March 24, 2020
Everytime I walk through a bookstore, I’m almost automatically pulled toward the Young Adult Fiction bookshelves, resting quietly near the back. Perhaps it’s muscle memory — after years of reading and falling in love with the characters in them, ones that felt so real they could’ve been sitting next to me, the YA shelves have become my first destination.
If I don’t find anything there (which is incredibly rare), I drift into the children’s literature section, searching for new titles advertising the latest creative ideas. I helplessly pick up each big, square book with a beautiful cover, and try to not read the whole book right there, standing next to the shelf.
These two sections are my favorite in the bookstore, but lately I’ve felt a little different standing there. As I’ve grown older, especially in college, I’ve felt like I don’t quite fit in these spaces anymore.
So, during a valiant attempt at reading a book from the shelves labeled Adult Fiction just because I thought it would feel more age appropriate, I looked at my favorite YA book sitting on the bookshelf and thought, “One chapter. To remind myself I like reading.”
And as I fell back in love with the way the words fit on the page and the humor of the young characters that could literally make me laugh while sitting alone in a room, it dawned on me — YA books are for adults, too. So are children’s books. All books are for everybody.
Age-specific genre titles are mere guidelines, suggestions. But we’re not 5th graders reading at a “7th grade level,” we’re people reading stories, and we should read the ones we love.
In an article published by The Atlantic in 2017, it was reported that over half of the “young adult” readership is actually over the age of 18. Young Adult novels are often labeled as “coming of age” stories, and while teenagers can relate to them as something they’re going through currently, adults recognize these stories as something they’ve been through and enjoy looking back on.
Just because the protagonists in these stories are young does not mean the writing is dumbed down. Some of the most beautiful prose exists in books with a 15-year-old protagonist, and there is no reason to miss out on the experience of reading it just because it’s not targeted to the “right” age group. Not to mention the struggles YA characters go through are not specific to only young adults. Serious, heavy issues are tackled in YA stories, and they’re almost always met with grace and hope. Everybody can learn a little more about how to face struggles with grace and hope.
And the same goes for children’s books. “Harry Potter,” one of the most universally loved stories of all time, is famous for transcending boundaries between children’s stories and adult books. In fact, in the UK, each book was published with two different covers — one for kids and one for adults. Nothing about the content changed, except for the cover, which could have been done with the hope of helping adults feel less self-conscious about reading a book deemed for children. But this is the most telling example that a good story is a good story, no matter the age group it is targeted to.
Even children’s books that are far less complex than “Harry Potter”, like picture books, are important for adults, too. Oftentimes, picture books break down very complex ideas into their simplest sense. Things like the relationship between good and evil, life on earth and even death are all difficult concepts that some adults still have trouble understanding. Children’s books portray these ideas in a clear and simple way, so that everyone has the chance to learn and try to understand.
There’s no reason to try to force ourselves to read books we don’t want to read. And this doesn’t mean there aren’t good books out there labeled “Adult Fiction,” because there are. So read YA Fiction. Read comic books. Cry over that adorable children’s book. Accept the fact that 15-year-olds are funny and relatable. Books are not age-specific, and both young adult and children’s literature are great at helping people understand what they’re going through, or even just offering a short escape. No one should feel ashamed for loving a good story.
Leah Wright is a senior studying Professional Writing and English with a concentration in creative writing. She is pursuing a career in editing and publishing, but hopes to eventually become a published novelist. When she isn’t in class, she can most likely be found spinning flags with various color guards, but she also enjoys listening to Bruce Springsteen and reading good books.