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  • Jennifer Burkinshaw

We are all Young Adults

Updated: Sep 11, 2022


Somewhere between 55 and 70 % of YA titles are bought by adults between 18 and 64. Wherever the figure actually lands, it has to be the majority, then, of teen novels that are being read by adults. It's been said (by Bob Stone) that the only difference between YA and adult fiction is the age of the protagonist; that Young Adult is the where the target audience starts, not where it ends.


Why?


I read Young Adult books not only because I’m a YA writer: I’m currently writing an adult novel and I also read adult literature. But I always return to YA fiction, classics as well as new, because often they are better written. All right, that might be a generalisation, but teen writers have had to learn how to keep a teenage brain’s attention, even if their readership will include more adults than teenagers. Some adult reads can feel much ‘baggier’ in comparison.


There’s another reason too. By their very nature, young adult books, whatever the genre, are stories of transition and change, often crisis, people being pushed to extremes. They often involve teenagers who are full of doubt and uncertainty about their self-worth and if, how and where they can fit in, including, but not only, in terms of their sexuality and gender. Many involve the longing and beginnings of first love or friendships.


But, as Meg Rosoff so clearly put in on a recent R4 edition of ‘Open Book’, all these are experiences that follow us throughout our lives. For this reason, she suggests that ‘rites of passage’ is the better description than ‘coming of age’ for these YA stories of teenagers finding their way: we continue to go through rites of passage throughout our lives. The changes we go through might no longer be first love (though also might be) but they could well be new love or new friendships and will certainly be new stages of our lives. As adults, for example, have a family, divorce, transition, emigrate, grieve … we experience those same feelings of uncertainty and ‘lostness’ we felt when we were teenagers.


In my own YA novel, Igloo, one of the 'rites' my main character, Nirvana, undergoes is fighting for her own identity, having to hide away and skip school to do the woodwork she is passionate about and follow the vocation she wants. I suspect most of us remember a time when conflict arose because our real selves veered away from the version our parents would have us be - and that can be at any age.



A review of a brilliant new YA debut, The Nicest Girl by Sophie Jo, summed it up like this:

YA fiction? Yes.

Just for YAs? Definitely no.

Because, ultimately, we are all just people, people so very often trying to find a way through new, scary and thrilling experiences.


Part II coming soon: The Very Many Young Adult Books Adults Read




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