Thursday, December 2, 2010

Adults, Why Do You Read YA?

Me, center, age 17, with my best friends after our powderpuff football game for homecoming. About NINE years ago. I feel old.


The boys gamble with girls' hearts, play too many video games and laugh at stupid dirty jokes. The girls are mean to one another and care far too much about how fat or big-nosed or frizzy-haired other girls think they look.

So why, as a fully grown woman, would I want to spend so much time reliving all this suckage by reading young adult literature?

Well, it's because when you're a teenager, you're supposed to be a bratty, sucky mess of a human being. I was. You were, too. I guarantee it.

When you're that age, you make some really foolish decisions. You cry (a lot). You fall for the worst types of boys. You fight with your friends and lose them and make new ones. You roll your eyes at everything your parents say. You might even realize that you can be a bad person, which is a crap lesson to learn.

But it's these constantly changing years that make you who you are. Everyone goes through it, and everyone suffers through it in her own way.

It's because I've gone through it and have come out the other side as a champ that I appreciate the stories of girls (and boys) who are wading through all that suck. As someone who's made it to the other side and knows that it DOES get better, I feel the need to cheer them through it, even if they're fictional.

Plus, it's almost impossible not to relate to these characters. In an instant, a young adult book can take you back to a life-changing moment in your life...because, well, EVERYTHING was life-changing when you were a teen.

Such strong emotions are meant to be explored and acknowledged. The lessons I learned at that age made me who I am as an adult. They aren't meant to be forgotten.

It's a powerful time in anyone's life, and it creates the most powerful and touching literature. Despite, you know, all the sucky parts.

Why do you read YA?

Anna Reads young adult book blog


  1. Wow Anna, great post. I think I read YA for the same reasons. I also feel that books for adults can often seem too similar to my current reality.

  2. I love this! I may even steal the same question & post it on my blog today (hope you don't mind)...

    I like that you mentioned - you've come out the other side & you know that it will get better. I have to agree with that statement. I remember what it's like to be 16 & feel like your world is coming to an end because a certain boy doesn't like you back, or you're the "fat one" among your friends. In that moment it's hard, really hard. But looking back on it now - it feels so teeny tiny in the spectrum of my life. But you're right - it's what shapes us for the future. I love YA because it brings me back to those years, and in some ways I am "reliving" them through another person's eyes. I get to experience being the "popular girl" or I get the opportunity to "make out with the hottest guy in school"!! Maybe I am too much in to my books - but isn't that the purpose of reading them?

    Btw - you haven't changed much since high school! ;-)

  3. Anna, this post is amazing! And what a cute 17 year old you were!! :)

    I fully agree with what you and also what Ginger said. You have the opportunity to actually live in the head (I prefer first person writing) of a character whose personality may or may not be similar to your own personality. You get to live so many different lives and learn so many different lessons. Who cares if it's fiction!? Someone, somewhere, has gone through that issue. Sure, maybe they didn't fall in love with a sparkly vampire without whom they COULD. NOT. BREATHE. But I guarantee you that millions have gone through a breakup that seemed to be the end of the world.
    It's life. It happens to everyone.

    I'm going off memory here, so it may be slightly different, but one of my favorite quotes is: "he who says we have only one life to live has never opened a book."

    Which basically means that bookish people are the best people. We're more experienced (vicarious as those experiences may be), intelligent, and just generally more attractive.

  4. Amen Amen and amen! I think, in addition to everything you said, I didn't do some of the "normal" teenage things because I was a little too mature for my age so it's kind of nice to live vicariously through them without the consequences lol. I think it also just keeps those good memories (and even the bad ones) alive and I like thinking about those times reflectively.

    Good topic! I have this subject (adults reading YA) on the list for a future Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down. It should prove to be an interesting discussion!

  5. For me, YA isn't about reliving so much as finding out what I missed (and, of course, just enjoying a good story). The truth is, I can't relate to what most of the YA protagonists go through. I went to high school when I was 12, graduated when I was 16, and I spent the entirety of my 4 years there so caught up in Academic Decathlon that I barely had time to think about boys or see my parents or go do teenager stuff. I just studied ALL THE TIME.

    That's not to say that I didn't experience any of the usual things, but for the most part, YA allows me to live my teenage years over again vicariously, because I don't have the opportunity to get a do-over for real.

    One of the other things that I really enjoy about YA is the emotional intensity and immediacy of everything. The authors don't spend 20 pages describing a tree--they know that they need to grab their audience right away. And everything is a big deal for teens, so it is easy to create heightened emotions when even the littlest things can feel like the end of the world or the most exciting thing that ever happened.

    P.S. I love the pic of you at 17. We should all pull out the teenage pics more often. (I mean, I look exactly the same, but I'd enjoy seeing other peoples' pics.)

  6. Jamie posted while I was rambling, but somehow it doesn't surprise me that our answers are fairly similar :)

  7. Tagging onto what Melanie and Jamie said, I totally agree about the whole "not living it," thing. I wasn't a star student by any means, nor was I mature for my age. I was immature, if anything. I did stupid things, made horrible judgment calls, rebelled, and let a boy run my entire existence.I had no friends because said boy hated all my friends and I "wasn't allowed" to do certain things. I was dumb enough to believe that my life WOULD end if I ever lost this guy.
    So it's not that I wanted to miss out on the fun high school times, it's that I was afraid that I'd lose the most important thing in the world to me.

    Thankfully, I snapped out of that ridiculous way of thinking after 5 years of BS. but I guess better late than never.

    I guess another reason I read YA is because so many of these female protags actually learn that lesson and it makes me happy that they did. And it makes me sad, in a way, because I wish I'd had these books in high school to enlighten me that controlling relationships are not normal. And they're NOT acceptable.

    I realize that's all TMI, but it's true.

  8. I love how so many of you mentioned you read YA to relive it all vicariously through other girls. SUCH a good point. I was valedictorian, president of everything, Miss Snooty Pants. After high school, I was like "What? People had drinking parties? Where was I!?" So it's true, I also read in part to experience all the things I missed while I as too busy trying to conquer the world before age 18.

  9. Love love love your answer, Anna. Truly. I read YA for a lot of different reasons, and I gave Ginger the cliffnotes version, but here's the long version.

    When I was a teenager, I spent my time doing my very best to be a nationally-ranked athlete. I trained 8 hours a day - four hours before school, then four hours after school. I had zero social life in school, and high school wasn't really a happy time for me.

    Because I wasn't an athlete for the school, I was labeled the weirdo who spent every waking hour in a vat of steaming chlorine. I, on the other hand, hated school because I didn't feel like I fit in. In hindsight, I feel like I missed out on a lot of my teenage years.

    I was never rebellious or exceptionally snarky to my parents (just to my coaches), and I didn't go hog-wild until my freshman year of college. I've found that through reading YA books, I get to let my inner and otherwise stifled teenager live on.

    I experience the character's emotions, feel what they feel, and see what they see without ever having to step out of my comfort zone. Plus, these books cater to more than one generation these days, and I think that should be recognized :)

  10. What a great question Anna! I totally read YA books to live vicariously through the characters. I was just like you - president or on the board of everything, played three sports, had a part-time job, etc. Not until I went to college did I realize people actually went to parties and *gasp* drink when they weren't 21. YA books allow me to read about all the wild and crazy things teens do and still maintain my "good girl" status :)

  11. Fabulous post Anna! I feel very much the same way. My teenage life wasn't overly dramatic, I was basically a book nerd who studied and was too busy taking care of my horse to get myself in any trouble, so I read a lot of YA and vicariously enjoy their angst. Sometimes, the melodrama of it all can be too much and it makes me so glad that when I close the covers of that book, I get to be back in my life where I'm not struggling to choose between two boys, my friends haven't betrayed me, no one's cheated and I just have to worry about what I want to watch on TV that night:)

  12. The easy answer is that I'm a YA librarian, so I have to. But... there's more to it. The books seem to be shorter, simpler, more action packed. When you read about teens emotions an feelings they are right there -- they aren't so complex. Not that the plots can't be complex, and I've certainly read a lot of longer YA books. But I like getting inside a teen's head. I think these books "keep me young." I'm trying not to be the typical, old, crabby librarian that wears her glasses on a chain around her neck. (Although I really want that chain, that would be so convenient, but my children absolutely forbid me to do it.)

    Every once in a while, I need an adult fix, but then I almost always read a book that would be YA appropriate. I'll save the erotica for when I'm retired.

  13. Don't feel old - we are right around the same age! I actually just did a guest post on this TODAY over at The World of Book Reviews. Head over there if you would like to read more, but her is a blurb that cuts straight to the question:

    "We sometimes forget about the secret parts of ourselves that dreamed of a different life or maybe even a better self. It’s not that we would trade what we have; it’s more about making the transition into a steady, regular life and being content. We no longer face the constant challenge of the unknown. We no longer anticipate. We forget our youthful passions. We forget how to appreciate what's around us. Sometimes, we fall in the cracks and become people we really wouldn’t be proud to know.

    Reading YA literature helps me stay a sympathetic and open minded person. It helps me count my blessings and keeps me in touch with the ideal ‘me’, the person whom my younger self wanted to become and would be proud to know. I probably will never become that person in totality, but she’s a good woman and a worthy goal to work towards. YA literature is transcendental in nature and perpetuates a sense of hope that sometimes is missing in adult literature. The problems these youth face are so very real, and like us, they face choices that help determine who they will become. YA literature reminds me that it's never too late to be the person you'd find worthy to know, and how wonderful is it that you are choosing yourself?"

    -Linds, bibliophile brouhaha

  14. Great post Anna. Hope you don't mind, I've borrowed your question and written my own answer at my blog.

  15. Great post, I love it. I totally agree with you and the other commenters about why I read YA, I've been there through some horrible high school times and some really good ones and love to reminisce(sp?) about those times because I know what it's like, also a lot of the YA I read is paranormal and I love those type too because it seems like an escape from my regular crazy life of a stay at home mom and also an escape from the routine that sometimes can become a little overwhelming. Hope this made sense. =D

  16. I love this post, Anna :) I read YA because I'm a teacher, but I also read it b/c it's just plain awesome. I'm the YA lady at school, and I'm slowly getting more of the teachers I work with to start reading it too. Baby steps...

    Here's my post about a YA lovin' adult

    -Sarah @ Y.A. Love

  17. Haha...I love your earlier comment.. I too was Ms. Goody-two-shoes. I had no idea that my peers (even a lot of honors kids) drank and partied hard until I was out of school.
    It's fun to relive those times and see how other teens lived. I love YA, because everything has so much hope. Even if your childhood is horrible, your life is just starting. Everything is changing, everything has so much significance. The books are uplifting to read.

  18. Excellent post! What I love about YA is that at that time in our lives (high school) everything—from the tiniest, most inconsequential things to the biggest—is of massive, life-ending proportions. The emotions are so intense and vivid, felt all the way to the tips of your toes. And the all firsts...oh I love those. First love, first heartbreak, first kiss, first road trip or first taste of freedom; it's all so new for the protagonists so even if I've done it a thousand times, it feels new when I read it. The best part though? Knowing that all the cringeworthy stuff (which, let's face it, is alot of the story sometimes) can be experienced from the safety of the pages of the book and never lived (or relived).

  19. Anna, this is such a great post - alright if I link to it in my next Thursday Lit News Roundup?

    -Linds, bibliophile brouhaha


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