Feature

Young adult fiction: Not for grown-ups?

Millions of grown men and women are reading children’s book, helping to turn the so-called “young adult” genre into a phenomenon.

If there’s anything more embarrassing than catching adults ogling porno on their iPads or computers, said Joel Stein in NYTimes.com, it’s spotting them reading Harry Potter, a Twilight book, or The Hunger Games. Millions of grown men and women are reading these children’s books, helping to turn the so-called “young adult” genre into a phenomenon. Sales of fictional books aimed at children and young adults aged 14 to 21 rose by over 60 percent last year. The Hunger Games alone has sold 23 million copies. Almost 10,000 different young adult books were published last year, up nearly a third since 2008—a surge driven by adults who frankly should be reading more challenging, age-appropriate material. As for me, “I’ll read The Hunger Games when I finish the previous 3,000 years of adult fiction.” Let tween girls have their “own little world of vampires and child wizards.”

Ah, what a pity we aren’t all as “clever and sophisticated” as Joel Stein, said Alyssa Rosenberg in ThinkProgress.org. But his snide dismissal of an entire category of fiction is “pure hogwash.” Young people are fully capable of “sophisticated reasoning and empathy,” and the best young adult novels explore complex, morally challenging issues. Katniss, the heroine of The Hunger Games, discovers “the horror of surrendering your sexual and romantic autonomy,” while the Harry Potter novels explore the “evils of torture and nasty class bias.” And while all adults should experience the “dense, lyrical, descriptive prose” of real literary fiction, said Lev Grossman in NYTimes.com, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the simpler prose and dramatic plots of novels written for younger readers. Books for teens are “built to grab your attention and hold it,” and sometimes, you’d prefer that to, say, decoding Thomas Pynchon.

Exactly right, said Alison Flood in TheGuardian.co.uk. Not all reading must be difficult and educational. At the end of a long day, I sometimes crave “the mental equivalent of a bar of chocolate.” That’s when I turn to novels about vampires, wizards, and “murderous (but beautiful) teenagers.” For most adults, said Sheila Heti in The Globe and Mail (Canada), life consists of trudging back and forth to “a repetitive job for decades,” and a home life that’s “a series of responsibilities.” Is it really so surprising that grown-ups might want to occasionally lose themselves in imaginary worlds?

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