Can You Be 'Too Old' for YA? Our Expert Opinion: No
Marie Pabelonio is an associate editor at Goodreads. She also manages the Young Adult newsletter. Here she discusses why "youth" isn't a requirement for YA fans.
Clearly, they've never met a YA reader.
YA readers show up to author signings dressed as their favorite character. YA readers camp out at bookstores, waiting for the midnight release of a beloved series installment. YA readers use their spare time to write fan fiction, make GIF sets, and create blogs with the same fervor people have for pop stars and TV shows.
So it's no surprise that YA books have some of the most passionate fandoms.
Jonathan Sanchez, cofounder and director of YALLfest, describes the festival as "a chance to be with your 'tribe' of fellow Marissa Meyer or Leigh Bardugo or Angie Thomas fans." Here lines of avid YA readers stretch along the streets of the main historic district of Charleston, South Carolina. "There's like a whole 'line culture'—sort of like sneaker fans—where by being in this ridiculous line together you show that you are in a unique but significant group."
The passion is contagious, but do you have to be 18 and under to enjoy it?
Or are older YA readers doomed to live out this Steve Buscemi meme from 30 Rock whenever they encounter other fans?
The good news is that older YA readers aren't an anomaly.
There are currently 15.8 million Goodreads members who marked "young adult" as their favorite genre on our site. While only 20 percent of those readers disclosed their age, 65 percent of that sample are 18 and older and 33 percent are above the age of 35. Based on our data, we can infer that older readers represent a healthy portion of the young adult audience, if not the majority.
So while the term "young adult" nods to a specific age group (industry insiders agree the age range for those readers is generally between 12 and 18 or 14 and 19), the category is far more inclusive than you'd think.
"Of course, interest in YA doesn't immediately stop once someone turns 19," says Erica Barmash, senior director of marketing and publicity at Bloomsbury Children's Books. "And there are younger kids reading up as well."
A quick look at the 1 million–plus Goodreads members who completed The Hunger Games tells us that 64 percent of those readers who disclosed their age are between 18 and 35. Of the 115,000-plus Goodreads members who completed The Hate U Give, 60 percent of those readers who disclosed their age are between 18 and 35.
"Just because a narrative in a YA novel might take place when those characters are teenagers doesn't mean the experiences represented aren't relevant to people outside of that age bracket," says Lindsay Boggs, assistant director of publicity at Penguin Young Readers. "Even as an adult, I often reflect on my teen years. I don't think I'm alone in that."
To answer that question, it's worth noting what draws readers to young adult books in the first place.
First: idealism. Young adult books are brimming with it.
Think The Illuminae Files, The Red Queen, or the Throne of Glass series. Also, more recent standalones, including Internment and The Hate U Give. Whether contemporary or fantastical, fighting for a better world is an empowering notion for readers of all ages. "Chosen ones" often have to make the toughest choices themselves to overcome and create change.
Take any quote from some of our readers' favorite YA classics. "They weren't looking for a fight. They were looking to belong," says S.E. Hinton in The Outsiders, one of the original "young adult" novels. "In that moment, I swear we were infinite," writes Stephen Chbosky in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Growing up is a lifelong journey of self-discovery. No one leaves high school, college, or their second career feeling like they have it all together.
"I believe many adults like the coming-of-age nature of YA," says Todd Krueger, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). "It allows adult readers a reminder of a time of possibility, even if their own adolescences weren't spectacular."
So we know that themes in YA books are universal. We know that their readership is wide. What, then, is the actual definition of a YA reader?
"In my view, a young adult reader is anyone who enjoys reading and engaging with YA literature, regardless of age," says Emma Kantor, associate children's book editor at Publishers Weekly. "The wonderful thing about YA is that the category continues to expand in terms of genre, format, and content, meaning there really is something for every kind of reader."
"I don't believe that there truly is one way to define a YA reader," says Meghan Harrington, an associate publicist at St. Martin's Press & Wednesday Books. "YA readership includes everyone, whether you are 13 or 42."
So for the record, you don't have to be young to enjoy young adult books. You shouldn't feel embarrassed about identifying with characters who may be half your age or more. Reading is reading—so read unapologetically. Yes, growing up often means moving on, but you don't have to leave behind the stories that speak to you.
Check out complete coverage of YA Week:
The Best YA Books of 2019 (So Far)
The Top 100 YA Books on Goodreads
The Most Anticipated YA Books
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