When I read the news item about how 55% of young adult books are bought (and read) by not-so-young adults, I felt like punching my fist in the air and shouting "Yes! Yes! I'm not alone!"
That's right, I'm one of the 55%. I admit it. I can stop hiding my Meg Cabots in brown paper wrappers when I'm in the doctor's waiting room. I don't have to mumble how my kids just love Eva Ibbotson when I stumble across a new treasure at my favorite used bookstore. (I'm sure they would, if I had any, but I don't.) I can stop feeling silly wondering when the next Tamora Pierce will come out.
But... why? Why would an otherwise sane, normal adult (OK, I grant that both those adjectives might be a stretch in my case, but you get the idea) read... gasp... "kids" books?
Actually, I can think of quite a number of good reasons. The first that comes to mind is that there's a heck of a lot of good story-telling going on in the YA market. YA books abound with enjoyable characters and fast-paced plots. They are not burdened with the need to be laden with "adult" themes, "modern" realism, "true-to-life" situations, or the latest fashionable literary tropes. There are days (quite a lot of them, I notice) when I'm just not in the mood for yet another dose of sex and violence. YA authors, more than perhaps most other genres, are free to tell a good story, where the primary purpose is simply to entertain the reader.
Quite some time ago, I decided that there was no reason why I should ignore these wonderful storytellers just because my age group no longer meshed with the "target readership." Lots of great YA books were written when I was a teen. Lots more have been written since. Why should I miss out on so many wonderful books written in the past, um, few decades just because I "grew up"? (Assuming, again, that I ever did!) For that matter, why miss out on so many books that I never got a chance to read when I was a teen?
I also couldn't help but notice that quite a few of my favorite "adult" authors also wrote YA. Why miss out on a Terry Pratchett book just because it's allegedly aimed at a "younger" audience? Conversely, I'm sure I'd never have read any of C.S. Lewis's works for adults if I hadn't fallen in love with Narnia!
Of course, I can always play the "author" card. Awhile back, I took another look at the fantasy novel in my virtual sock drawer, and realized that part of the reason I'd never managed to transform it into a world-bending, 1000-page-per-volume trilogy is that all my main characters are young. With a sigh of relief, I realized that what I held was not the next Robert Jordan mega-opus, but... a young-adult fantasy. And of course, if you're going to write young adult fantasies, it's vitally important to read them! It's called "research" -- and that makes a wonderful excuse.
But it is, after all, just an excuse. Think about it -- YA is written by adults. Thousands of YA novels are written every year -- by adults! Those adult writers aren't just churning out books to meet some sort of marketable demographic; they're writing out of love for the subject, and for the audience. So it should come as no surprise that adults must also be reading YA! We're the same folks who laugh at all the "inside" jokes aimed at adults in supposedly "YA" movies like Bolt or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
We, the brave, bold 55%, read YA because we like it. Because it's entertaining, fun, sometimes educational, and sometimes some of the best darn fiction on the planet. We read it because we've reached a point in our lives where we realize that life is too short to miss out on what we like, or waste time in books that we don't like just because they're on someone else's "must read" list.
With apologies to Jenny Joseph,* "When I am an old woman I shall read YA." And I suspect it will continue to help keep me young.
*"Warning," by Jenny Joseph, with the famous opening line beloved of the Red Hat Club, "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple." Read it here: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/warning/