Not-So-Young Adult Readers

I got an interesting message on my Facebook page today, referencing the YA "target audience." This reader was thrilled to find others like herself who are out of that age range, but love to read stories about young adults. She's discovering what I've known for a while now: a large portion - possibly even the majority of YA readers - are technically adults. What baffles me is why this surprises anyone.

For a little while, I read historical romance novels almost exclusively. Almost all of the heroines were single and 17-23, dealing with social constructs I'd never experienced (arranged marriage, inability to work outside the home, no say in personal finances), while I was a 20-something married woman with small children. But no one could have paid me to read a novel that mirrored my actual life - I read for escape. (Wait. WHAT? Did she just say she read for escape??)

When I write, I write with my "target age group" in mind, first and foremost. (As previously blogged, I consider my novels YA-Mature, which roughly corresponds to ages 17-23.) But novels are stories, and a story can be about anyone of any age - and anyone of any age may read it, if it interests them. My love of young adult literature began when my oldest kid wanted edgier stuff to read, and I started hanging out in the YA section of the Barnes & Noble, making sure what he chose was appropriate for a thirteen-year-old. Once I discovered Sarah Dessen, I was hooked.

People didn't read Oliver Twist, Tom Sawyer or Lord of the Flies and feel guilty that they weren't preadolescent boys, did they? Austen, the Brontës, Eliot and Wharton wrote heroines who were teens-early 20s. None of these novels were written "for" readers the age of the protagonists. They were offered up, and found readers of ALL ages. Historically, reading categories were simple: "for children" and "the rest." I don't know when that changed and everything began dividing into specific age groups, and I don't particularly care. The point, now, is that many people are ignoring those categories, and maybe it's about damned time.

The popularity of Harry Potter and Twilight made it obvious once again that novels can defy their categories. In my family, the Harry Potter series was read voraciously by all three children (the oldest two as it was being written, and the youngest as it wrapped up), myself, and my seventy-something father-in-law (a master's degree-holding, historical-biography-reading, retired Lt. Col. in the USAF). The entire Twilight series was read by all but one of my family of five, beginning with my 17-year-old daughter.

We all look for connections when we read, no matter what we read - and what speaks to us will vary by age, gender, expectations... a million different factors. This is brought home to me when I read the same books my kids read - or my husband - and take away a completely different experience. If you're a thirty-five year old mother of two, perhaps I didn't have you in mind, exactly, when I created Reid and Graham, Emma and  Dori. But please - don't let a category or genre label tell you what to enjoy when you read. I certainly don't.