Why do Adults Read YA Books?

More and more adults are reading and enjoying YA books. What’s the big appeal?
Mike Duran asked about this here on Novel Rocket a year ago. He revisited the topic on
his Facebook page recently. The answers he’s getting
haven’t changed much in the past year and they are still somewhat
unsatisfactory to me. I’ve read a couple of dozen articles on the topic and
polled my YA-reading adult friends. The top
three answers are as follows. Adults read YA because these books:
  1. are not going to have graphic sex and/or
    foul language in the romance novels.
  2. are shorter, less complicated, and easier
    to read.
  3. are about the struggle between
    good and evil with big themes that are easily understood.

I’m baffled by these answers, because: 
  1. Graphic sex in YA books has been around a
    long time. Forever, by Judy Blume was
    first published in 1975. 
  2. Many YA novels are not shorter and
    easier to read than adult novels. The Harry Potter books, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaues series, and The Book Thief, to name a few, are
    longer and more sophisticated than many adult novels. 
  3. It’s not true that YA
    books are about big struggles between good and evil, either. An awful lot of
    them are vapid stories about shallow girls fighting and having sex. 

YA books are not all the same. YA is not a genre. Merriam Webster defines genre as: a category of artistic, musical, or
literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content,
but YA fiction comes in many different styles, forms, and types of content.
Spend some time browsing. You’ll find mystery,
romance, steam punk, historical novels, literary novels, and contemporary YA
books. There are coming of age stories, action/adventure novels, issue books, thrillers,
horror novels, dystopians and, oh yeah, fantasies.
If we look at particular genres, instead of looking at YA as
a whole, we might come up with different answers to the question at hand.
I suspect that many fantasy lovers read YA books, because the spec-fic kiddie pool is huge and some of the best fantasies ever produced are splashing around there.  
Adult shelves are full of good whodunits, though, so I doubt that many mystery readers are looking for YA books on the minuscule mystery shelf in the children’s section.
Romance? I
don’t know. There are clean romances and raunchy romances on shelves in both the adult and the YA sections. Maybe some women prefer YA over adult romances because in YA novels readers are more likely to find stories about first love (you can’t write about first
love these days with an adult heroine and have anyone believe it), and there is something attractive about first
love–love that still believes in a soul mate, love that sill believes in
happily-ever-after.

Dystopian is enjoying huge crossover appeal. I think this is the one genre about
which it can be said that YA books are more simplistic than their adult
counterparts. Teen dystopians are fast-paced, mostly written in first-person
and often in the present tense. They are about action, not about
characterization, and most don’t offer deep, thoughtful commentary on the state
of the world. They are full of cartoonish government bullies and kick-ass heroines. I think adult dystopians are deeper and require more thought.

But while all these genres offer different things, I also think there is one thing that almost all YA
books do have in common, regardless of genre: hope
.
YA books are aimed at teens, and teens are asking the big questions. Why am I here? Where am I going? How can I
do something significant? Teens get involved in causes. They protest wars and
picket abortion clinics and speak out against bullying. They are moved by songs about suffering and loss. They are idealistic. Seeing inequality
and poverty in the world, they look for ways to fight those things. Teens still
hope to find the love of their lives and they still think they can succeed at
anything if they only believe.  
YA books don’t all have happy endings, but most leave us with hope. (There are exceptions. Go scan the titles on the one and two-star reviews of Mockingjay if you want to see how betrayed
many YA readers felt when the Hunger Games series ended without hope.)  I think adults might like YA novels because they end with hope. In a society
where many have come to realize that we aren’t in control and life is
painful and people die and stocks lose value, adult readers might be looking for
books that end in hope
Hope springs eternal in the human breast, not
just in the teen’s breast, after all.
So what about you? Do you read or write YA? What
genres? Do you need a happy ending? Do you prefer stories that end with hope?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 is represented by Reclaim ManagementHer short works have been published in various magazines, including Highlights for ChildrenShe blogs about young adult novels at sally-apokedak.com. You can read a sample of The Button Girlone of her YA manuscripts, here if you like