Is YA Fiction Really Adult Fiction in Disguise?

     The Young Adult genre is no stranger to snide comments, hateful opinions, or condescending attitudes so it is no surprise that yet another voice was added to those that see YA novels as “less than”. Anthony McGowan, a journalist from The Guardian, released his article titled “Most YA fiction is grown-up fiction in disguise”, and I immediately knew that I would be writing a post in response to this opinion article because I know that so many people view the YA genre as this man does. That view needs to change. Therefore, I will be listing parts from McGowan’s article that I had issues with and giving my opinion on them.

Disclaimer: I am aware that McGowan’s article was an opinion post to an extent. I fully believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, when someone’s opinion starts to sound like an attack rather than a peaceful statement, that’s what I have an issue with.

     Right off the bat the article brings up red flags. Ignoring the article’s title, the very first sentence in this article infuriated me.

• “The boom in YA fiction is fueled by adult stories, told by adults in a grown up fashion…”

     I am sorry, I wasn’t aware that books can’t be influenced by stories outside of their targeted age range.YA books are not just focused on telling stories from a young adult’s point of view. They are about experiencing life, dealing with the trials of being a teenager, and reflecting on the events that occurred in that time of your life and then learning from them. Just because a book seems “too adult” does not mean that it’s about an adult’s story edited for young adults. Assuming that suggests that you don’t believe that that a teenager can experience or handle “adult problems” like bills, stress, relationship problems, death, depression, etc. News flash, teens are having to grow up faster than ever these days so those “adult problems and stories” are becoming the stories and problems of all ages.

     I also wasn’t aware that YA novels were not allowed to be written by adults. I wish I had known that sooner because as a 22-year-old adult writing a YA novel, that might cause problems. (That was sarcasm in case that was unclear). The YA genre is not some selective genre that only young adults can contribute to. Trust me, there isn’t a lack of teen writers, there is only an abundance of adult’s writing for the YA genre, and THAT IS NOT A BAD THING. One reason mainly adults are publishing YA novels is because they have experience behind their writing, they actually have time to focus on their writing, and they have people to help them publish their books. Teen writers don’t usually have the backing adults do or the time to focus solely on writing. Sadly, no one usually takes young adults seriously. With age comes respect and experience.

     Anyway, my point is that of course YA novels are told by mostly adults in an adult fashion because young adults are practically “adults” both physically and emotionally. We (as in those of us who read YA and are young adults) don’t need to be talked to or written about as if we are children.

• “YA fiction means many readers will never experience some wonderful writing.”

     Now, McGowan did not say this. Here he quoted a director of a children’s program at the international book festival. Did A DIRECTOR AT A BOOK FESTIVAL imply that YA fiction doesn’t contain wonderful writing? Interesting. I really have nothing to say to this except for I obviously do not agree.

• “80% of YA lit is read by people over 25.”

     Now that statistic doesn’t bother me, mainly because it isn’t true. 80% of YA lit is BOUGHT by people over 25, not read by them. Mostly because young adults are broke AF, me included. No, what bothers me is that McGowan then goes on to suggest that based on his INCORRECT statistic something is wrong with publishing and us readers.

     First of all, ignoring the incorrectness of that fact, how is that fact a bad thing and how does that mean that something is wrong with readers? Last time I checked I could read whatever I wanted.

     Second of all, McGowan supports his point by saying that the publishers of YA books claim that the YA genre is intended for teenagers therefore the target audience is missed completely. Let me stop you right there. I have never seen a YA publishing company advertise YA books as being exclusively for teens. Sure, they advertise that their YA books are ABOUT teens and perhaps it’s expected that teens read it, but never intended SOLEY for teens. In fact, those that come up with the advertisements and press releases for YA novels are ADULTS who love the YA genre as much as any of us. So why in the world would they exclude themselves that way? The targeted audience isn’t missed at all, it’s simply expanded.

Side note: the only reason YA books have a reading age minimum is because some of the content might not be suitable for someone under 13 or so. At that point, it is up to the parents to say whether it is okay to read or not, but there no reading maximum on books. It always 14+ or 15+ or something like that. Therefore, the “targeted audience” are those that are 14 or 15 years old and up.

• McGowan states that the world (specifically teens) is losing interest in books (and for the most part, it is) and goes on to claim that this is because YA books, which should belong to teens, are actually directed at older readers.

      I hate to burst this guy’s bubble, but teens aren’t losing interest in books because “teen books are actually directed at older readers”; they are losing interest because sadly, most teens find other things interesting like hanging out with friends, going to parties, focusing on school, or they associate books with school and they try to stay away because they immediately think they are boring. The idea that someone actually believes teens aren’t reading because YA books are actually intended for older readers is ludicrous. Why would it matter anyway? If they wanted to read a book, then it wouldn’t matter who the book was aimed towards.

• “I’d contend that at least some of these books appeal to me, as an adult because they are not teenage books at all. They are adult books.” McGowan further comments that the themes, the style, and often the characters belong in the world of adult lit.

     I wish McGowan would have given examples of the themes and styles he has come across that don’t reflect teens. Maybe that is because themes and style aren’t exclusive to certain genres or age groups. I have read a lot of YA and adult books, and I have never come across a theme or style that made me think “oh that belongs only in a YA book or vice versa”.

     Maybe he is talking about sexual content in YA books, but not all YA books talk about sex. I haven’t encountered many YA books that have sexual content in them and I have read a LOT of YA books. Anyway, that shouldn’t matter because teens do have sex, just like adults. I am not saying that I approve, I am just stating facts. Plus, the emotions that come with sex and the complications it may bring effect teens just like adults and so writers write about it and try to give readers a different outlook or advice on those topics. Like I said earlier, teens can experience anything an adult could.  The only difference between teens and adults is their age.

• “Much of YA is a lazy, disheartening, mush of false problems, fake situations, idealized romance, second-rate fantasy, (and) tired-dystopias. Easy to read: easy to forget.”

     Rightfully so, this sentence enraged me. How dare this man insult such a widely loved genre that has inspired millions and given readers the escape they needed.

     First of all, writing of any kind is NEVER lazy. Writing takes work, time, and effort, which is the opposite of lazy. However, there is writing that could use some work.

     Second of all, in my experience and many others, YA novels are the exact opposite of disheartening. Personally, YA prompted my interest in reading, which ultimately led to my decision to become an editor. I was inspired to join the publishing world, and I was also inspired to write.

     Thirdly, I hate to break it to you, McGowan, but fictional books are full of fake problems and fake solutions because FICTIONAL BOOKS ARENT REAL ERGO FAKE EVENTS, PROBLEMS, AND SOLUTIONS.

     Next, sure, there are books featuring idealized romances but that’s what some books are about, showing you a perfect picture of romance so you can escape the messed up and scary versions of romance in real life. Readers read to escape reality and the reality is that romance is difficult and hard; therefore, writers write about the opposite to satisfy the readers’ need for something easy and fun. It may occasionally send a bad message (not always), but most of us are smart enough to recognize those signs and often times, it is the writer’s intent to show the ugly side of romance too.

     Lastly, McGowan has obviously never read the Throne of Glass series or the Alienated series or any other YA fantasy or dystopian novel that I’ve read because he would never have said that YA is full of tired fantasy and dystopian novels. Those books are never easy to forget. Also, why would someone want a hard book to read unless that is what you are in the mood for? I don’t know about you, but I want easy books to read because reading is what I do to relax, not get stressed out over. I will never actively go after hard books to read like Shakespeare because that is just too much work to read.

 Towards the end of McGowan’s article, he “graciously” identifies the three reasons for this problem of “YA books in disguise”. He blames writers, editors, and publicists/bloggers. He basically blames everyone.

     First, he blames authors saying that their adult tastes appear in YA books. Well, obviously. It is their book after all and their tastes are going to influence their writing. Writers find inspiration from everything around them including themselves. I don’t know what McGowan means by adult tastes because I have never even heard of tastes being exclusive to age, but okay.

     Second, he suggests that editors, who are usually over 25, somehow influence YA to sound more “adult” so that it fits them. I had to laugh at this one because I thought, “what? You want 15-year-olds to edit YA books and 8-year-olds to edit middle grade books?” It is not like that can’t happen because it can, but it’s unlikely because it takes a lot of education and experience to become a great editor. Therefore, its 100% likely that an editor will be 20 years or older.  Another thing is that books go through multiple rounds of editing and final edits, and if an author saw that their book was being negatively influenced, I’m pretty sure that they would put a stop to it.  It is an editor’s job to fix mistakes in books and give the author ideas to help make the book better. I don’t even see how it would be possible to influence a book in such a way that makes it sound more adult unless that is what the book calls for.

     I also found it really condescending when he suggested that a YA book can’t or isn’t supposed to sound “adult” whatever that means. I assure you, not all teens are immature, and YA books show that. YA books show the side of teens that people rarely get to see. So sorry if that doesn’t give you ammunition to suggest that teens are stupid and immature like most people would like to believe.

     Lastly, McGowan states that almost all bloggers are adults and that they/we favor a particular type of book.

     First of all, I don’t see what that has to do with anything, Yes, about 50% (not almost all) bloggers are adults, including me. Does the fact that I’m an adult prevent me from talking about what I want? Is there some rule somewhere that says I can’t blog about young adult novels because I am an adult? Just because I am an adult doesn’t mean I can’t give my honest opinion about books.

     Secondly, of course we favor a particular type of book, good ones! Personally, I like fantasy and high fantasy novels, but I read all kinds of books. I don’t see how that pertains to this article at all. I am assuming that McGowan meant that us adults favor books for adults. Again, is it such a crazy idea that adults can like anything outside of the socially constructed idea of what adults should like for example, action figures, plushies, coloring, young adult and middle grade books, etc.? If anything adults want to forget that they are adults and read a book about young love, crazy adventures, etc. I know I do. I’ll say it again, books aren’t categorized into genre’s to alienate anyone, they are categorized into genre’s so that you know what you are getting into.
     People need to realize that YA books aren’t just about teens who go to parties and hang out. YA novels are about showing you how to stand up for yourself, overcome hardships, navigate through broken friendships or a broken heart, how to handle abuse, or how to survive in a world that wants to tear you down. YA novels are about growing up and learning lessons and becoming the person you are meant to be, but that doesn’t mean that adults can’t learn from YA books too. Adults grow up and learn lessons too, the only difference is that they are older when they do. YA books aren’t “adult books in disguise” they are books about teens who experience life, grow up, and learn lessons just as adults do. 

     The YA genre is a legitimate outlet for expressing yourself and learning something about life. There is nothing wrong with adults reading and liking a YA book, it happens all the time. There is no need to say “oh I like this YA book but it’s really an adult book in disguise” to try and make yourself feel better about liking a book “that is only for teens” because there is nothing for you to feel bad about. Read what you like and love it for what it is. Don’t ever be ashamed to read a book that is considered by society to be out of your age range or unsuitable for you.

     I hope this post was enlightening in some way or I was able to do justice to the YA genre. Share this post if you agree with anything I said or you want to show that world that you are a proud reader of YA books no matter what.


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