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.”

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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.

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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.

elfwriter

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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.

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Guest Post from Elwin Cotman – exciting young author.

Elwin read his previous collection, The Jack Daniels Sessions to our writers group. His new book – Hard Times – is out and his book launch is at Pegasus bookstore in Berkeley later this week. Elwin has a uniques way of writing, but his voice when reading is amazing. Well worth an evening.

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Back to Reality

1To the bearer of the sandbag: slide back two steps for every one you gain, because the levee does not give ground easily.

2Leper steps, needles pricking his calves and thighs.

3His life measured in steps of ten, one after the other, then again.

4Behind the rifle aimed at his cheek: a hairy face plastered with three stripes of black hair and his

5Eyes like the heads of rusted nails, lips drawn back from broken teeth.

6The deputy kept as close to him as a brother, his curses swallowed by the storm.

7Or maybe he had lost his voice and moved his mouth in hateful habit.

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The above excerpt is from “The Revelation of John,” a story in my new collection Hard Times Blues. It deals with the Flood of ’27, when terrible storms devastated the Mississippi delta. Blacks along the Mississippi lost their crops, their livelihoods. They also lost their freedom: black men, like my protagonist, were forced to work the levee in a vain attempt to stop its breaking. Equally as terrifying was the aftermath, when the Army Corps of Engineers abused the blacks who survived. It is a tragic event in US history, and most people I’ve met have never heard of it.

But it is a part of our history. And my genre of choice—fantasy—is the perfect way to explore it.

I write fantasy because it is fun. The inclusion of dragons and elves automatically makes a story more engaging for me. However, my subject matter is often not fun. Even in entertainment, the tragedy of the black experience is inescapable. Nor should it be escaped. It should be dealt with head on so that the world does not forget. The events of Hurricane Katrina becomes especially egregious when people know the same thing happened almost 100 years ago. Past and present are one.

As a kid, I spent my days and nights in Prydain, Narnia, Redwall Abbey, and Krynn. I always felt left out because there were hardly any black characters in these stories. It was when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved that I saw how fantasy could tell my American story. Here was a horror story, with all the dread and uncertainty that makes good horror. The horror itself stemmed from slavery. The ghost of the dead daughter served to make the story more realistic; a key to learning the degradation of black people.

In my work, I explore historical injustice, police brutality, gentrification. They stem from of a desire to bring these issues to light, but also because they reflect my experience. My world is a multicultural one, and my writing is my truth . . . filtered through dragons and zombies. I once asked Charles de Lint, who some consider the father of urban fantasy, if he ever ran into resistance from publishers for writing black and indigenous characters. His reply was that any publisher who had those reservations wasn’t worth his time.

De Lint is a wonderful fantasist, with stories of fairies and bards that would enchant you. More important, his work is compassionate, addressing the lives of the indigenous, the homeless, the survivors. His writing brings you back to reality.

That’s what fantasy does for me: it brings light to the real world. It also offers the perfect platform for tales of heroism. The Afro-American experience holds numerous stories of rebellion against overwhelming odds. Thanks to fantasy, I have the language to honor this history and heroism.

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Elwin  Michael Cotman is a writer of urban and folkloric fantasy. He blogs at www.lookmanoagent.blogspot.com. Hard Times Blues can be ordered on Amazon,com here.