If you’re an adult who reads YA, you’re not alone. While dated now, a study performed in 2012 discovered that more than half of YA book sales came from adults, particularly those aged 30-44. My first challenge to this statistic was “of course! Adults are buying YA books for their teenage children”, but the study further explains that 78% of the adults buying YA books were actually buying them to read themselves (Publishers Weekly, 2012). If you follow the math, this means about 43% of all YA book sales were going directly to adult readers. These statistics do not include library users, so the overall number of adults reading YA was likely higher.
Ten years later in 2022, I think it’s safe to assume the number of adults reading YA titles is much higher with the rise of BookTube and Booktok, platforms where many adults and teens are sharing their favorite young adult titles on YouTube and TikTok. In fact, the 26% increase in YA fiction sales from 2020 to 2021 has been attributed to the insurgence of BookTok videos recommending backlist YA books with bestselling titles They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart front and center (The NPD Group, 2021). Although both of these books are older (published in 2017 and 2014, respectively), I can personally confirm that I’ve seen both wildly promoted on the platform.
So we understand that YA as a genre is booming, but why does it appeal so heavily to adult readers? Personally, I continue to find myself connecting with coming-of-age stories even as an adult because I’m always learning, growing, and coming into myself no matter how many years have passed and I haven’t found something with quite the same feel in adult literature. Similarly, English Literature professor Virginia Zimmerman explains that “to come of age is perhaps the most common ground there could be among readers. Adults recognize it as something they’ve been through, but they also recognize it as something of a fantasy. It suggests some sort of stable existence. And as adults, we know that we continue to change, continue to come of age.” She also goes on to say that “the YA books that have been popular with adults are dark and serious and hard. People might to go to YA literature to sink into a reality different than their own, but I think they sink into that reality to encounter feelings, challenges, and relationships they recognize from their own lives” (The Atlantic, 2017). In essence, adults are reading YA novels to connect with characters they relate to and feel their emotions deeply.
On the other side of the coin, Spencer Miller says:
Another reason I personally love YA is reading about experiences I don’t relate to. I read to understand what it is like to be a young person today, especially a young person who is growing up completely differently then I did. Most of my recent learning about race, sex, gender, ability and other important facets of identity has come from reading about the diverse experiences of characters in YA fiction. The books I’m reading are having all the conversations no one wanted to have with me when I was teenager. My anxieties about addiction, violence, and the climate crisis are calmed by the realizations and determination of YA protagonists.Spencer Miller, 2020
Blogger Monica Hay asked similar questions to four publishing professionals as well as adult readers of YA which resulted in 2139 responses. Many of these responses indicate that adults are reading YA titles because they’re fun to read, full of escapism from everyday life, and contain more female-driven stories and are less pretentious than adult literature. In addition to these responses, Monica deduced that much of the reasoning provided by readers hinted to the tone of YA titles. Many respondents claimed that reading YA left them feeling hopeful with one respondent claiming that “adult books are about learning to live in the world we have. YA books are about changing the world” (Hay, 2019).
No matter why you read it, there’s space for you in the reading community as an adult reader of YA books. I hope you find the below recommendations helpful and are comforted by the knowledge that, no matter what you read, you’re not alone!
If you’re an adult who loves to read YA or wants to give it a shot, check out our new summer book club! Follow the library’s social media for updates about monthly picks and go to our events page to sign up.
The Atlantic. (2017, December 1). Why so many adults love young adult literature. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/12/why-so-many-adults-are-love-young-adult-literature/547334/
Hay, Monica. (2019, November 6). Why do adults read young adult books? https://ooligan.pdx.edu/adults-read-ya/
Miller, Spencer. (2020, January 29). Reading YA as an adult. https://bookstacked.com/features/hidden-adult-in-ya/
The NPD Group. (2021, May 25). 2021 is shaping up to be a very good year for young adult fiction. https://www.npd.com/news/press-releases/2021/2021-is-shaping-up-to-be-a-very-good-year-for-young-adult-fiction/
Publishers Weekly. (2012). New study: 55% of YA books bought by adults. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/53937-new-study-55-of-ya-books-bought-by-adults.html
Kadey’s Reading Recommendations
Please check content warnings before reading. You can generally find them in Goodreads reviews or on Book Trigger Warnings.
YA Books I Recommend for Adults
The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker (Duology, book two releasing this year)
Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody (Completed Trilogy)
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong (Completed Duology with side series releasing this year)
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (Completed Duology)
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson (Completed Trilogy)
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson (Completed Trilogy with side story)
The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Completed Trilogy)
Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Completed Duology)
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim (Completed Duology)
All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue (Trilogy, book two releasing this year)
Anything by Alice Oseman:
Adult/New Adult Books I Recommend for Adults who Read YA
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (series, book 2 releasing 2023) *check content warnings*
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (Trilogy with book 3 releasing this year)