The Next Big Thing: Adults Reading Teen Literature
YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.
Adults reading teen literature isn’t confined to bookstores — it’s also happening in the library, based on my personal experience in the 8 years I’ve been a Teen Librarian. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with adults about teen books. Sometimes it’s parents asking about books for their teen. Sometimes it’s parents wanting to read the same book as their teen. Many times, it’s an adult interested in reading teen books.
I often talk about teen books with my coworkers, especially the women in the processing department. Often they place holds on teen books. Right now, one is reading Throne of Glass and one is reading Keeper of the Lost Cities. I persuade my husband to read teen fantasy and teen science fiction books. I pass along books to my sister and my mother. I talk about teen books with adults all the time and urge them to pick up these fabulous reads. So frankly, I’m not surprised at all by the news that adults are reading teen books; it just makes sense.
Bowker published a report last month about the growing percentage of YA books purchased by adults for their reading enjoyment. The research is sponsored in the U.S. by Little, Brown for Young Readers, Random House, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Disney, Penguin, DK, and Macmillan (all of whom have YA imprints). The study states:
Fully 55% of buyers of works that publishers designate for kids aged 12 to 17 — nicknamed YA books — are 18 or older, with the largest segment aged 30 to 44. Accounting for 28 percent of sales, these adults aren’t just purchasing for others — when asked about the intended recipient, they report 78 percent of the time they are purchasing books for their own reading.
This news swept the YA community and no one appeared shocked. The people who talked about it the most seemed to be adults who did not read YA books.
To the outside world, adults reading YA may seem like the Next Big Thing. What’s bringing those adults to YA literature? Besides the obvious fact that YA books are amazingly entertaining, and full of awesome, here are 10 reasons why adults are reading more and more from the teen section.
- While the report mentions Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games as key cross over titles, it fails to account for the increasing number of adult authors now writing YA fiction. James Patterson, John Grisham, Carl Hiaasen, Jodi Picoult, Harlan Coben, Elizabeth George, and Adriana Trigiani are a handful of the many adult authors making the transition to young adult. These bestselling authors already have a large following, many of whom are willing to try their teen novels.
- Teen literature signifies coming of age: the first romance, the first heartbreak, the time when emotions run high and everything can change in a heartbeat. It’s partly nostalgia and partly escapism reading for adult readers.
- Vampires and the paranormal are huge right now with TV shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries and the Twilight movie phenomenon. Adults are looking for more vampire, werewolf, and fairy books. The House of Night, Vampire Academy, and Morganville Vampires series are all popular with adults.
- Book titles have shown resurgence with popular TV shows like Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Secret Circle. Adults come in looking for the books based on the series, and when they’ve finished all of them, some come back looking for similar titles.
- Publishing houses are using savvy marketing skills to hook adult readers. “Looking for the teen girl version of Game of Thrones?” is the tagline for Throne of Glass, written by Sarah J. Maas and published by Bloomsbury. It’s brilliant, it got my attention quickly, and I knew I had to read it. I adored it and have raved about it to teens and adults alike looking for a great fantasy read.
- Books advertised in Entertainment Weekly include Origin, the last Artemis Fowl book, and Every Day. Here’s an online example from Redbook: YA Novels for You and Your Kids.
- The Hunger Games Effect: adults are also gobbling up other dystopian novels such as Legend, Divergent, and The Maze Runner.
- Fantasy and science fiction are seeing a surge of popularity with The Mortal Instruments series, Eon, Graceling, Across the Universe, Life as We Knew It, and The Iron King.
- Historical fiction is slowly becoming popular with the success of Downton Abbey. Adults are looking for similar reads or just a really great historical fiction novel. I’ve been handing out A Countess Below Stairs, A Spy in the House, and Grave Mercy.
- Adults have their favorite teen authors — like John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Libba Bray, and David Leviathan — and flock to their books when new ones come out.
To me, reading YA isn’t new, but it sure is fun! Although I like adult fiction, the majority of the books I read are YA. They’re just that good!
— Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Footprints in the Sand by Mary Jane Clark