The New York Times says there’s no need to be embarrassed. ABC’s Hungry Beast calls it “a little bit bullshit.” Amanda Diaz looks into why Young Adult books are so popular amongst adults that aren’t so young anymore.
Tayler Nguyen’s bedroom is covered in Harry Potter posters. The 19 year old business student fell in love with the JK Rowling series at the age of 11 after watching the first film.
Taking a special place of honour on her wall is a handwritten list of each of the seven Harry Potter books. Next to each title is a tally of how many times she has read it. The fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire holds the record at 33.
“They were the first books I really got into,” she says.
Like many first generation Potter fans, the series carried Tayler through her teenage years. She would buy each new book on the day it came out, forgoing food and sleep to devour it as quickly as possible. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released in 2007, she attended a celebration held at George Street Dymocks in Sydney, dressed up in a cloak and carrying a broom. She was featured on the Channel Seven news and in the Sydney Morning Herald.
At school, she “copped a lot of shit” for her obsession, but it never really bothered her. It is only now, after years of attending midnight screenings and learning the books off by heart, that the business laws and human resources student feels it might be time to move on.
“It’s getting to the point where I’m getting a bit too old to read these kinds of books,” she confesses. “It doesn’t feel too sophisticated.”
As a story about a teenage wizard’s years at boarding school, the Harry Potter series is classified as Young Adult (YA) fiction. The category covers a range of books- from the tale of adolescent woe that is Judy Blume’s classic Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret to the recent dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Traditionally, the target YA reader is between the age of 11 and 17. But the appeal of these books has now spread beyond that demographic.
According to publishing consultancy service Codex, the number of female Y.A readers between 25 and 44 years old has doubled since 2006. Nearly twenty percent of 35-44 year olds purchase mainly teen fiction, as do 47 percent of 18-24 year olds. In an essay for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Pamela Paul described the phenomenon as “the erosion of age-determined book categories.”
This sudden rise in the popularity of YA fiction is attributed mainly to Harry Potter and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. To date, they have sold more than 400 and 100 million copies respectively.
Nicola Pitt runs Queensland based independent bookstore, Love Books. She believes that the reason Harry and Twilight transcended their intended audience is that they tapped into a need.
“[With Potter], you’re talking about a book that was about magic and boarding schools- there hadn’t been a huge amount of that sort of thing. When these came out, all of a sudden a new market opened up,” she says. “Kids have grown up reading these books and then they’ve wanted to go to the next level. What were they going to read? Twilight was there and it was a good time to catch the market.”
But it wasn’t just kids searching for their next favourite book. The romance between high school student Bella Swan and immortal vampire, Edward Cullen attracted a vocal, considerably older fanbase.
Katie Bartow is a former moderator for the fan site Twilight Moms. To join the forum, fans must be either married, a mother or over 21.
“It was hard finding a cut off age,” she says. “There’s a lot of forums for [fans] 18 years and younger, and not many for ‘adults.’”
Bartow believes that adult readers are equally as passionate as their younger counterparts. “Though sometimes Moms can be overly zealous with it,” she admits.
The Texan wife, mother and preschool teacher now runs a website called Mundie Moms (named for Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy- another series aimed at younger readers.) She cites two reasons for why YA books appeal to her personally.
“I’ve already experienced what it was like being a teen and sometimes it’s fun to go back and read a book dealing with life during that phase in life,” she says. “And being an adult, I deal with real life stuff everyday- it’s just fun to escape for a bit.
“I think more people are realizing it’s ok to admit you read YA. At the same time, I do think there’s still a taboo surrounding it.”
UK based Sya Bruce runs YA fiction blog The Mountains of Instead. The single mum lives in a small village and is currently studying for a psychology degree by correspondence after years working in marketing.
“I was very much in-the-closet about my YA habit for quite some time,” she says. “What I read tends to come up more now that I am blogging, and I do find myself having to defend my reading choices, which makes me pretty mad.”
In a segment on the trend, ABC’s current affairs program Hungry Beast called it “a bit wrong, but mostly just embarrassing.”
“You want to hold onto your inner child?” asked presenter Veronica Milson. “So did Michael Jackson.”
Is this attitude the reason that books like Harry Potter are published with dark, sombre adult covers as well as the original children’s versions?
“The fact that publishers are doing that proves that there is a market for YA fiction in the adult marketplace,” says author and University of Melbourne guest lecturer, George Ivanoff. “But it also means that there must still be a stigma attached to it.”
Why do we keep turning to the latest epic teen werewolf romance when it’s so damaging to our literary credibility?
Ivanoff suggests part of the attraction is that because all teen books are shelved together, regardless of genre, there is a freedom to experiment that doesn’t exist for adult novels. Paranormal romance can be combined with historical fantasy and steampunk. Dystopian sci-fi can meld with adolescent angst.
“What I like most about YA fiction is that it gets to the heart of the story,” says Ivanoff. “It can’t spend time waffling because teens just aren’t going to put up with crap. With an adult novel, there’s a sense that you have to be serious and put in a lot of description and detail.”
Nicola Pitt thinks that we should remember that sometimes, reading is just allowed to be fun.
“We all need escapism,” she says. “We’re too busy trying to be grown up in a very hard world.”
So perhaps Tayler shouldn’t be so worried about letting go of her love of Potter.
“I am trying to be more fancy with my reading,” she says. “But I don’t know what I would do without those books.”