YA vs. Adult Lit, and the “Superiority” of Genres

ya-vs-adult-lit

I’ve been doing a lot of discussion posts lately. Apparently since I’m now a legal adult I’ve got all these opinions about things.

(Just kidding. I’ve had these opinions for a long time).

Anyways, I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but something happened today that kind of put me over the edge from just “I need to write this post” to “I NEED to write this FREAKING POST”. I’ll explain why in a minute, but I’m going to start with my usual spiel of I don’t mean to offend anyone and I’d love to hear everyone else’s opinions on these things as long as the opinions are worded respectfully. No arguments in the comments, is what I’m trying to say.

But forward with the post!

So, something happened with me today. I’m sitting at lunch, reading on my phone, which is a pretty common accordance nowadays, thanks me spending most of my time out of the house and not wanting to add another book to my backpack that already feels like it weights ten million pounds on my walk home. The woman sitting across from me, who’s a fellow student and knows that I’m reading, asks me what I’m reading. I answer her (These Broken Stars, for those wondering).

Her response? At first, delight at recognizing the title, then a sort of slow dawning, and her slowly saying, “But…isn’t that a little bit…young? Shouldn’t you be reading…well…adult sci-fi?”

My instant response? Anger. I think she must have noticed it on my face because she quickly changed topics. And I wish I could say I apologized, but I didn’t. Why? Because I’m pretty dang tired of of hearing it. I’ve been hearing it (or something like it) for years. I’m sure pretty much everyone over the age of fourteen who reads YA has. And I’m sure we’re all tired off it.

Do you know why? Because people seem to think YA = Children’s. There’s this thought that since they’re books meant for teenagers, they’re not as high quality as books written for adults. Which, is, in all bluntness, pretty stupid.

YA is, by definition, books meant for teenagers. BUT THIS IS JUST A SUGGESTION. It’s not a genre. It has nothing to do with quality of content. Sure, there are tons of YA that’s not all that great. But guess what? THERE ARE TONS OF ADULT NOVELS THAT AREN’T ALL THAT GREAT. And there’s this idea that if you’re not in the 13-18 age range, YA isn’t for you, which is stupid. It’s kind of like saying you can’t watch The Breakfast Club or Perks of Being a Wallflower or Pitch Perfect because they’re movies meant for teenagers.

Yes, they’re movies intended for a teenage audience. But they’re beloved by adults and teenagers alike, and you’d never belittle an adult because they loved them. So why would you an adult who loves YA lit?

There are differences between YA and Adult lit, yes. YA tends to be told in first-person present tense, instead of the third-person past that’s common in Adult. YA tends to be shorter, have quicker-paced plots, and be dialogue heavy. Sex scenes tend to either be blacked out, and-so-we-fell-into-bed-and-the-door-closed style, or told as simply as possible in YA. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. But, honestly, those differences? Not so huge. 

And, it bares repeating: YA IS NOT A GENRE, A BOOK BEING YA HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH QUALITY OF CONTENT. And, since there’s only so many things I can say about this before this post becomes way too long, I recommend reading Chuck Wendig’s hilarious, somewhat foul-mouthed article.

The idea of shaming people for reading YA leads into my next topic. This idea of being superior to someone else because you don’t read YA is very, very similar to the idea of genre superiority.

Again, I’m sure we’ve all had a conversation like this with someone at some point: “Oh, you read (such and such)? Hm. Well, only read the classics. Books were so much better back then.”

Yep. Totally asked your opinion, there, didn’t I (she says sarcastically).

Look. It is not your place to judge what someone else is reading. I mean, okay, if they’re reading something that is known for being horribly racist/sexist/homophobic/xenophobic/ableist/ect, then, yes, judge away. But if they’re not? IT IS NOT YOUR PLACE.

We are all readers, and we all have our specific tastes. You could be a lover of brutal, bloody epic fantasy or you could adore those cheesy romances you buy at kiosks in the airport. Neither person is superior to the other because of what they’re reading.

I think this happens a lot of with romances. People see someone reading a romance, and instantly make assumptions about their personality and intelligence because of that book. It should’t be embarrassing to read a book called “Anna and the French Kiss” in public, but often it is for the reader. We attempt to hide the cover and title, only read if no one is looking at us, or just don’t read that book in public at all. And that’s really sad to me. We shouldn’t be ashamed of what we read. If we enjoy what we’re reading, we should be able to read it without worrying about people making assumptions about us. It’s bad enough for girls, but I would think it’d be even worse for a boy who loves reading romances.

And it doesn’t even have to be about genres. It can be about specific books, too. I can think of several examples, but I think one of the best ones is Twilight. Other than a certain…um…graphic fanfiction-turned-novel based off of Twilight, I can think of no other book people are more mocked for reading and enjoying.

I’m friends with a girl who loves Twilight, but she said, for years, if people asked if she liked Twilight her automatic response would be “no”, because she told me that often, if she said yes, people would make fun of her. And it’s just accepted. If someone likes Twilight, they’re made fun of.

Yes, Twilight has it’s problems. But so does Harry Potter. So why are Twilight fans mocked because while Harry Potter ones aren’t?

GENRE SUPERIORITY. That’s what it comes down.

So, this long, and somewhat rambly-slash-word-vomit-y post is basically my way of saying people should be able to read whatever they want to read. If you’re not a fan of most modern novels and really only read classical fiction? Great! If you don’t like dark story lines and have a soft spot for fluffy romances? Great! Read and love whatever you enjoy.

But don’t ever, ever, mock anyone for reading anything else.

Happy Wednesday,

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8 thoughts on “YA vs. Adult Lit, and the “Superiority” of Genres

  1. I’ve written YA and “adult” novels, and the YA was not a vacation. Just as much effort went into making the YA writing the highest quality possible as went into any of the other books.

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  2. I think it’s important for authors to not talk down to their readers, in any genre/age range. I think that the YA books that I have read as an adult and didn’t like were because they had a layer of condescension. There have been a few YA books that could easily have been adult fiction. I even read most of the first MISS PEREGRINE before I realized, “Oh, this is probably meant for younger readers.” I still loved it and I think it was a very well-done book. And it is indeed better than some adult fiction books out there too.

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    1. Yes. There’s this one super famous mystery writer I know of, but when I tried to read her YA stuff it was so dumbed down I couldn’t handle finishing it, and I hate DNFing.

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  3. Very well put. I tend to make self deprecating comments like “I pretend I haunt the YA section because of my job (middle school reading teacher), but really I just like the books.” But I KNOW I shouldn’t even have to jokingly mock myself for what I read. Although I really do have trouble not rolling my eyes at people who read, as you put it, grocery store romance. BUT I AM AWARE THAT IS CONDESCENDING AND RUDE OF ME so I try to keep that response internal.

    I have a student who said, “Is there a book version of Twilight?” and even though I had just gotten rid of all my Twilight books because nobody was reading them anymore, I rushed out and picked up the series again for her (super cheap at Goodwill) and she’s been steadily reading ever since. Her science teacher keeps making fun of her and I’m all SHUT UP DUDE, SHE’S FUCKING READING. Only I don’t actually say that because we’re not good enough friends for me to swear at him. But I DID tell her to ignore him and his ignorance. I didn’t care for the series, but who the hell cares what I think? It’s HER choice!

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  4. *APPLAUDS WILDLY AND LOUDLY*

    I absolutely hate it when people think a genre or an age-intended-category are more superior than others. It’s just so stuck up and snobbish?!? Like sure a book might be about 16 year old, but that doesn’t mean ONLY 16 year olds are going to relate. Erm, all of us adults were 16 at one stage after all??? I find YA actually more hilarious because so many of the struggles teens are just starting to face (like identity and thinking about the future and just general adulting and falling in love for the first time) are all things we’ll CONTINUALLY face as adults. So it’s relatable! And it’s encouraging!

    Same goes for anyone who wants to still read children’s books. My sister and I are both freaking out and geeking out over A Series of Unfortunate Events as we re-read it and watch the show….and sure they’re written for middle-grade audiences and we’re both adults. It lessens our enjoyment exactly 0%.

    People should read what they want. :’)

    (So obviously this comment is long and rambly but JUST BASICALLY I AGREE WITH ALL THE THINGS AND LOVE IT THAT YOU WROTE THIS.)

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