While reading Malinda Lo’s insightful and fantastic blog post, “Unpacking why adults read young adult fiction” I came across my own name, as I’m one of her followers who replied to the question:
She highlighted this response of mine:
However, I want to share with you what I wrote before:
I don’t know if it has been discussed (if it has, send me a link), but the greater percentage of adults reading young adult literature did not grow up with its current iteration. Recent statistics point out that these adults are between the ages of 30-44. I am in the minority, at the tender age of 25. One of my first young adult literature books, that was marked “YA” and found with others of its kind, was Kevin Brooks’s “Candy.” I read it in two days, at the age of 14-15. It was such a gritty, sad, powerful, hopeful book. Since then the majority of my literary diet has consisted of YA. I still read it with the same fervor as I did in my teen years.
In Malindo Lo’s post, she presents the following idea: “I would theorize that one reason adults read YA (there are probably many) is because YA helps adults to re-envision or re-experience the options of adolescence.”
I read young adult literature as a teen for exactly this reason. It allowed me to actively live out these options that I probably would never get the chance to experience first hand. I had a feeling, even then, that I wouldn’t have a boyfriend until I was older. I was not much of a partier and didn’t have any taste for alcohol, but I wanted to know how it felt. I had an unyielding, yearning bout of wanderlust, but knew that I had to wait to take that cross-country road trip. As an adult, I don’t read YA for this reason. My purpose has changed dramatically.
I do love and feel attracted to that sense of hope. I always search for that tangible concept because, as Ovid put it, “My hopes are not always realized, but I always hope.” But, I don’t read YA to reanalyze my teen years. I read YA to analyze myself. Now. Presently. This may be because there is not much distance between who I was at 15 and who I am at 25, or because I lived so many different lives through this literature as a teen that I feel this sense of content. Mostly.
I read YA now because it is a part of me. It is my reality. Now, you could note that I am a millennial and part of this generation’s socially defined modus operandi is our inability – for varied reasons – to move out of our parents’ houses, get stable jobs, be in committed, long term relationships – in other words, an extended adolescence. If I told you I feel like an adult, I would be lying. (I wondered if I was even allowed to answer Malinda Lo’s question.) I don’t. I also don’t feel like a teen. Yet, reading YA has not stunted my growth. I am not magnetized by YA because I am a millennial. It is my reality because I feel the humanity in these stories. I taste how tart, bitter, arduous and painful at times YA can be. It is not easy. Being any age is not easy. But, YA, for me, just makes things more manageable because I can think about the book I read at 16 when I am 25, and apply those ideas. Each YA book I read has influenced me as a person, and has had an enormous role in who I am now.
Towards the end of Malinda Lo’s post, this question is posed: “What does that [attraction to teen narratives] say about adult identities in the contemporary USA?”
I know what it says about me. My adult identity is based on the hundreds of teen lives I experienced by proxy, as a teen – which is a vital foundation for healthy adulthood. They are my wells of reference and information. They are my constants. It says my adulthood is based on an mish mash of unlived options, that I can opt now to act out. YA gave me the hope that as an adult I would know what kind of life I wanted to live – what kind of life would be the most meaningful.
I have to thank Malinda Lo for her brilliant post and for inspiring this one. I was working on another blog, “What YA Means to Me” (The great and terrible thing about writing is the ability to scrap what falls flat and keep what works. Usually, there is more of the former than the latter.) and here is a part of it that just reflects my current mental state:
“I don’t treat YA as merely escapist literature. I treat it as a portal into a much more amplified, vibrant, probing real world. YA, and all literature, makes me feel alive. It reminds me that living is not enough. Because, even though my teen years sucked 62% of the time, I felt, cried, laughed, sung, yelled, threw, ran, wrote, read, played, 100% of the time.
Sometimes, I wonder if now, I am just living.”
It always comes back to the now.
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