As a Children’s/YA Library Assistant, I read a lot of books within the youth market. Sometimes I read certain books because they were recommended to me, or so that I will have recommendations to share with others; but for the most part I read because Children’s and Young Adult Fiction is the body of literature that resonates with me the most.
So when adults ask me for a book recommendation, my fingers immediately flit to the Young Adult shelf. “Oh,” they say, frowning. They shift their eyes, run their fingers along the edges of the book, and then hand it back to me with a shrug. “I prefer something a little more…real.”
I blink my eyes. Stammer. Do a double-take. I’m not necessarily presenting them with a book about prancing unicorns or mind-chomping zombies (though sometimes I am). The book I am currently holding is about ‘real’ life. So what do they mean?
What they mean–or what they think they mean–is, this is not real for me. It may be real for a teenager, but I am an adult. And what’s real for one cannot be real for the other. So, would you please direct me to a book that applies to me? Thank you.
At this point, I usually pass them off to someone else. Ha! No, I generally ask them what is real for them. What appeals? What do you look for in a book? Sometimes they specify: I want adult characters operating in fully adult worlds, enmeshed in fully adult situations. Nothing else matters. Just get me the heck out of here and into the world in which I belong. In which case, we promptly go elsewhere.
Other times, though, they describe a genre or interest that fits the jackets of thirty marvelous books right where we’re standing. When I point this out, sometimes they’ll try the teen book. Often, they don’t. But I’ve never had an adult who accepted a teen book recommendation come back disappointed. They’ve always returned smiling and asking for the next book in that series or for similar ones by other YA authors. Now, they could just be doing that to make me feel better. Nevertheless, I go home a little cheered at having introduced another adult to the amazing world of YA books.
It’s a thin line between classification and marginalization, no doubt. The literary market, I feel, does its best to guess which types of books will appeal to the highest percentages of certain demographics. Then they make it easier on the reader by sticking books on the shelves with the appropriate label. It’s immensely helpful in certain situations, but frustrating in others.
Let’s face it, most of us like things that can be classified and are clearly marked. Though we don’t necessarily like being labeled ourselves, we like to know where other things belong so that we can properly gauge where we fit in.
For instance, if I see a cute pair of jeans in the Juniors department, I won’t even try them on. I’m an adult. With hips. End of story. The label prevents me from entering official humiliation. It protects me. If the blue bathroom sign has a man on it, I don’t go in. Once again, I’m saved. If there is an interesting book cover in the Young Adult section, I promptly do an about-face and head towards the adult area where I belong. Classification or Marginalization?
Still, there are those who dare to cross the lines on their own–without a librarian badgering them–and they are slowly closing in the gap. Teens boldly walk to the other side of the bookstore or library to gorge themselves on adult chick lit, sci-fi, or Kurt Vonnegut; and grown women sneak around the corner to the teen section to get their vampire fix.
When adults begin to dabble in YA books on their own, I get excited. Regardless of their reasons (their child recently became a teen and they want to get a jump-start on reading/monitoring ‘what’s out there;’ a movie is coming out based on the book and they want to read it first; they are taking a Kiddie Lit fiction course in college; they just can’t find anything good in the adult section anymore; or they’re genuinely interested in the books because of the subject or the jacket description), many people who’ve voluntarily read a teen book as an adult have ended up addicted to them.
For these adults, they’ve found that YA books are real, and that they actually do resonate with them. But for others, teen books genuinely don’t. And that’s okay. I just ask that they find out for themselves. And the next time someone tells me that they prefer real books, I will earnestly reply, “So do I.”
DISCUSSION: So–what about you? What resonates with you about YA books? How did you end up reading them? Have you run into other adults who disregard teen books as real literature?