On YA sections

There’s an interesting wave of discussions going on right now about YA sections of bookstores. Do adults read YA? Should they feel dorky for doing so? When shopping for YA, should they bring a teenager along to make them less conspicuous?

The discussion was started by Cory Doctorow, whose new book was mentioned in my previous post. He’s telling his adult science fiction fans where to find Little Brother, and about how many other awesome books there are in the “undiscovered” YA section.

It’s called “Young adult sections in bookstore — a parallel universe of little-regarded awesomeness.”

Of course, as the folks watching Christopher Columbus sail in must have thought, being “undiscovered” is relative. And John Scalzi responds on that point, noting that YA (especially science fiction and fantasy) is actually much healthier than adult fiction in the sense of sales, cover designs, writing, and general vitality. YA has been well and truly discovered by readers, publishing houses, etc. It’s just that some adult fans of sf/fantasy don’t know that much about the new wave of awesomeness.

Here’s John’s post: “Why YA” (in which he says many appallingly nice things about me).

Mind you, the best part of these two posts are the comment threads, which consist largely of adults saying, “ZOMG, have you discovered this YA author yet?” to each other. Granted, they’re mostly talking about stuff that you guys already know about. But it’s always exciting to see new people getting enthused about the coolness of our world.

And for added amusement, you also get a few, “But I read adult books as a kid. Surely I am too mature to read teen books as an adult!” As if you guys don’t also read adult books. I mean, sheesh.*

A related amusing thread in these comments is how many adults are scared of going into the YA section. Like, they’ll be laughed at or arrested or something.

Anyway, it’s always interesting to see how others see us.

*The “I’m too mature to read YA” assertion reminds me of a guy I met at a party a few years ago. Upon finding out that I write novels, he said, “Oh, I only read non-fiction. Because that way I’m learning something.”

Now, there are many ways to skewer this position, but I figured the simplest was to say, “So you must watch only documentaries, and never movies with a story.”

He sputtered a bit and said, “Well, no. I don’t just watch documentaries. But movies are entertainment.”

Even as he said this, his expression showed that he got my point. Saying that he read only non-fiction was meant to make him sound smarter. But what it really suggested was that he saw reading as work. Sort of like medicine, reading wasn’t supposed to be pleasant, but to improve him. And what did it say about him that reading was work and watching a movie wasn’t?

Now, obviously, lots of very smart people read mostly or only non-fiction. (This is a golden age of narrative non-fic and science writing, for one thing.) But the smart ones never declaim that it’s better for them, just that they like it more.

Not reading/watching/listening to whole genres on principle is rarely a good look.

99 thoughts on “On YA sections

  1. YA is awsome my brother wont read it though so i hit him (he is older) and you can learn things from fiction i mean peeps come on and that hotwireing involves nothing under the dash…

  2. the hotwireing thing i learned from Maximum Ride by james patterson

  3. I’m numbah 3!
    Anyways, young adult section rules. I mean other sections are good too, but the young adult section has a really great variety of things.

  4. That little [*] insert at the end of the entry’s pretty funny, but it’s an interesting point.

    Genres are fine, but the age-labelling thing of books seems a little over-rated. Because quite frankly, if a book is exceptionally well-written, then it would make sense if it transcends age differences.

    I suppose book stores and libraries and such organize books thus to make it easier to find them, but if you really think about it, it’s also somewhat limiting the experiences of those too obessessed with keeping up appearances. It’s sort of sad, but sometimes it feels weird walking into the “kids” section to look for books, but there are some pretty good things in there. As a matter of fact, I believe that this one store had all their copies of Harry Potter placed there as well.

  5. I know of a lot of parents her read the books there kids do (YA) which i think is awesoem but at the same time i think that YA books are a little “teenish” and i dont see a reason why adults would want to read them.

  6. Hello–

    I’m adult, so please don’t boo me off the blog (which I check at least twice a day and sometimes more.) I hit the dreaded 4 0 in November.

    And I love YA stuff.

    The youth librarians at our local library know me by name and we get a kick out of giving each other reading suggestions. (I just recommended “UNWIND” to the head of the dept.)

    I’m not araid to browse the YA section of B&N or BAM, either. If somebody younger than me thinks I’m a dork, well so what?? At least I’m a well read dork! And I’m the one who turned my daughters on to Scott Westerfeld. I’m doing my part to spread his fawesomeness around. :o)

    And besides– I hope to have my own YA mystery on the shelves someday. Who knows?

    There. That’s my “old person’s” point of view.


  7. YA books are the best. i dont know why adults are afraid of reading them… if adults can read harry potter without being laughed at, why not YA novels? i mean harry potter is… A KID’S BOOK! IT IS IN THE KID’S SECTION!!!!!

  8. silly silly people!
    along with GREAT YA books, are GREAT children’s books as well!
    You have the giving tree, and the lorax… HELLO!

    But it must be said,
    now that i’m in college i get a little disapointed with the YA selection,
    it seems to be filled with IT girls, and all that other non-sense.
    I want a book where the main character is just stepping into being an adult, not 15 or 16 but 18-21.
    I think I’m in an age that is highly ignored,
    I can vote and join the military but I can’t drink, go to a club (on most nights) and I can’t find a book that talks about the first years of college!
    Its insane too, because college is seriously the most interesting thing.
    Like on May Day I helped organize a walk-out on my campus against fee hikes and budget cuts, along with immigrant rights! Where are the books about me?


  9. I started reading YA a couple years ago when I had to go to a library training. They made me read “I am the Messenger” by Markus Zusak…which was pretty much better than any “adult” book I had read in ages. I haven’t left that section. I’ve tried, oh I’ve tried to read “adult” books but it is hard to find authors that do not take themselves too seriously.

    I’m always distressed by how the YA is seperated out in the library. Plus, YA itself now spans ages 11-21, so many fantastic older YA books are lost among the younger tween reads and vice versa.

  10. My brother (27) and my mother don’t seem to have any problems reading YA, but I can’t bring my dad to do it. Even if its a genre that he likes. My dad also believes I’m too old for YA, which i heartily disagree.

    If I’m too old to read YA how would I be on here right now?

  11. I am an adult and i read “YA” books all the time. I find that they tend to be more intersting than other books. I have read the whole Uglies series among other books since I have turned 21. I do not feel embrassed by purchasing these books because I buy the books that get my attention and keep me interested. I do not care what other people think about the books that I read. I have gotten other people to read some of these books right along with me and they have enjoyed them alot.

  12. The way to lose the embarrassment that adults seem to have over “shopping” in the YA section–put them on hold at the library! Nobody will even know! But I guess I have the ultimate excuse for reading all the great YA authors. Teen Librarian!


    Have you read “Better than Running at Night” by Hillary Frank? It is a great book about a girl’s first year in a collage of the arts.

    I do find it sad that this is the only book of its type that I can recommend to you though. If you read the series by Megan McCafferty that starts with “Sloppy Firsts”, the third book in the series is about going off to college.

  13. hehe. my parents HAVE to go into the YA section, because every birthday i present them with this list of like, fifty books that i want, and then they go shopping. this year, my list consists of 51 books

  14. I think YA novels are better than a lot of adult novels. If adults choose not to read it because of a label, it just proves their ignorance toward the book world!!

  15. I love YA! And I’d just like to point out that even though some adults think reading YA is not mature enough for them they might want to think about the fact that adults are usually the ones who write YA, adults who editit them, adults to publish them etc. So really if they’re saying reading YA is immature they are calling alot of mature, lovely people immature…

  16. Like wandav, I’m pushing 40, but I was in the YA section yesterday picking up Cory’s new book and didn’t think anything of it. I’ve been discovering lots of great fiction around there for several years now.

    The weird part was the 14-15 year-old guy in there wearing a purple Twilight t-shirt that said “I love the Cullens” on the back. I just finished the third book in that series (as did my wife) and I really wanted to say “great shirt man, and if you liked those books definitely check out the Midnighters series by this guy Westerfeld…”

    But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to freak him out. He doesn’t know me from Adam and the media has everybody programmed to believe that guys my age have no socially-acceptable reason to talk to teens they don’t know… unless we’re yelling at them for being teenagers, of course. Which is sad.

    On a more positive note, every bookseller I ran into (3 of them) pointed to LITTLE BROTHER and say, “Hey, everybody’s talking about that book.” Not just in the YA section, either; all over the store. I finished it this afternoon and it lives up to the hype in _spades_… Far and away the best book Cory’s written yet.

  17. I am an adult also but read a ton of teen/youth stuff. Of course I am a Librarian so I don’t have any problems going into the teen area but I also don’t mind shopping there at any bookstore I am at either. Genre’s are great for classifying types of books but they don’t identify the readers. Lots of teens read “Adult” books. Everyone should read what they enjoy without worrying about the labels.

  18. Ecacly my point! As someone said eailier “I want a book where the main character is just stepping into being an adult, not 15 or 16 but 18-21.” Thats what I’m saying. Yes, its awesome that they enjoy YA but at the same time its called YA for a REASON! Because its ment for those ages and for those ages to enjoy it. They wont write a YA book about a 30 year old and expect it to be a top seller.

    The only way to get the attention of the young adults is to write ABOUT the feeling, time, and age as the young adults. (Hince the YA part of it. Must i explain more?)

  19. Its awesome to see all the adults here! I love the enthusiasm.

    In my ealier comments, i never meant whats i said as a “You cant read YA” way. I dont care if you read them. There are tons of books i would LOVE my mom to read (although shes currently busy with the Jodi Picoult books). So dont get the wrong ideas about my comments. They are meant as opinions and never meant to be factual.

  20. Okay, since I was like in third grade I was forced by my teachers to read REALLY lame books, that were like adult non-fiction, I mean seriously, I hated it. Just because I can read it doesn’t mean that I like too! Dude, it made me hate reading, which I undoubtedly love, and like anywhere I go, I have my nose in a book. Since this summer I’ve literally read well over 200 books, which indeed were almost all YA, and I’m just going into HighSchool. But yeah, so even when I’m older I still will head straight for the YA section! Who else wants to join the rebellion?! Yeah, the people at Borders know me by name cuz I practically live there! I’m not saying that all Adult books aren’t interesting, but YA is just….so…YA, that’s all there is to explain it!

  21. It always makes me a bit uncomfortable when adults try to act smarter than they are. That and when they try to deny that they read YA.

    Er…number one…Its called Young ADULT. Therefore, why shouldn’t adults read it? As long as their young at heart. Becuase if they’re old bats at heart they’d be reading Chicken Soup for the Gardeners soul or something.

    Yeah, I only really have a number one.

  22. pshh. Reese is so right.

    There are good books in the kid’s section as well, and as a young teen, I sometimes go to the ole library search page and the book I want is there and I get weird looks when I go in there. So I totally understand the fear thing. Whenever I get someone else (or even myself) something really weird or immature, I always find a way to say out loud, “Oh, _____ will love this!” Or something like that.

  23. my dad reads all of scott-la’s books. and twilight. it’s become something i can hold against him. like i’ll be, if i get grounded from the internet, you cant read the seventh harry potter book, and he totally backs down. its very funny. poor, deprived adult souls who don’t read YA

  24. srcsmgrl
    Thank you!!!!
    I haven’t read “Better then running at night”, but i have read “i can’t tell you” by hillary frank, which is ALSO about a college student. Great Book! I haven’t been able to find her other at borders though… But I will definitely check out your recommendations!

    I Love the “Young at heart” thing! EXACTLY!

    My Mom’s a freshmen english teacher, and she is totally not afraid of YA books, and she’s 52!!! hehe Not only does she love them as much as I do, but uses the books to connect with her students. I think thats WAY awesome, cause non of my high school teachers ever read the books I liked!

    But it’s true, it is a little awkward when I see older people next to me checking out the books I’m buying. Though, at the same time, I’ve gotten some weird looks from little 13 year old girls (and then I run away feeling ooooold!)

  25. HaHa, lol! I would so not get embarassed if I was an adult in the YA section! Seriously! I act like an idiot on purpose! Hey, it’s fun!
    Last time I was there I was talking in a British accent(Cuz they’re freakin awesome!) and I was there with my Dad and he was on the other side of the store and I was all “Daddy! Daddy, bloody ‘ell where did you go?! Daddy!” and then I was reading the first page of a book I wanted to get and walked right into this guy and did a curtsy and said “Terribly sorry sir! The fault was completely mine!” and then skipped towards the checkout counter. See? Getting embarassed is so not a problem for me.

  26. Most books I read are YA and Children’s and I am an adult. I just find the stories in YA and Children’s books very entertaining and I enjoy wondering and making those stories real to me. I will admit, sometimes I do feel a little weird going into the YA section, but I can’t stop myself! That’s where a lot of the fun books are and I think I’d be sad if I had to be stuck with only adult books. What would I read?

  27. Does anyone know any place i can find some England histroy from the 1800’s!?!?!?!?

    OMG!! Theres a spider!!! Eppp……

  28. i agree with all that has been said. i can’t imagine not reading YA books. (poor adults who think YA is just for teens) i don’t think i’ll ever out grow it. cuz for me i like a book that can take me away and put me into a different world, similar to mine so that i can relate, but still different so that it’s interesting, and with YA i get that. most adult novels aren’t as interesting, and don’t do as good of job at taking me away. but don’t get me wrong i still love and enjoy reading adult novels too. like right now i’m reading “The Pact” by Jodi Picout (adult fiction) and i’m reading “Ambition” by Kate Brian, (which is a YA novel) and i’m loving both.

    i really don’t think you can put an age max on books. i love seeing so many adults who enjoy YA. and i love getting adults interested in them, like i told my teacher all about the Uglies series and lent her my copies and she loved them. and currently my adult cousin is enjoying them, and can still relate to them. i 100% agree with you Reese on the young at heart thing, good way to put it.

  29. Just Google 1800 england history
    Anyway i just finished reading the midnighters series it was a different type of book but so good and addicing.
    dont squash the the poor spider its probly scared to death.
    i am sooooo bored.
    it is 12:28 where i am

  30. I Love the YA section at 23 years old. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said, “No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table.”

  31. I’m a teenager so I read lots of YA. But lately, I’m feeling ashamed for even entering that section. When I look through the books, I see a lack of originality. The majority of books I see are fad books, about vampires, boarding schools, and fairy princesses. I believe each category has its standouts, but in these days it seems books are about wish fulfillment. (About the overused categories above, I know that some of these genres are amazing, but each has its own downfall. The best-selling Twilight and Anne Rice’s novels most likely created the popularity of vampire books. Boarding school books have come from being a teenager with problems that the majority of us can identify with, such as peer pressure and bullying, in such classics as The Chocolate War and A Separate Peace. Now the latest issues are popularity but determined by impossible fashion standards and perfect characters struggling only with finding the perfect outfit to impress someone who they end up hating. And the fairy princesses… Well, I thought there was a children section for that. (I LOVE fairy books, such as Holly Black’s Tithe, Charles de Lint’s The Blue Girl, and Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, but cliché is still cliché. I think that the mythology and history behind the fairies are much better than the Disney-coated alternative.))
    I go to the YA section to get books I know that I will still read at 30. I go to the adult section to look for better books, but I feel like I did when I first went to the YA section- am I here for the better and more advanced books, or am I here just because I should move on?

    (And Bran-la, if you’re looking for historical fiction I suggest the epic and massive London by Edward Rutherfurd.)

  32. omg, Liset, I totally agree about the sudden influx of rather… small and narrow-minded “chick-lit” there is out there today.

    I’m not trying to say that it’s bad, per se, as I myself am guilty of reading Gossip Girl and The Au Pairs and such every once in a while. But it’s a little disconcerting the way that society is heading, espeically for younger girls maybe just hitting the pre-teen years. They’re exposed to things like drugs and alcohol in these books, and because such things are built up as “cool” and part of the high lifestyle, some of them aren’t able to tell apart that it’s not good behaviour.

    Of course, right now the ends of the spectrum seem to be pushed farther than they’ve ever been pushed before, because simultaneously, there is an increasing amount of young people aware of their surroundings and of society, and putting their all into making a difference.

    But isn’t it a step backward in terms of feminism when all that’s being advertised–to kids, the next generation, the future, or call it what you will, no less–is petty things such as the latest over-priced trends and the shade of one’s nail polish.

    As a global society, I think it’s our duty now to become well-versed in the present, and in the bigger mindset of things. Not to sound all “oh no, the world’s ending” or anything, but the economy is experiencing issues, and possible food shortages (or at least, rises in prices, for sure) are in the near future. Is this really a time to be exposing young girls back into the dark ages?

    I’m not saying that one shouldn’t read these books; just that they should read these, but also other genres. Of course, it’s none of my business what other people read, but I know people who read soley “chick-lit” and think they’re well-versed in the realm of books.

    Personally, I think that Sci Fi might start dominating the market soon, because it forces people to face reality, to not shy away from the fact that yes, indeed our planet is in trouble.
    I that for the most part, youth tend to read YA more because they can relate to the characters better, and might have a bit of trouble with the more sappy adult romances.

    Also, when people are young, they’re less disillusioned with the ways of the world and therefore have a more vivid, more ripe imagination (although there are numerous adults out there who are way more imaginative; fantasy and sci fi writers for example.) It’s good to retain the child in all of us.

    But good books shouldn’t really care about age. Although some adult books may seem good when they’re being read by a child, they’ll seem better when they’re re-read after a frew years.

    When I was about 10, I was bored this one summer and went and read some of my mom’s books (Firebird, by Janice Graham, American Dreams by John Jakes, Toxin by Robin Cook, You Belong to Me by Mary Higgins Clark, etc.) and I’ve re-read a few of them since then, and I’ve gotten more out of them each time.

    It’s also great to see all the ethusiam here by “grown-ups” who read YA.

    Let’s stop the book-age discrimination, shall we?

  33. I didnt aquash the spider. I hate squashing them because they could jump on you!!!! Im one of those people who hate bugs. I wouldnt scream but there nasty.

    About when i said i needed the History of England in the 1800’s it is for my next stroy. Im doing more of an old timy story and so i need to research the area….common religions…..languages…..lifestyles for the diffrent income levels…..whats the people looked like……if there were queen and kings and if so which one? so yep yep i have a lot a head of me.

  34. I am an adult who browses the YA section with zero shame. And I was one of those kids who started reading adult books early. I would have been more embarrassed as a teen to be seen in the YA section. In fact, I think I’ve read more YA as an adult than as a young adult.

    I often see adults in the YA section. And by the looks of it, they aren’t necessarily shopping for kids. I’ve had more than a few of my fellow sci-fi/fantasy geek friends remark here lately that the books coming out for kids are much more interesting and enjoyable than the books coming out for adults in the same genres. I’ve been recommending your books (and other excellent YA books) to adults and teens alike.

  35. i just got done with dance pictures. they were tons of fun. normally i don’t like them. but this year we went to a studio in a nearby town and it was amazing. i completely fell in love with the studio, and hope to own my own similar to that one. and it was fun because instead of smiling and being all pretty we were all attitude and were all misterious. i nailed my photo on the first shot. and i gotta tell you my pose was pretty freaking fawesome! 😀

    Bran-la i finished Ambition last night. loved it. hated it. and am mad at some people and feel sorry for some people so yeah. i thought it was a really good book though. not the best in the series. can’t wait till you read it so we can talk about it. but for now i promise i won’t spoil it.

  36. Dude seriously, in the YA section there’s always adults there and the other day there was this one lady with a really hurried look on her face and she was talking to her friend who also had the same expression and I overheard they were looking for a Sarah Desson book, and since I practically live at Borders I memorized like where everything is, and I’m all, “Oh, it’s over here.” and pointed it out. And then she had this guilty look like “Oh crap I’ve been caught!” and it was hilarious!

  37. Kay-wa ~ Hahaha. Well, i feel bad for saying this, but the last books that i have read of the series werent so good. I mean, i enjoyed them. but i didnt like them as much as the first 4 or 5. And i always end up doing that with her books. loving. Hating. Feeling sorry for. Being mad at. I can wait to read it!!

  38. I just checked to see if they have ambition at the barnes and noble by my house and they do!!! so I’ll proubly get it tomorrow.

  39. i srsly think that teens can read just about anything and adults can read just about anything (tho kids probably should just stick w/the little kid books if u know what i mean). i mean, i read some adult books (tho i prefer YA), and my mom reads YA books when she finds the time. adults really shouldn’t be ashamed to go to the YA section.
    has anyone read inkheart????? i just started it today (tho i’m like 60 pages into it 😳 ). it’s really good

  40. yeah i know what you mean Bran-la the first four were the best. but i still liked the last three. i just wish Kate Brian wasn’t so mean to Reed though. cuz Reed is my favorite character and i like to see good things happen to her. like Josh. Reed and Josh were perfect for each other but nooooooo Kate Brian has to go and write that Reed cheats on Josh. and obiviously things aren’t giong to be okay after that. i just wish that for once i could read a whole book with Reed being happy and being with Josh. that would be great. probably not as exciting, but it would make me happy.

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