Every “semester” we have an office lunch for the purpose of getting to know our current batch of interns and to answer any questions they might have about the, undoubtedly, bizarre goings-on in publishing (and in our office). Yesterday, over a Middle Eastern spread (the baba ganoush was delicious!) we asked everyone to tell us what they read for pleasure. Overwhelmingly, the response was YA. And, for some reason, that surprised me and even made me a little wistful for the days when youngsters couldn’t wait to get their grubby little hands on “adult” literature.
I still remember when, in seventh grade, a beat up copy of The Other Side of Midnight (which was already a decade old at the time, in case you were wondering about the timeline) was surreptitiously passed around at my school. The book, of course, opened naturally to the “sexy” parts and we would have all been mortified if our parents had caught us reading it. By the time I was a young adult, myself, my peeps and I were interested in SERIOUS fiction that dealt with IMPORTANT subjects, and if you wanted some sex and scandal, you turned to grown-up bestsellers like Marguerite Duras’ The Lover or Josephine Hart’s Damage. You know, stories about older people behaving badly….
The thing is that, traditionally, YA was considered “aspirational”—kids younger than those depicted in the books were the primary market for it. Now, I know that YA literature has exploded as a genre and that, in many ways, it’s tackling tough subjects in ways sometimes more inventive and provocative than we’ve seen in what is considered adult fiction. That said, is it narcissism, solipsism or fear of growing up that accounts for young adults actually preferring YA books in general? In recent years, with blockbusters like the Harry Potter and Twilight series playing havoc with readership demographics (as evidenced by 40-something moms reading YA and NA alongside their tweens and teenagers), it seems that the category now even appeals to its own namesakes. Crazy, huh?
How do you account for this shift? Are there broader cultural implications that I’m missing here or is this trend just a function of how sophisticated the category has become?