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  • Jennifer Burkinshaw

The very many Young Adults books adults read

In my debut blog, having discovered that the majority of YA novels are read by adults from eighteen to any age, I explored some of the reason why this is.

Next, I want to consider some of the many YA books people of all ages read. But first, what IS a Young Adult novel?

You’d think – well at least I did – that it’s a story in which the main characters are in their teens throughout. It’s fascinating to think that the protagonists of some of our very early novels were in their teens – Richardson’s eponymous Pamela is fifteen and Catherine in Northanger Abbey is seventeen. (This Gothic satire of Austen’s suggests that readers of novels at the time would primarily have been what would later become teenagers.) The term Young Adult for books wasn’t coined until the 1960s by US library services for books aimed at 12 –18 year olds by authors including Judy Bloom and Robert Cormier. And where the US led, the UK followed.

Other classic examples of teen main characters would be the stranded schoolboys in Lord of the Flies and Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye; more recently, Harry Potter and Katniss Everdene. But here’s a spanner in the works of my thinking YA books deal with only teen characters: Lena Croakley, in a Guardian article claims, ‘Jane Eyre, with its first sparks of love, first kisses and first disappointments, is not just a classic, it’s a YA classic. Jane Eyre starts off as a child in Charlotte Bronte’s first and most famous novel but ends up as a mature woman. If this coming-of-age story is YA, then so is David Copperfield and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Croakley even suggests Pride and Prejudice is a YA romance (as well as a feminist book, she says) even though neither Elizabeth or Darcy are in their teens even at the start of their story.

So, are young adult books, then, coming-of-age reads, rites of passage novels dealing with firsts, and finding one’s identity in the face of adversity, even if the protagonist reaches even middle age later on in the story? If so, then Young Adult is a far wider category than publishers, libraries and bookshops have it. It could maybe include many more classics than we might have thought. If we follow Lena Croakley’s thinking, Brideshead Revisited could be considered YA; and Lucy Honeychurch in A Room with a View, though she may be just out of her teens, definitely undergoes one of life’s key rites de passage.

More recent and contemporary YA novels have branched out in terms of genre from ‘pure’ coming-of-age to fantasy and dystopia, including Harry Potter, the Northern Lights Trilogy, The Hunger Games and the more current trend for witches, ghosts (think Sixteen Souls) and vampires. And, thankfully, young adult fiction IS becoming more diverse.

What seems clear is that whether young adult fiction is realistic or supernatural, what’s important is that the emotions are real. And that’s true of younger fiction too – Wonder and Fledgeling, just as two examples of books both I, in my 50s, and my father in his 80s have loved.

My conclusion is, that once we’ve respected readers-age guides and trigger warnings, we can and do read whatever we connect powerfully to.

Just a few of the other children’s and YA I have read in the last year or so:

We are all Constellations, Amy Beashel

Wrecked, Louisa Reid

The Nicest Girl, Sophie Jo

Three Friends, Katie Clapham

The Summer I turned Pretty, Jenny Han

Truly, Wildy, Deeply, Jenny McLachlan

The Silent Stars Go By, Sally Nicholls

The Monster Belt, Ruth Estevez

There may a Castle, Piers Torday

Broken Ground, Lu Hershey

All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven

Cardboard Cowboys, Brian Conaghan

Too Dark to See, Chloe Heuch

The Yearbook, Holly Bourne

Are you okay, Elliot Hart, Kate S. Martin

Fledgeling, Lucy Hope

Pony, RJ Palacio

The Hate you Give, Angie Thomas


Activist, Louisa Reid

The Cats we Meet on the Way, Nadia Mikail

Honesty & Lies, Eloise Williams

Stone, Finbar Hawkins

After Love, Tanya Byrne

One of us is Lying, Karen K McManus

Hani and Ishu’s Fake Dating, Adiba Jaigirdar

First Day of My Life, Lisa Williamson

The Animal Lighthouse, Anthony Burt

Safe, Vanessa Harbour

The Good Bear, Sarah Lean

Fightback, AJ Dassu

The Unraveller, Frances Hardinge

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