By Bailey Sikorski
People have often pondered whether adults should dabble in things considered to be “for children” or, more recently, “for young adults.” I remember the debate occurring upon the release of infamous books such as Twilight, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games series. “These books are for older children,” critics would scream. Opinions on the topic became heated, leading some people to drop others depending on their thoughts. (Or maybe that’s just anecdotal.) The matter even led to writers such as Jen Doll and Ruth Graham rushing to their stations to write either for or against, respectively, the phenomenon of adults reading young adult, or Y.A., literature.
In her debate, Jen Doll is vehemently for adults reading novels considered among the young adult literature. She participates in the act, even when receiving “dubious looks and half-hearted utterances” (Doll). She argues that, yes, the Y.A. books from her youth consisted of foundational books: ones that everyone knew and read (Doll). However, Doll argues that the course of young adult literature changed with the release of Harry Potter, stating “It wasn’t just kid stuff, they said. There was death, dark magic, complicated family relationships, love, faith” (Doll). She argues that young adult literature now spans varied settings; is sold for cheaper when compared to adult literature; and the books themselves are shorter in page length, thus taking up less time than adult literature (Doll). The argument continues with a statement that “[adult books] don’t always captivate me the way YA does. Those are the books I read in a one-night rush… to find out what happened, and when I do, [I sigh] in pleasure because the heroine does get the guy, the world has been saved, the parents finally understand, or there is at least the promise of things working out in the end” (Doll). At the end of her argument for the adult participation in reading Y.A. literature, Doll states that “Y.A. aims to be pleasurable. It’s intended for people who are coming of age reading about characters who are doing the same. As such, these books have a way of cocooning their protagonists, navigating them—and by extension, the reader—to safety, and sometimes real happiness” (Doll).
While Jen Doll vehemently calls for adult readers to read Y.A. literature, Ruth Graham shuns the idea. In her argument, she writes “[Y]ou should be embarrassed when what you’re reading is written for children.” Graham’s argument starts by saying that the past “unseemly notion” of adults reading young adult literature is now “conventional wisdom” and that adults “brandish their copies of teen novels with pride” (Graham). She says that people argue that Y.A. is “more sophisticated than ever,” even somewhat agreeing that “[her] own life as a YA reader way back in the early 1990s was hardly wanting for either satisfaction or sophistication” (Graham). However, these books shaped the reader she is in the present and that she is now a different reader: she wants to read adult books, and she finds them more pleasurable than Y.A. books. She writes, “YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way. It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults” (Graham). Graham also argues that trivial things such as wanting a neatly wrapped up book “is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with ‘likable’ protagonists” (Graham). The argument concludes with a quote from Shailene Woodley, one of the stars of The Fault in Our Stars that she believes relates to the argument: “I’m not a young adult anymore—I’m a woman.”
When reading these arguments, I took in the opinions of both authors carefully. I am of adult age being 24-years-old, yet I have the heart of a child. I like arts and crafts, sewing, cartoons and anime, being silly, and having fun doing “childish” activities. Due to certain events of my childhood, I had to grow up quickly; meaning my love of the “childish” was cast aside. As a now 24-year-old, I find myself drawn to things that I was denied during my youth. I want to read those Y.A. novels or watch Disney movies and cartoons. The simple pleasures of life should not stop at a young age. I must agree more with Jen Doll when it comes to the argument at hand. Adults should be allowed to read young adult literature.
Even if it is not due to simple pleasure, some jobs, such as teachers and daycare facilitators, are required to know what children wish to read to be able to perform their jobs efficiently. As a future middle school educator, I need to know what kind of content adolescents wish to enjoy. If I read adult literature, I would be at a loss! Yes, it is important to keep an adult mind challenged, but I am required to read these books to teach their contents— the settings, characters, themes, etc.— to my students. Without engaging in the literature itself, I would not be able to effectively perform my job as a teacher. It is the equivalent of giving flying lessons when one has never been near an airplane.
Regardless of job requirements or simply wanting to engage in young adult literature, adults should be accepted into reading Y.A. novels. Yes, they are at a lower level, but sometimes the mind needs a break and the heart just wants to be nostalgic and return to the roots of reading. Perhaps an adult wishes to revisit a beloved book from adolescence to see how their thoughts have changed; perhaps an adult wants to find more books from a beloved childhood author to see how they’ve grown as a writer (a great example is the creator of Eragon, Christopher Paolini!); or perhaps an adult simply wishes to read fantastic tales that end happily due to stress in their life; whatever their reason, allow them to read Y.A. literature. After all, Walt Disney, who brought some of the most beloved movies into all hearts, said, “Who says we have to grow up?”
Doll, Jen. “The Thirtysomething Teen: An Adult Ya Addict Comes Clean.” Vulture. Vulture, 07 Oct. 2013. Web. 31 Aug. 2021. <www.vulture.com/2013/10/thirtysomething-teen-on-young-adult-novels.html>.
Graham, Ruth. “Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books.” Slate Magazine. Slate, 05 June 2014. Web. 31 Aug. 2021. <www.slate.com/culture/2014/06/against-ya-adults-should-be-embarrassed-to-read-childrens-books.html>.