Why Do Adults Gravitate To Young Adult Fiction?

I believe that more adults are reading the epic fantasy Wycaan Master series than young adults. I know there is a fair proportion of teenagers and even pre-teens reading, but judging by the emails, blog comments, and twitter responses, it is predominately adults. This is all despite the books being written for and with my children, which I describe here. It begs the question why are adults drawn to Young Adult (YA) books?

imgresI found this article by Kelly Johnson. In her post, she debunks the following statements (her words):

1. Our culture encourages an unnatural and prolonged adolescence 

2. YA books are escapist since you don’t have to look beneath the surface of them. They are easier to grasp.

3. Adults read YA because they aren’t able to read past a middle school or high school level because adults are getting dumber and dumber.

4. YA books are about hopefulness. Their problems aren’t really problems and they can be fixed. Also there’s always a happy ending, so it’s satisfying and fulfilling to adults. The characters are likable. 

5. Fill in the blank with your own justification here. Some examples may include: YA is all about first experiences; YA is nostalgia for adults; YA is cheaper than adult books and therefore more appealing to the wallet; and so forth.”


I enjoyed Ms. Johnson’s fiery responses to these statements, but I felt let down when she finished with: “The only justification for why adults read YA books is this: they choose to. That’s it. That’s their reason. Adults read YA books because they as adults choose to do so.

I am disappointed. None of these reasons explain why an adult, working, raising a family, involved in a community, volunteering, following a sports team etc. would be so moved to take a few precious hours each day to sit and read, and then often reach out and engage with the author, fellow readers, come back to buy more books, and enter deep discussions online and at the pub.

Fiction is all about the plot, the characters, and the environment. It is true for John Grisham and Stephen King, and it is true for Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini, and R.A. Salvatore.

When I read a John Grisham book, I am transported to Mississippi, to another time, and when I close the book at the end of a chapter, I worry about his characters and their choices. It is no different to George R.R. Martin who may kill off a few popular characters in the next chapter if he had a bad day.


The issue, I think, is how we perceive YA. A young adult book means there is no sex, less violence and no profanity. There are certain boundaries not crossed if we want our youth to read them. But that is all it is. There is nothing here to prevent an adult from enjoying the book, unless you assume we are all sex-starved, violent, expletive-charged individuals, which would be sad, especially if this is how Hollywood and the mass media perceive us.

I am taking a few months break from the fourth Wycaan Master book to write an adult fantasy book.

I have not felt a need to raise the richness of language.

I have not made the characters deeper and more compelling.

I have not sought a more complex plot.

I have not deepened or diluted my world-building.

There are, to be honest, issues dealt with here that may be too dark to share with youth. I share a lot with my teen son, but would hesitate to share certain passages here. Characters deal with fears and obstacles that most of us who have children might not want them to read. There is sex and more graphic violence than in the Wycaan Master series, but that might yet get dialed down.

So what does make adults gravitate to YA novels? The problem is not with the answer. The question is simply wrong.

People read a story because it has a good plot, characters that the reader can bond with, a world that stimulates the imagination. This is the same for adults as it is for YA. YA is written within certain criteria in order to make them a safe space of teens. It certainly does not mean dumbing down or becoming predictable.

The discerning reader will be drawn to a book in their chosen genre simply because it is good: plot, characters, environment and strong writing.

A good novel is a good novel is a good novel…

So this seems like a good time to thank all of you who bought Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 and any of my other novels. I read every blog comment, every tweet, every priceless review on Amazon.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Have a great week.



Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+ here.

5 comments on “Why Do Adults Gravitate To Young Adult Fiction?

  1. Sean J says:

    Nail on the head- if it’s good, it’s good, regardless of the label. Many of the best series I’ve read are considered YA.

  2. lisafender says:

    About ten years ago I began watching movies, TV shows and reading books that had the fantasy/sci-fi theme and have never looked back! I love it, in fact my series that I write is Fantasy fiction, New Adult genre. I think the biggest reason is it takes you away to a magical world, to a place you can only dream about. I did want you to know i just ordered Ashbar and I’m looking forward to it. Sorry i didn’t get it sooner, I think my mind has been to wrapped up in getting my second book out. I will let you know what I think about it when finished and as always I will leave you a review!

  3. I so agree that a great book is great regardless who its intended audience is. As for why adults gravitate to young adult literature, I choose to read (and write) YA fantasy because what passes for adult of late mostly seems to be ‘dark’ — meaning that there is a great deal of graphic violence and explicit sex. It feels like an assault on my psyche. What’s more, it dismays me that much of what we see in the media is continually more vulgar and more violent. The line is continually pushed back. I don’t want to participate in that devolution.

    By the way, i finished At the Walls of Galbrieth and look forward to reading the series. I see why Shayth grew to be a character you couldn’t easily discard.

    • Elf Writer says:

      Thank you, Blanca. I think the desire to read something that is free of graphic sex or violence is a huge attraction. The dark side is important and should not be entirely removed, but it is nice to have areas, a very few remaining bastions on our lives, where you know you can immerse yourself and relax.

      Thanks for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Can’t wait for you to see where I take Shayth in the next two books. If you have time over the weekend, please leave a review on Amazon. It will be really appreciated.


  4. Reblogged this on Left Coast Voices and commented:
    This post generated interesting responses on the elfwriter blog. What is your take?
    Have a great weekend,

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