Young Adult Fiction – Why Do We Feel Ashamed?

Victoria Love writes about why she feels there has been a rise in crossover reading in young adult fiction and the subsequent literary snobbery that surrounds it.

I recently read a deep, dark secret posted on the ‘Whisper’ app. The nature of it saddened me, but I immediately felt empathy and kinship toward the poster.

I too have the same condition, a condition which is not well understood but that must be highlighted in today’s publishing world.

The whisper said:

Whisper App - Ashamed Reader of Young Adult Fiction

I understand you anonymous user, I understand.

Aside from the fact that this person feels ashamed enough to post this on an anonymous app along with people’s admissions of infidelity, it begs the question why this is an activity to feel ashamed of. It also casts an eye on why, perhaps, there has been a rise in adult readers of Children’s/Young Adult fiction.

I fully understand where this person is coming from. I am in the same age bracket and I too got very excited recently when I discovered a box of ‘vintage’ pony stories at a local fair. I became less excited when I saw the astronomical price that had been attached to these musty tomes of equestrian wonders, but that is by the by. What got me so excited was the chance to relive my childhood reading experiences, when I truly read for the enjoyment of the stories being told, the characters and the worlds they inhabited.

Young Adult Fiction Offers Escapism

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy adult fiction but I don’t read fiction to plunge myself into worlds of misery, serious issues or thought-provoking narratives. I read to escape from the realities of life, much like the Whisper user. When the world around us can seem to dark and foreboding, why would I choose to continue this in my imagination?

A recent Guardian article saw author, Non Pratt, express the same sentiment:

I read because my soul sings when I’m lost in a good narrative or caught up with characters I wish were real. I read because I love reading, not because I crave the reward of being stretched.

Regarding young adult fiction, I think that a lot of us, mainly identifying with ‘Generation Y’ in particular, read young adult fiction is that it is what we know and what we identify with.

I feel that the literary behemoth that still is Harry Potter also holds a portion of the blame. For the first time in my memory which, granted, isn’t particularly lengthy, a book series appeared that held an almost universal appeal. From the teachers who read it to their classes of eager (we hope) listeners to parents who read it at storytime to their own children, adults were sucked, en masse, into a world that was supposed to be for children. Yet, as we now know, the story progressed down a far darker route than was initially anticipated during the opening chapters of Philosopher’s Stone and became a narrative that held you in its grip.

As they had an incremental release over the course of a decade, those same children grew up with the story as a constant in their lives. For readers like me who discovered Philosopher’s Stone at the age of 12 in 1997, remained faithful to the end with the release of Deathly Hallows in 2007 when I had reached the grand age of 22.

The parents and teachers who started reading the books to their children as fresh-faced thirty-somethings finished them as forty-odd year old adults. We were conditioned (if you will) to enjoy these books no matter your age and the books were accessible and entertaining; Harry Potter became the acceptable face of Children’s and Young Adult crossover reading. To this day, I am still aghast at anyone who hasn’t read it, or at least tried.

What Happened Next?

When the Potter series ended, many readers were left bobbing, lost in a wake of similarly bereft muggles. Some moved onto other things, but the mantle of ‘obsessive book series’ was already being taken up by the ‘Twilight Saga'; a book aimed at the young adult market but that now had an easier path to tread in reaching the 20-somethings.

Potter had broken down the genre/age barrier and made it acceptable for adults to read books which were aimed at a younger audience. Twilight was then soon eclipsed (pardon the inadvertant pun) by ‘The Hunger Games’. Interestingly, all have been turned into major motion picture series which only further extends their lifespan and accessibility.

In a turbulent world, many readers like myself seek to suspend ourselves from reality and escape into someone else’s life. Who knows, there may also be a sense of returning back to a younger age when there is inherently more optimism, choices yet to be made or is it a way of unmaking your mistakes? We all like to live in a fantasy land of what could be, should be; young adult fiction also provides the older reader with a mental ‘do-over’, if you will.

I cannot pretend to be a psychologist, I am sure there are many more educated reasons and theories that I can propose in a blog post. Why shouldn’t adults read books? The world will not fall into apocalyptic anarchy if I read ‘Noddy Goes to Toyland’ tomorrow, will it?

Matt Haig recently wrote an article in favour of Young Adult reading that is far more succinct that I could ever hope to be.

He argues, and I agree:

It’s not what you read, but how you read it. Never judge what someone else reads or why they read it. You don’t own the rights to culture.

Reading shouldn’t be a competition. Reading shouldn’t have a snobbery value. I shouldn’t be frowned upon because I enjoy Rowling more than D.H. Lawrence. I enjoy the authors I read, regardless of the literary merit imposed upon them by a select group of critics with fixed ideas on what makes ‘good fiction’.

Instead, we should celebrate the fact that people still love to read in an age when there are a multitude of gadgets and devices that vie for our attention. Why does it matter to one person what the other reads? If they enjoy it, then support it, encourage it, otherwise we, as the collective publishing industry, are just putting a gun to our proverbial head.

Trade fiction publishing is fighting a battle against the likes of technology, on all fronts, to maintain its position as a provider of entertainment.

The profits from Harry Potter has allowed Bloomsbury to flourish and publish a host of literary fiction, and Mantel has undoubtedly done the same for other imprints and lists at HarperCollins. It is crucial that this continues and fiction carries on engaging the imagination of its readers and writers. Publishing is a business at its heart and any successful business needs to be self-supporting; running down one genre will be a direct detriment to the others.

It is at this point that I realise I have rambled away from my initial topic of conversation, but literary snobbery is something that gets to me. My A-Level Media Studies (it is harder than it looks!) teacher once said: “Everything has a purpose, everything has its audience” and this has stuck with me to this day.

Whether it be whilst studying art at college, graphic design at University and now being a publishing graduate, I have always believed that everything has its own purpose and audience. It may not be your personal cup of charlie, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy than another and this goes for film, art, TV, music or literature.

I’m not sure anyone can convince me otherwise, just ask my bookshelves upstairs. I’m sure Peter Rabbit, Sally Lockhart, The Saddle Club and Polgara the Sorceress will have a thing or two to say.

Originally posted on [B]ookend[S] - 30th July 2014  

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Victoria is the creator of Blurbify, which was created as part of her creative dissertation project at the end of the MA course in 2014. She has a background in graphic and web design, having gained a First class degree in the subject from Anglia Ruskin in 2010 and is a lover of digital publishing, editorial and design; though she still prefers holding a real book, rather than a Kindle!