Young Adult Fiction is “Real” Reading

Young adult novels are not trivial works of literature. I’ve read blog posts or comments online where people bash YA fiction as not being “real” reading or just “fluff” compared to serious literature like old classics. I dub these people “reading snobs”.

YA is the primary genre I read – the subgenres I enjoy being romance, dystopian, historical fiction, and occasionally fantasy. While I am in the target age range for these books (typically 12 to 18), I will likely continue to read YA even after high school.

Take Harry Potter, for example. The Harry Potter series is one of the most beloved and popular book series of all time, and it’s categorized as young adult. It was written for teenagers, but it has a lot of serious issues such as grief and PTSD that are covered in the books. The characters are three-dimensional, flawed, and full of depth – something YA books often get criticized for not having.

Of course, I’m not saying that every YA book is perfect. There are a lot of poorly written YA books that read like a bad Wattpad story you wrote when you were 13, but every genre of literature has its share of bad books. Poor writing and structure is not just an attribute of YA books. In fact, I’m reading an “adult” book right now, and the writing style is painful to get through.

According to a study by Pew Research in 2021, 23% of Americans say they haven’t read even part of a book in the past year. This sad statistic could be in part because the “high-end” literature feels complicated or sophisticated for them to get into. Since YA novels are usually a little simpler and more manageable to consume, this genre could be a nice starting point for those non-readers.

Young adult books can also act as an escape from the realities of adult life. It could bring the nostalgic feeling of childhood/teenhood when the adult reader didn’t have a tiring job or bills to pay. Reading about younger characters dealing with simpler problems might feel calming to an adult dealing with a stressful, busy life.

Most of the criticism YA books receive is that they aren’t the most original – they rely on a lot of the same tropes or cliches. People could point out the sheer number of YA romance books that involve the “fake dating” trope or the YA fantasy that include a “chosen one”. While some of the YA tropes aren’t great and heavily oversaturate the YA industry, I don’t really see these cliches as a problem. One of my favorite romance tropes is “best friends/childhood friends to lovers”, so if I look for books that specifically follow that plot, there’s a good chance I’m going to enjoy it. If you know what you like, there’s probably hundreds of young adult books that include those elements.

Another problem that arises when people call YA books unoriginal or uncreative is that it somewhat undermines the skill of writers. I agree that some YA authors might just copy every idea from existing books or have boring, predictable plots that only rely on cliches, but that’s not the case for most. Most writers take a basic trope and expand on it; they add unique twists and engaging characters that make it different from other books that follow the same trope. To say that YA books are all poorly written is saying that the writers of those books are untalented.

Just because young adult novels aren’t as “sophisticated” or “refined” as something by Shakespeare or Ernest Hemingway doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable reading material. Adults shouldn’t feel embarrassed or immature for reading YA, even though they aren’t in the target age range. Young adult books are often feel-good reads that tell stories of teens overcoming challenges, simple or not. YA may not always be the most deep literary works, but they’re definitely “real” reading.