Question – Why do adults read young adult novels?

Back in the olden times when I worked at WF there was a moment when four different movies with the same plot were in the theaters.  That plot being it’s the future, and the future is a brutal (yet bland and banal) police state because there’s been some kind of plague or other society altering event that happened.  Everyone is tested and has to conform and play by the rules.  But one special teenage girl (played by a sexy adult lady) flouts authority and is the most interesting and best person in the world and her rebellious attitude brings down the evil people who sit in their offices and sneer.  I was mocking this overused plot with my cruel wit when a woman walking by overheard and felt the need to stop and lay into me because she loved those movies and the books they were based on.

It always bumps me when someone is upset by my opinion because why would they care what I think?  But I have to keep reminding myself that I’m thinking about it all wrong – they don’t care about my opinion.  At all.  What they care about is that someone doesn’t like a thing they do like so they need to attack with full force.  After all if someone doesn’t like something they do like that’s almost like they’re being told they’re wrong and they can’t be wrong therefore they’re not wrong YOU’RE WRONG!!!

Mildly related incident, some years before that I watched the first Harry Potter with a lady who was a huge Harry Potter fan.  When the movie was over I said something akin to “It was pretty good but I don’t understand why they’re so popular because it’s clearly for children”.  That was the wrong thing to say.  Someone pointed out to me the other day that 75% of my stories are basically “I was just minding my own business and then this woman got mad at me.”  Is that more about my desire to cast myself as a victim or me being a sexist Neanderthal?  You be the judge!  Also that’s not true because 75% of my “stories” are about TV shows.

I’ve been wondering why so many adults really love young adult fiction.  A quick unscientific googling PROVES that 60% of YA genre readers are real non-young adults.  The only young adult book I think I’ve read I don’t remember the name of but it was another re-telling of Alice in Wonderland with steampunk and magic and weird monsters.  The main thing I remember is that the Mad Hatter was Alice’s bodyguard and there was an ancient order of hat people who were ninja super heroes.  He ended up in the real world when Alice fell through the wormhole that took her to Wonderland-land and he traveled the real world visiting hat stores because he assumed they were all mighty warriors like they we were he came from and could help him get back.  I think somehow one of them did.

I liked it, but found it somewhat lacking as well.  That lacking feeling made more sense once the internet told me it was a YA book.  So, what did I like about it?   Those are possibly the things other people like about other YA books.  I liked that the plot moved along at a good clip.  The story was shor but it never dragged, the plot was always moving forward.  I liked that while it had challenges and things to be overcome everything wasn’t awful all the time.  There weren’t any long boring passages where the protagonist was wrestling with a fake moral dilemma that actually had a very clear and obvious answer.  I’m guessing that these things are all hallmarks of YA fiction, although the Harry Potter books are quite lengthy so maybe not.

Poking around a little on the internet one thing some people say for a reason why they like YA books is because they’re “clean” – in that there’s not a completely pointless sex chapters and that there’s not horribly unspeakable violence described in loving detail.  I can definitely understand the first part – it annoys me to no end when the book I’m reading about the guy trying to catch a serial killer or rescue his daughter Liam Neisen style or build a bridge in Thailand and then the author takes a break to describe two people banging.  What does that add to the narrative?  It happens so often I feel like I’m missing some fundamental thing other people like about reading books.

The second part I hadn’t thought about, but it makes sense.  Most “normal” adult books are thrillers or mysteries or suspense novels where someone either is horribly murdered or attacked or is under the constant threat of horrible murder or attack.  Or if not that it’s still that someone is dealing with some kind of trauma – their plane crashed or their husband’s head exploded for no reason or they’re being chased by narcos.  In order for there to be a story there has to be something for the character to deal with and most of the time that something seems to be murder or some other life or death situation.  Although I guess YA books are usually about someone saving the world, but it’s presented in a way that seems less dire?

I’m tempted to say that YA books are less complex but that’s not the right word because even as an outside observer these seems to me that there is a deep well of intricate Harry Potter lore.  Maybe what I mean is that they’re more straight-forward, which doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot going on, just that it’s presented in a more digestible format.  Maybe I am saying it’s less complicated, in terms of the beats in the story as opposed to the world building.  Okay, yeah, that is what I’m saying.  A YA book may have a crazy Tolkien-esque level of detail in the world but the story is presented in a fundamental way.  We met the hero, bad stuff happens, then they win.  As opposed to an adult-adult book where we meet our characters, they’re all kind of shady and flawed, some stuff happens that doesn’t necessary make sense, and then there’s no real ending.  Maybe the big draw of YA books is that they deliver on what they promise.

I’ll equate it to wrestling because equating everything to wrestling is what I do.  Back in the day in the wrestling world you built up your bad guys with the intention of having them vanquished by the good guy.  People didn’t want to see Hulk Hogan wail on Roddy Piper because they loved Hogan, they wanted to see Piper get his ass kicked because he was a huge dick.  There’s a vindication and validation that the bad guy got what they had coming to them so there was a reason to have watched all that prior bad stuff they did.  Wrestling seems so bland and rudderless now is because the bad guys never get their comeuppance.  People like bad guys now so they always win, or at least people think they like bad guys.  But as the ratings prove no one tunes in week after week to see jerks constantly get away with their bad behavior even if they profess to like it.  Insert presidential joke here.

That was the fatal flaw with the NWO in WCW – they came in as a monster heel faction and built up all kinds of heat but there was no payoff, no one ever stood up to them.  They just ran roughshod over everyone and the wrestlers IRL realized they only got to win if they were part of the NWO so everyone with a name joined up.  And what are you going to do then when the bad guys have total victory and no one will stand up to them?  What kind story is that?

Ergo by the NWO principal I will speculate that the reason many adults read YA books is that while they may not be the most sophisticated in terms of plot or dialog they deliver the payoff in a way that adult-adult novels sometimes don’t.  I’ll call it the Law and Order principal, there’s no great feat of storytelling going on there but you go bing-bang-boom and you hit all the high points and then it’s over and the good guys win as they always do.  Everything’s wrapped up nice and it’s over and you’re not left with a lot of thorny ethical issues to think about.

Some say that the best books/movies/TV shows/whatever make you think – but people aren’t always in the mood for thinking you know?  Insert presidential joke here.

Sidenote, I was reading an article about how “young adult” is a marketing term not a real genre and in it the author said “no one sets out to write a young adult novel”.  I’ll call bullshit on that.  I think many people do that exactly.  Especially once people found out that you could make billions doing it.   

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