Young Adult Novels: Art or Cash Cow?


By ANDREW QUINTANA / Contributing Writer

The summer movie experience this year was a little lackluster. With the exception of the typical kids’ films and superhero blockbusters, 2016’s summer lineup felt like it fell flat on its face. The hype was basically nonexistent for many of the movies hitting theaters, and the ones that did get some buzz were immediately forgotten after release. I tried to understand what went wrong this summer when it finally hit me. My hearing was impeccable, and I think it was thanks to the lack of screeching from excited tweens and middle-aged women lining up at the box office for this year’s hottest young adult novel film adaptation. 2016 not only failed to leave a lasting impression in theaters but it also broke the long reign of young adult books getting a film counterpart. Many might say it’s a godsend after the likes of Twilight and Divergent tragically invaded the big screen, but is there more to this genre than meets the eye? Are young adult novels manipulative pieces of commercialized garbage, or is it time this genre got some literary merit?

Let’s get one thing straight: young adult (YA) novels are not just for young adults. A study done by Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age shows that actual adults (18 and older) buy 55 percent of young adult books. 28 percent of those buyers lie between the ages of 30 and 44. Now you might be saying “Oh, those are parents buying books for their kids,” but you’d be wrong. 78 percent of adult buyers are actually buying the novels for themselves. So what’s so damn enticing about these novels intended for children? Well, it’s a comfortable form of escape. Avid readers have always read as a form of escape – a habit that likely manifested when they were children – and these young adult books were all they could read. Harry Potter and Narnia still act as refuge for older readers trying to escape their stressful world. Plus, reading these books evokes a type of nostalgia for a simpler time. But it isn’t just familiarity that these books offer; YA novels do present engaging messages of friendship, honor and identity in very clever ways that are accessible to both younger and older readers.

But therein lies the point of contention. Those who criticize the popularity of this genre don’t necessarily hate YA novels but the adults who ruin it for everyone else. These books are intended for children and teenagers because the stories help them to develop and grow. Many writers and readers can’t hide the fact that they were avid readers of young adult books when they were young, but some say that the books should be a starting point for bigger and better things. Children learn the basics and then dive deeper into what literature has to offer them by moving on to more complex, nuanced novels.

There’s also the argument that YA novels are manipulative. Books in the recent wave of popular young adult novels (The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, etc.) tend to present endings and solutions that don’t really challenge readers but give them exactly what they want: a clear, concise, easily digested moral. It’s an insult to readers – especially mature ones.

To each their own, though. Both sides have valid arguments, but it all comes down to pleasure. Whether you’re reading YA books for nostalgia or to develop your literary taste, the person who is happy is correct.

2 thoughts on “Young Adult Novels: Art or Cash Cow?

  1. This is a great article. And I agree with a lot of the points made, actually. But I wouldn’t compare Divergent to The Hunger Games or Twilight. Both of the latter were very cookie cutter novels (even if I did enjoy reading them, tbh), but when Veronica Roth decided to kill off Tris for good at the end of the Divergent series, no reader saw that coming and it was a very un-cliche way to end a YA novel. How many authors kill their main character and leave them dead? Even the literary titan James Patterson brings back Fang from the dead in the popular YA novel series Maximum Ride.

  2. The YA genre that exists today is nothing like the Young Adult from my childhood. (I’m an adult who reads both YA and Adult.) I remember looking through the YA section as young teenager, because I loved Nancy Drew/Sweet Valley/Christopher Pike. When I began looking for something deeper I had to leave and search through Adult section. This is back when the adult section is where you’d find Ender’s Game, or VC Andrews.

    All that really changed is we’ve created a middle section, taking adult books about children (books like Enders Game and VC Andrews) and moving them into a new area. We made the original children’s section into a Middle Grade and called this new section, containing adult books about children, YA. The style of book has always existed, they just used to be mixed into the adult books. In my opinion, all of this YA vs Adult conversation is really just a trick of marketing.

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