Do adults not want to read about other adults anymore?

Warning: Potentially unpopular opinions to follow.

My entire life, I’ve most preferred to write about young people. Even when my characters age into adulthood, I still see them in my mind’s eye as they were in their younger years. With the exception of parents, I only wrote about people around my age until I was in my mid-teens. In fact, my Atlantic City characters were written pretty unrealistically as adults until I was an adult myself! I had such little experience with writing about realistic adults, they inevitably felt like overgrown adolescents playing at being grownups.

I’ve honestly never had any problem with adults reading books intended for a younger readership. If you’re writing about young people, it stands to reason that you need to be familiar with the category. That was actually what helped me to realize I (mostly) really write adult literature that just happens to have young protagonists, instead of books that would be considered YA or MG by most folks nowadays.

If you write a book review blog that focuses on YA, MG, or children’s lit, it also stands to reason you’ll be reading a lot of that. And many books written for younger audiences are so well-written they transcend age-based categories. If a book is really good, we can enjoy and relate to it in different ways at different ages.

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However, I’ve become increasingly off-put by this undeniable trend of adults now exclusively, or nearly exclusively, reading YA and sometimes MG. I’ve seen many people, YA writers or not, outright admitting that’s all they read, and that they don’t read adult books.

Many times, a trend is so pervasive someone isn’t aware of taking part in it because of social contagion. Take, for example, the explosion in first-person present tense and alternating narrators/POV characters. Of course I don’t think everyone doing that is deliberately, mindlessly following a trend. But when you’ve seen so many examples, it does start to influence you. A lot of younger writers admit they think past tense and third person are stuffy, boring, and outdated, or don’t think books can still be written that way!

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Of the YA published within the last 10 years or so, I most enjoy graphic novels and novels in verse. I also love contemporaries with a gritty, urban setting, like the late great Walter Dean Myers’s books. I’ve been sadly disappointed in a lot of the YA historicals published in the U.S., and really didn’t click at all with any of the other genres I had to read for my YA Lit class.

I’ve revisited a number of books I loved when I was younger, and many times was left wondering why I ever loved them so much. Maybe it was because I now read more as a writer than a reader, but it’s also due in part to how those books are written for a younger audience. Adults want different things out of a story than children, preteens, or teens.

So, yes, I do find it kind of weird and creepy how adult women are openly swooning over fictional teenage boys, announcing crushes on them, feeling fluttery over their kissing scenes, and declaring themselves Team So-and-So for books with love triangles.

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I’m an adult, and never had the type of high school experience often depicted in YA contemporaries. I never dated or went to parties and dances, and didn’t want to. I barely even went out socially with my peers, also by choice. And forget taking part in current pop culture!

How can you relate more to a bunch of high school kids when you’re in your thirties? Don’t you want to read about other adults, with adult concerns, in a writing style meant for adults? There’s certainly a valid time and place for those kinds of stories, just as not all adult literature is going to be Crime and Punishment or Don Quixote. However, we all need a balanced diet, and too much of any one thing isn’t good for us.

I’ve also seen a lot of adults who start talking like characters in YA contemporaries. It’s really embarrassing to hear a thirtysomething soccer mom regularly saying, e.g., “All the things!” “All the feels!” “All the whatevers!” Their real-life writing style is often indistinguishable from that of an actual teenager!

This feels like deliberate cognitive stunting, avoiding engaging with writing intended for adults. Having a favorite or preferred genre (books, movies, music, artwork) doesn’t mean you should exclusively consume it. It makes us better-rounded when we sample from other buffets.

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7 thoughts on “Do adults not want to read about other adults anymore?

  1. I don’t want to read about teens. I made it out of my teen years alive and I don’t want to go back. Even when I was a teen, I read adult books. Of course, I don’t think young adult existed back then. But the genres I was drawn to – science fiction and fantasy – were all adult books.

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    • The YA explosion of about ten years ago made it really difficult for me to figure out my writing isn’t what would generally be considered teen literature anymore. A lot of books marketed to teens in my generation would be considered MG or adult today, just as a lot of the books marketed to preteens would be classified as YA today, and a lot of classic children’s literature is shelved in the adult section now. It’s become based on a lot more than just the characters’ ages, but the overall writing style, narrative voice, and type of story. Once I started reading Hermann Hesse at age fourteen, I rarely went back and read anything meant for teenagers. It was almost all adult literature from that point on.

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  2. I read a bunch of different stuff but there’s a lot of older YA in there. Like younger adults who are more grown up than the majority of teens but don’t have the responsibilities that adults have. There’s more to it than that but it really just depends on the book. I’m in my 30s but my mind is still in my 20s so my characters are always in their 20s. I like the age group…in my head at least. Naturally, this means I also read a lot of books where the characters are in the same age or at least mental age group. However, then there’s everything else that ends up on my bookshelves. Agatha Christie, Michael Crighton, Georgette Heyer, etc. All sorts of stuff. Reading all sorts of stuff helps broaden us I think.

    As for others, I don’t think most adults have stopped wanting to read about other adults. But it’s true the YA books are pretty popular right now.

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  3. I don’t like YA literature much and generally don’t read it. Even when I do, I rarely like it. My own writing also has mostly young protagonists, but the stories are targeting adult readers. No teenage angst for my heroes.

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  4. I have noticed this trend. It seems it started with Twilight, which I refused to read. I didn’t get the trend until a few years ago when I read a lot of YA and enjoyed them because they brought me back to when I was that age. I did not have a normal teen life. I had surgery, dropped out, etc. So I like to read about those things I more-or-less missed out on. With that said, I don’t read the popular YA books. I don’t get the hype of those. And this year I’ve been reading a lot of YA stories about girls of different cultures. I’m reading those to educate myself. But I read just as much adult fiction. I actually own mostly adult books…

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  5. I haven’t been reading fiction lately, but when I do read it I’d prefer to read about adults. But a lot depends on the writing too. I don’t mind reading about teens if the writing is done well and the story is told in an intelligent way.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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