actually happen from the beginning rather than 150 pages of setup before the plot gets going. I’ve loved a lot of adult books, but I’ve also read a lot that simply didn’t interest me at all. (Of course, the same could be said for YA. I just tend to have better luck within that category.)

More than that, too, there’s something about YA that feels so hopeful. Plenty of YA books tackle incredibly heavy topics, such as police brutality or rape culture or mental illness or defeating an evil dark lord – but almost always they present an ultimately hopeful viewpoint, even if the story doesn’t end happily. They’re not simplified, either. Those are the types of stories that I love and always want to read.

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The aging of coming-of-age

A major theme in YA books is the coming-of-age story, a narrative that focuses on the transition from childhood to adulthood. In fact, this is, in my opinion, one of the factors that differentiates YA from adult fiction with young protagonists. Pretty much any YA book you read will have this storyline at least to a small degree.

And I’ll be honest – that storyline still resonates with me, as I’m sure it does for a lot of adults who don’t feel particularly good at adulting. Since there is a distinct lack of book featuring protagonists in their late teens and early twenties dealing with these feelings (more on that later), I have to reach for YA for this kind of story.

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A few generations back, someone my age would probably already have a house and a full-time job and probably be married and maybe have a kid. But that isn’t necessarily the case anymore for people of my age. Millennials and Gen Z are getting married later, taking unconventional career paths, and generally redefining traditional adulthood. The whole “coming-of-age” feeling doesn’t stop when you stop being a teenager; there’s a lot of figuring out and self-discovering that continues into your adult years. People still want to read books that reflect that experience and help them understand their place in the world. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to me that so many adults, including myself, choose to read young adult.

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The New Adult question

In 2009, St. Martin’s Press coined the term “new adult” to refer to books with characters in their late teens and early 20s (x). You might think this would be the perfect bridge between young adult and adult, telling those coming-of-age stories for people who are older than 18. Sadly, the category hasn’t exactly taken off the way one might hope.

Right now, New Adult is dominated by romances and erotica. While there’s nothing wrong with these stories per se, it has created a stigma against the age category and prevented it from growing into anything near as ubiquitous as YA. We don’t see much NA fantasy, sci-fi, or other genre books – NA is stuck in contemporary land. As a result, the books about people in their late teens and early twenties are too often focused solely on romance rather than exploring the many issues that arise during that period of life.ย 

If New Adult broke out of its current stigma and became an age category as expansive as YA, I would imagine that more adults and people my age would be reading those types of books. Right now, there is a massive gap in the market in between young adult and adult fiction, and a category bridging that gap would no doubt be successful if we actually put effort into it.

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The future of YA

Writers and publishers know that a significant portion of YA readers are not teenagers. So what does this mean for the future of YA?

There has already been a noticeable aging of the YA category, with an increase of books that are considered “upper YA”. I’ve seen plenty of discussions around whether books such as Six of Crows or A Court of Thorns and Roses should even be considered YA. And there has been conversation when adult books like Red, White and Royal Blue and A Darker Shade of Magic are miscategorized as YA because they have younger protagonists and therefore don’tย totally fit with adult fiction.

When publishers see that lots of adults are reading YA, they want to publish YA with topics that appeal to adults. However, this creates the danger of alienating teen readers, the intended audience of these books. In my opinion, the best way to prevent this from happening is to push for New Adult as a legitimate category that’s as broad as young adult. Personally, I would love to see more books about 20-somethings going on quests and solving mysteries and figuring out their lives just like teenagers do.

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Plus, we need to push for as much diversity and representation in adult books as we see in YA. Imagine if the New York Times Best Seller list for adultsNew York Times Best Seller list for adults were as diverse as the YA list! Wouldn’t that be incredible? Then adults wouldn’t have to read books about characters much younger than them to see themselves frequently represented in fiction.

I think adults are always going to be reading young adult books. This age category will always have stories that appeal to older readers as well as younger readers. But if we want young adult to be a category that is first and foremost for teens rather than just about teens, we need to look at what appeals YA to adults and get some of that into the books written for adults.

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All that said, here are just a few New Adult* books that I’ve read and loved:

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* and by New Adult I mean books with protagonists in their late teens and early 20s

If you’re an adult, what makes you want to read YA books? If you’re a teen, how do you feel about the fact that so many adults read YA? How do you think this will impact YA in the future? What are your thoughts on the New Adult category? Do you have any NA book recommendations for me?

x Margaretย 

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35 thoughts on “The future of YA (part 2) | why do so many adults read YA?

  1. I’m in my early twenties and still love reading YA books basically for all the reasons you listed above. The diversity of characters, the intriguing plot lines and all the coming of age vibes. I’m still new to adulating and I. Need. Help. Omg. Reading about relatable characters going through the same thing gives me the hope and courage to keep pressing on and try to figure out how to life and adult. And I agree about the New Adult category. We gotta push it and get some great reads out there for us twenty somethings. My WIP would fit nicely in that category and reading your post just made me more inspired to finish it and get more of those books that people need OUT THERE. โค This was a fantastic read, thank you! โค

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being new to adulting and needing help is SUCH A MOOD. It’s so nice to read about people who are still figuring out their lives and feeling a little lost, even if they’re younger than me, because that’s my constant state! It would be so nice to have more about people my age, though! Oooh I’m glad I gave you some encouragement to work on your WIP – if it fits with that, I DEFINITELY want to read it! ๐Ÿ˜„ Thanks for your comment!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do think representation is getting better all around, but I agree, that YA has led the pack there. I started reading YA again, because of my daughter, but I keep reading it, because the stories are good. For me it’s a mix of nostalgia and the hopeful tone, that the books tend to have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’m really happy that books are generally becoming more diverse, and it’s awesome that YA is pushing that so hard ๐Ÿ˜Š And I definitely think nostalgia is a large part of the appeal of YA for adults as well! Glad that you’ve found so many that you enjoy! ๐Ÿ˜„

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic post! I agree that YA is amazing because it has so much diversity and the coming of age struggles definitely don’t end with high school! I wish the ageing up of YA would stop though because I remember as an early teen around 12-14 years old, I found it so hard to find books to read since everyone was so old, and although I believe anyone can read YA, I think it’s definitely first and foremost for teens!

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  4. I’m a teen and I’ve seen this trend!! I can imagine that I’d keep reading YA even if I became an adult.

    Instead of New Adult getting prominent, I was thinking that maybe upper YA could merge with NA to become truly Young Adult books (like people 16 and up or so) And then younger YA + older MG could become Teen books or something like that!! I like the idea of Teen books because YA spans such a huge range of books and content and some younger teens might stumble upon grittier things that might suit them some years later!!! but not now.

    I grew up in an environment where nobody cursed aside from the very rare “crap” or “damn” so when I started reading YA, I got a bit of a shock because of the language. And also the kissing scenes made me feel a tad embarrassed. (I did get over both) So I was thinking that a category specially for 13-15 yos would be wonderful for a transition!! Alright that was a bit of a tangent but here are my thoughts (and ps: RWRB was so good!! I can’t stop thinking about it <3)

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    1. Thank you for your comment!! I love that idea of “upper YA” becoming more New Adult and having a Teen category for slightly younger audiences. There are lots of YA books that I wouldn’t feel totally comfortable handing to a 12 year old, and this would clear up a lot of confusion! I was pretty similar in a lot of ways – when I started reading YA books with more “mature” content, it came as a surprise haha! As an adult it seems totally normal, but for younger readers it’s not necessarily!

      And YESSS I’m so happy you loved RWRB!! โค๏ธ๐Ÿ’™

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great post, and you said some REALLY interesting things. As a result, I have *thoughts*.

    1. I worry that because YA books are so heavily plot-driven (in an effort to keep readers from getting bored I guess) that people who have exclusively read the genre since they were 12 have a hard time adjusting to slower “adult” literature. Like you said, you don’t want to read 150 pages of set-up before the plot gets going, but there is SO MUCH MORE to those books than *just* the plot. I notice that a lot of YA bloggers pick up popular adult books and say they are “too slow” or “boring”, and that makes me sad.

    2. I wonder if the YA bestseller list is really all that more diverse than the adult best seller list. *hides* Admittedly I haven’t read any of the books on the adult bestseller list, but I think a lot of the people who laud the diversity of YA haven’t either. It seems to me that publishing in general is growing increasingly diverse, and I rarely pick up a book that doesn’t have some kind of representation (usually LGBTQ).

    Anyway, great post, look forward to reading more if you are continuing the series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh thank you for such an in depth comment! ๐Ÿ˜„

      1. That’s so interesting, since most of the YA books that I’ve loved are actually way more character focused than plot focused! I think YA authors are told that they need to really hook the reader from the beginning, which is why they don’t take their time getting going, but I don’t think that always means heavy plot, you know? But I can’t definitely see how reading mostly YA makes it more difficult to transition to adult books. I guess it mostly comes down to personal preference too?

      2. That’s completely fair! I haven’t read most of the books on the adult bestseller list, and I do know that there are some great diverse ones there. And it’s so awesome that publishing in general is getting a lot more diverse! Still, from what I’ve seen (obviously not the most scientific data gathering lol), diversity in YA seems more expected and accepted? I don’t think I’m explaining that very well haha – maybe I’ll have to do another post on the subject! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Thank you, and I’m definitely looking forward to writing more in this series!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think that maybe the reason YA seems more expected is because a lot of YA authors are really involved on social media, whereas a lot of adult authors aren’t. So we see them talking about it, a LOT. I think, also, that women are writing more diverse books than men (although I’m not basing that on ANYTHING other than what is on my personal bookshelf), which is why maybe the bestseller list comes across as not that diverse. Because James Patterson will always be on the bestseller list, and the dude is just going to write what he always writes because it obviously sells. Meh. Publishing is weird.

        I think the books I tend to love that YA bloggers call “slow” are often books that are very atmospheric. These sorts of books take their time so that you can really feel immersed in the world. I guess, to me, YA immerses you by jumping headlong into whatever is going to happen so you don’t have any choice but to immerse yourself. They’re very different approaches, and I like them both, which is why I’m sad when I meet someone who can only enjoy one or the other. But, like you said, different people just like different things.

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      2. That’s a good point! And yeah, from my observations it does seem like women do write more diversely (but that might also seem that way because I mostly read women writers lol). You’re absolutely right that publishing is weird ๐Ÿ˜‰

        I’d say that’s probably true – those atmospheric adult books do tend to be slower and don’t grab you as immediately as lots of YA. I guess that approach just isn’t for everyone!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m 19 so I really am at an age where I bridge the two categories, but honestly unless it changes I don’t see myself moving to adult books anytime soon. YA just has so much more range and interesting stories. I would like to see more of an expansion of NA as I think it’s definitely a gap that needs to be filled. My favourite (and possibly only?) NA book series is The Foxhole Court trilogy – I totally recommend it! ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Liked by 1 person

  7. marydrover

    Gosh, what I wouldn’t give for an actual NA section in the bookstore that featured fantasy. I want so badly to read about a 25-year-old that has magic and has a little gang of thieves and criminals at their back that’s hellbent on saving the world. It’s what my main series of novels is about, and it’s what I want to read, but it’s nonexistent, and so here I am, reading about Kaz Brekker, the unlikely 17-year-old hero. (I constantly forget that all of them are teenagers because of the sheer amount of insanity they go through, and am always aging them up to mid-twenties in my brain.)

    I think you’re dead on. We do desperately need a NA category. Fangirl is one of my absolute favorite contemporaries because I can probably count on one hand the amount of truly excellent novels I’ve read that take place in college. (Actually, it’s two, and the other is Emergency Contact.) And I want more! I’ve seen ADSOM and The City of Brass shelved in with adult lately, but I don’t think they fit there, either, and this is becoming very rambling because I’m just frustrated, damn it! Haha, in a good way, though, you’ve definitely got me thinking!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RIGHT?? I just want to read about people who are my age going on the same adventures as teenagers! Haha I do the same with the SoC characters – there’s NO way they’re in their teens, right? ๐Ÿ˜ฌ And yeah, simply the fact that there are so few books set in college is weird to me, since it’s such a transitional and important time of life. Thanks so much for your comment – I always encourage rambling! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ah, oh my gosh, this post is just as good as your Part 1! โค Everything you said here is spot on! I think one of the reasons that YA has soared in popularity with readers who are past their teens years, is because of the wide variety of categories offered, and the many themes presented. YA truly has so many novels to choose from, and since it is often found appealing by readers both younger and older, it's no surprise that many of these books are becoming increasingly more popular than adult novels of a similar nature.

    I also really like what you said about NA. It's a shame how there are the stigmas against it, and that many NA books are being falsely categorized as YA, simply because they don't conform to the college romance/erotica stereotype.

    Wonderful post, Margaret! โค

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! And yes, absolutely. YA offers such a range of good books, so it’s not a surprise at all that people of all ages love it. Hopefully someday NA won’t be all about romance and erotica and we can get some amazing books for that category! Thanks so much for your comment!! ๐Ÿ˜€ โค

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  9. I like to think that I won’t ever stop reading YA.
    I feel that there are more stories to be learnt from YA, and diversity plays a large part in that.
    NA and Adult novels seem to follow all very similar plots, and I feel that YA stays relevant to the reader throughout any age since we can all relate back to when we were that age.
    – Emma ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. Totally agree with everything you wrote here! I’m 23 and I still read YA because I really like finding books that would have resonated with/helped me when I was a teenager. I also think that I’m drawn towards YA because I’m queer, and I didn’t have many of the stereotypical high school experiences as my straight peers. Reading queer YA contemporaries in particular allows me to read about romance and love that I never got to have when I was a teenager. I just don’t think that a lot of queer adult romances have quite the same wish-fulfilment for me as YA ones do!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much!! Yep, I LOVE finding books that would have helped me as a teenager, especially with queer representation that I didn’t see when I was younger. I think wish-fulfillment is a good way to describe that! That term usually has negative connotations but in this instance I think it’s a good thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. THIS!!! I love this post so much, you have no idea ๐Ÿฅฐ๐Ÿฅฐ๐Ÿฅฐ It sums up so many of the thoughts that I have on this topic, because age-wise I’m getting farther away from the YA category but a lot of the Adult books don’t really get me or what I need from my books. I wish there were more New Adult books that focused on a bigger spectrum of themes, because right now it’s very romance heavy and that’s certainly not everyone’s (me included) reality.

    I definitely think it’s best if we could establish New Adult as a transitionary genre, because YA is getting more ‘upper’ with older characters and I have seen some people on Goodreads comment negatively on lower YA titles, saying they don’t like that the MC’s are so young – so that’s an issue ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Basically, it’s me @ publishing: Make NA a thing again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh yes! I would LOVE to see more themes explored in New Adult beyond romance – there’s SO MUCH there! And I so agree about the issue with lower YA. As YA seems to get older, the ones with younger characters seem too young – which shouldn’t be a negative at all, since there are plenty of people in that age group who want to read about themselves too! Absolutely @ publishing: Make NA a thing again ๐Ÿ˜„

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I would totally be on board for books about 20 somethings going on quests! (I’m 27) For me, unless the main character is obviously a child or if they are in school then I tend to ignore their stated age and picture them as my age. Age is just a number anyway ๐Ÿ˜‰ I find that in Fantasy specifically, adult fantasies are more EPIC-type quests while YA fantasies are faster paced with more action. I think that is why books like Nevernight accidentally get shuffled in with the YA category when they are very much not YA books. The content is very adult but the pacing is more like what you see in YA. I like Epics when I am in the right mood but more often than not I just want a fun fast paced fantasy adventure, and because of that I usually turn to YA.

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  17. I definitely agree with your reasons of why YA appeals to adults- especially the coming of age storyline and the fact they tell interesting stories ๐Ÿ™‚ And I agree on NA as well- it’s a shame the category never expanded to include things beyond romance. And I do worry about the alienation of teen readers (and I also feel bad for authors who get backlash when people wrongly think their book is YA)
    I couldn’t agree more with your final point as well!

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