Can You Be 'Too Old' for YA? Our Expert Opinion: No

Posted by Marie on July 15, 2019

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.


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"Young people don't read anymore," cries your local cynic. "They're always on their phones."

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."

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But does reading books about teens make older readers juvenile and immature? There doesn't seem to be a stigma for the opposite: Younger readers are rarely faulted for savoring books lauded by adults.

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.

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Second: intensity. Young adult books don't skimp on the emotional drama.

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

Comments Showing 1-50 of 191 (191 new)


message 1: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Yes! I so agree with this. I'm 34 and absolutely LOVE YA books and I probably will for many many more years to come.


message 2: by Jouana Farlin (new)

Jouana Farlin Seva I just turned 30 and YA is still my favorite genre of all time! I mean, come on! Do you really have to act your age?! YA forever!


message 3: by Marina (new)

Marina Another factor in favour of YA: these past few years, the "genre" (if you can call it that) has been really diverse. I find that it's way easier to find good/heard-hitting/gripping/fun Fantasy books with LGBTQIA+ characters in YA than in the Adult section. Same goes for Contemporary, and I'm sure other genres that I'm less used to.


message 4: by Wulf (new)

Wulf Krueger Marina wrote: "Another factor in favour of YA: these past few years, the "genre" (if you can call it that) has been really diverse. I find that it's way easier to find good/heard-hitting/gripping/fun Fantasy book..."

That's probably because both the authors and the target audience are younger (or more liberal) than your average adult author.

I'm 43 and was (probably) raised fairly differently than e. g. you or my own kids (who aren't exactly "kids" anymore and couldn't care less whom anyone loves). While my parents weren't exactly arch-conservative, they had their issues with "moral" changes (or what they perceived as that) at times. They simply wouldn't want to read about LGBT issues and the authors from their generation most often wouldn't want to write about those and if they did, it was often rather clumsy and cringe-inducing.

Curiously, what I've found is that the more I've read the more indiscriminate I read - being not-quite-a-young-adult anymore, on my favourites shelf there are YA books next to classics and what not.


Olivia (Phoenix_Park) Rachel wrote: "Yes! I so agree with this. I'm 34 and absolutely LOVE YA books and I probably will for many many more years to come."

Same here! <3


message 6: by Rebekah (new)

Rebekah Heppell I definitely believe that anyone can and should read whatever they want and I know I'll be reading YA for a long time yet. My only frustration is that YA is often influenced by the older readers rather than teenagers. For example, you often see reviews from people who received arcs and they are normally at least 24 or older. And if you consider booktubers and book twitter which have a large influence on which books are hyped up and which was are labelled problematic, the majority of these readers are all post university.


message 7: by Jade Melody (new)

Jade Melody I think young adult will continue to be my favorite genre no matter what my age is. I just recently past the supposed cusp because I'm 19, about to turn 20 in a few months, and I continue to love and be amazed by all the different aspects of YA.


message 8: by Nikita (new)

Nikita 32 and YA books are my favorite genre


message 9: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Okay, I am 73 and reading young adult historical fiction this year. I chose it because I thought it would be less intense than adult books. I was wrong, but it is different than what I see in adult writing. I think there is more of a sense of hope no matter how dire a situation. What I have read in the sci-fi and fantasy genre has been both fun and exciting. I think that YA is every bit as compelling as adult fiction without the downers I find there. I will keep reading this genre for a long time.


message 10: by Eric (new)

Eric Mesa Just like any other category of books, well-done YA is as great as an adult book. Just like well-done romance, SF, fantasy, erotica, etc - all the things that people parody. If they're done well they're awesome (and can sometimes even end up on the radars of the regular folks). Sometimes authors seem to be cashing in on YA and in those circumstances it can really suck. Also, the older you get, sometimes the more cringey it is that the protags in a YA book are worried about first dates and stuff that you know as an adult will pass and become less important.


message 11: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth I feel like this topic has been beaten to death. So for about the tenth time, yes I agree, you're never too old for a YA book. It's not a genre that I regularly reach for, but I can enjoy the occasional YA read.


message 12: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Perkins I am 42, and can honestly say that one of the absolute best books I've read so far this year is Catherynne M. Valente's book "In the Night Garden." It's part one of "The Orphan's Tales" 2-book collection, and I am recommending it to EVERYONE. Book 2, "In the Cities of Coin and Spice" is also really good, but the first book is phenomenal!


message 13: by Karen (new)

Karen I'm 41 and Love me some YA!!!


message 14: by Oda Renate (new)

Oda Renate 27 and still read YA


message 15: by Janine (new)

Janine Nope, can't be too old for YA. While there are teen authors getting published, the vast majority of YA is being published by authors over the age of 20. Though I ask that in YA, keep the teenage demographic in mind as your main target audience. I like (and write) YA because the content can't get super gory or super explicit (usually), which drives me away from some adult novels, which can sometimes get gritty for the sake of being gritty. And the writing style is on average, easier to read and the stories are typically faster paced. There are things I don't like about YA (mandatory romance subplots, teen/high school drama can sometimes feel a bit much), but overall, good reads.


message 16: by Nicko (new)

Nicko Moknu 29 and still reading YA :P


message 17: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Turning 28 on Sunday and I'm still reading and loving YA! I am however looking for my next series or fandom to be apart of!

I'm trying to read The Cruel Prince but I'm not exactly enjoying it as much as I had hoped but I'm going to try and push through!

In the past I loved Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent, and Delirium! To name a few!

I typically read YA Contemporary! Sarah Dessen, Jenny Han, Susane Colasanti!

Recommendations welcome!


message 18: by Ash (new)

Ash I totally agree, I'm 27 and my grandmother is 71 and we love reading YA and swapping recommendations. It's a shared interest that keeps us close!


message 19: by Pauline (new)

Pauline I'm 54 and love reading YA books. I love reading so why would I rule out a whole genre just because of my age? I've read some brilliant books classed as YA so why would my age stop me from enjoying books I enjoy?


message 20: by Mallory (new)

Mallory I'm 33 and I love YA! Honestly, I think YA has some of the best written books. The topics range from light-hearted, to though-provoking and seem to have way more substance than adult fiction. I will be a YA reader forever!


message 21: by Joy (new)

Joy Selak Here's a book for young and old -- no dragons or wars -- but an mazing young girl with a confusing gift and a dear old man who helps her learn to give it. CeeGee's Gift, by ahem, Joy Selak.


message 22: by Fain (new)

Fain Oda Renate wrote: "27 and still read YA"

Same here


message 23: by Sandy (new)

Sandy There was no such thing as a "YA genre" when I was growing up. I read whatever took my fancy and I still do. I don't think labelling books in this way is a good thing as it can discourage people from reading books that don't carry the "right" designation. And it's a bit patronising.


message 24: by Dana (new)

Dana My dad often makes comments that I should read more "grown-up"-literature, because I'm not a teenager anymore, which has made me very insecure about reading YA books, even though I enjoy reading them. So this article helped me. I mean why should I read books I can't relate to or aren't interested in? :/


message 25: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie I am a retired teacher and I love YA authors. I use to tell people I read them to recommend books to students, but now I don’t have that excuse! Now I just admit that it is just good reading!


message 26: by Hal (new)

Hal i usually shy away from comments, but i’m in my late twenties and this is a topic that has been laying very heavy on my heart; i’ve been feeling an increasing sense of guilt for YA being my favorite genre as i near my thirties and reading this article and the comments below has been SO relieving for me 😭


message 27: by Etain (new)

Etain I think there is a child stuck in every adult, Everyone is immature in some way or other, it's when it becomes self destructive, that is the problem.


message 28: by Bryce (new)

Bryce I am 67 and I have always liked YA. Of course I still read other genres, but there will always be space on my tablet for YA.


message 29: by Josefa (new)

Josefa 37 years old and I will be reading YA for a long time!


message 30: by Marta (new)

Marta Morrison I am 63 and I still read YA. I started reading YA when I was teaching. I challenged my fifth graders to read 40 books a year and I had to do it too. It was far quicker to read a YA book. I soon became a fan. I am now retired and about half of my books are still YA.


message 31: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I'm still a teenager, but there are still so many YA books to read, and more being written. I will most certainly have to read them as an adult!


message 32: by Anonyma'am (last edited Jul 16, 2019 12:34PM) (new)

Anonyma'am Sandy wrote: "There was no such thing as a "YA genre" when I was growing up. I read whatever took my fancy and I still do. I don't think labelling books in this way is a good thing as it can discourage people fr..."

YES! Someone else who feels the way I do! I thank my parents every day for letting me read anything I wanted to, regardless of subject.


message 33: by Anonyma'am (new)

Anonyma'am No one's "too old" just because of a number. You're too old when teen angst makes you impatient - like me. The whole "He's trying to kill me but I think he really likes me and by the way does this flaming sword make my ass look fat?" thing has me really wary of YA fantasy/PR/etc.

I'm much more discerning about which YA books to read now.


Tyler J [They/He] Gray I'm 30. YA when I was teen was fear street books. I can enjoy a good fear street book...but that's about all it was (or that I knew of). I wasn't allowed to read Harry Potter (because magic=devil or something). I'm disabled and queer. I never saw myself in media growing up. At all. Now YA is full of diverse stories where I can FINALLY see myself.

Stories that I NEEDED as a teenager, but didn't have. They exist now. And I am so so glad i'm still around to see them. To read them. That the love for reading I lost, I found again. I love to read all over the place, and that includes YA. I read to fall in love with characters and stories. I read to learn. To escape. To grow. Wonderful stories exist everywhere, and some of the best are in YA.


message 35: by Rod (new)

Rod Anonyma'am wrote: "No one's "too old" just because of a number. You're too old when teen angst makes you impatient - like me. The whole "He's trying to kill me but I think he really likes me and by the way does this ..."

I totally agree that this recent trajectory in (American) YA is deeply annoying: I hate so many of this formulaic works of incompetence. For readers with the need for actual literary skill, I highly recommend "Downsiders" by Neal Shusterman (whose writing has unfortunately gone downhill, in recent years, as he seems to be courting that very kind of readership that you & I can't stand). Also outstanding are the engrossing "The House of the Scorpion" & its compelling sequel "The Lord of Opium" by Nancy Farmer, as well as eerie mystery "Ink & Ashes" by Valynne Maetani (I am still awaiting its promised sequel). I've recently enjoyed "The BlackThorn Key" series including "The Assassins' Curse" & "Curse of the Wraith" by Kevin Sands. You'll notice that the best ones probably preceded the aughties, however, I still search for fun fiction that doesn't feature self-absorbed Millenial morons whining about how they can't get that guy's attention, while they endlessly complain about their family & life. The books I suggested have real character development, intriguing stories, interesting dialogue, and likable protagonists struggling to do the right thing. Please let me know what you think if them (and share with me what you have enjoyed in the past)!


message 36: by Bec (new)

Bec You are never to old to read YA. Thankfully i also work in a high school library so i have a steady stream of YA books available to read!


message 37: by Erica (last edited Jul 16, 2019 05:08PM) (new)

Erica I'm 32 and YA is my favorite genre. I don't think you have to be a certain age to enjoy a good book.


message 38: by Cindee (new)

Cindee I am 28 YA I have read this demographic since I was 12 and I see no reason to stop reading them now. I find most adult books boring so I tend to not read them.


message 39: by Cherie (new)

Cherie I'm 48 and I love YA as well as many other genres. I don't think it really matters what people read as long as they do read!


message 40: by Ashley (new)

Ashley I'm 29 soon to be 30 and still love YA books.


message 41: by Martie (new)

Martie not my thing even after several attempts. What you might reference as intensity seems to me as drama for the sake of drama. Characters often seem self-absorbed and a bit whiny. I am glad others on this thread enjoy their reading cuz that is the main thing no matter what what genre


message 42: by Char ღ Denae (last edited Jul 17, 2019 01:28AM) (new)

Char ღ Denae I'll be 55 in September and I not only read YA but I write it, as well. There's just something about newly 'discovering' all the wonderful things in life that gets to me. Throw in a little angst, humor, personal struggle, and, of course, romance and I'm in! (*I also still have a lot of the YA books I read when I was YA... i.e. Judy Blume, etc.*)


message 43: by Char ღ Denae (new)

Char ღ Denae Cherie (Myst) wrote: "I'm 48 and I love YA as well as many other genres. I don't think it really matters what people read as long as they do read!"

Amen, Cherie!!


message 44: by Char ღ Denae (new)

Char ღ Denae Steph [They/Them] wrote: "I'm 30. YA when I was teen was fear street books. I can enjoy a good fear street book...but that's about all it was (or that I knew of). I wasn't allowed to read Harry Potter (because magic=devil o..."

XOXO


message 45: by Char ღ Denae (new)

Char ღ Denae Hal wrote: "i usually shy away from comments, but i’m in my late twenties and this is a topic that has been laying very heavy on my heart; i’ve been feeling an increasing sense of guilt for YA being my favorit..."

XOXO I'm 54, Hal. No shame in reading!


message 46: by Djilan (new)

Djilan 39 and I still love YA (and NA)
I can relate to the reasons given in the article.

And I'm absolutely not ashamed of it. And yes, some other 'grownups' might comment on that, but I really couldn't care less. I like to read books that I think will be fun, not what other people think I should like.


message 47: by Djilan (new)

Djilan Char ღ Denae wrote: "Cherie (Myst) wrote: "I'm 48 and I love YA as well as many other genres. I don't think it really matters what people read as long as they do read!"

Amen, Cherie!!"


Yes!


message 48: by Dana Al-Basha (new)

Dana Al-Basha دانة الباشا 33 and rocking those YA books who are written by over 30 authors. We are the generation that write to the young ones.


message 49: by Gwen (new)

Gwen I am 72 and enjoy occasionally reading YA. Their books keep me
grounded in the “now” which keeps me informed on the younger generation. The newer books, The Hate You Give”, and others, are tackling situations that makes me more aware of young life.


message 50: by Laifalath (new)

Laifalath YA is about sex. And sex sells. That's all!
I personally see more purpose in my existence than just sex hence I don't need this kind of underage soft porn. The story beside the sex scenes is almost the same in every book; much the same as viewing a romance in the tv. I'll never touch a YA book again.

So: Can You Be 'Too Old' for YA?
=> Yes, definitely if you are not a hormone-driven wannabe-adult.

Just my opinion to this buzzword trend.

P. S.: There are a few books I like in spite of they were categorized as "YA". But this is an utmost exception. The majority of "YA" is just what I said. No matter if it was declared as "fantasy", "sci-fi" or just as "fiction".


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