Do You Fear The Young Adult (YA) demographic?

When I started writing my first novel, Seraphim, I was a sophomore in college, and barely 19 years old. The idea of writing a book for fully grown adults terrified me. I thought of the typical adult reader as serious, educated, middle aged, and with children not much younger than me. The thought of them sitting back and enjoying one of my stories between their discussions of Shakespeare and Chaucer seemed far-fetched. So I decided to focus on writing for teens and twenty-somethings, because I thought it would be easier.

But as I’ve aged, (I’d like to think I’ve matured as well) I’ve seen the line between young adult fiction and regular fiction blur. How many of the people who stood in line for the final “Harry Potter” were adults? How many of the women cheering at the “Twilight” film premiere were far, far, too old for that kind of nonsense? The YA genre no longer means that you are restricting yourself to people under twenty-five.

When you think of a book in the Young Adult genre, do you immediately assume you’re going to be reading something on the level of “Twilight?” Not that there’s anything wrong with reading “Twilight” (there is), but keep in mind that a number of classic books were originally written with young people in mind. “Oliver Twist,” “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Great Expectations,” “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” “The Bluest Eye,” and “The Catcher in the Rye” could all be considered YA.

And that could be why even though The American Library Association defines YA fiction as written for people between the ages of twelve and eighteen, many publishers expand that age group to as old as twenty-five. It’s the best practice considering the modern reader. In fact, the older, the better. I’ve seen people turn their back on great books simply because they assume they are too old for them. I get it: nobody wants to be that kid in the slow reading group, or that soccer mom who still reads “The Babysitter’s Club.” But picking up “The Hunger Games” doesn’t make you stupid.

I made that mistake when it came to the “Harry Potter” series. When the first book starting getting really popular (Around 1998 or 1999), I was starting my first year of high school. At the time, they were genuinely being marketed as children’s books, and I naturally thought I was above anything written for babies. So I made a conscious effort to ignore the phenomenon. Then the books became more popular, and I had to work even harder to avoid the series. Long story short, I still haven’t read any of the “Harry Potter” books, seen the films, or gone to any of those mock Quiddich games they play at the park near my house. Am I missing out? It’s likely. Will I eventually correct my assumptions and pick up these books? Undoubtedly.

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One thought on “Do You Fear The Young Adult (YA) demographic?

  1. Seen this, and have to keep reminding myself not to fall into the same trap. I’ve recently read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Treasure Island’, both for the first time, and really rather enjoyed them, though they were intended for people a fair bit younger than myself.

    I wonder if people tend to forget that Young Adult literature suffers just as much from a good/bad spectrum as ‘proper’ books. Something like ‘Animorphs’, while a brilliant concept, just isn’t all that well written, whereas I would argue that something like ‘Artemis Fowl’ has just as good creatively, and penned extremely well. Few people can fault the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy for being poorly done.

    Perhaps it shows a bit of a snobbishness when it comes to books in general. If they can be read by younger brains than our own, then are they worth reading? Or are we disinclined to try something simply because it’s popular, and thus doesn’t seem like ‘fine art’? I know I’ve certainly scorned stuff like ‘Twilight’, claiming it “I’ve been told it’s not well written”. I have no idea if that is the case, because as a result I’ve gone nowhere near it. I haven’t yet touched ‘The Da Vinci Code’ for similar reasons, though it is on my “to-read” list.

    Maybe there’s a link between an unwillingness to try popular books and Young Adult books.

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