What They Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them

(Publisher’s Weekly, Feb. 16, Carlisle Webber)

Persuading adults to read YA literature

Overheard in a library: “This is a teen novel? I don’t want it then. I just want regular James Patterson.” The patron was holding the copy of Maximum Ride that she had requested.

Among a blog’s comments: “I’m an adult who loves YA fiction, but I always feel so embarrassed by looking through the YA section of the local library.”

Every day, those of us who advocate for young adult literature hear statements like these, which not only devalue the genre but show us that too many adults believe that YA is either junk or best appreciated by 10-year-olds. We roll our eyes when yet another media outlet writes about this newfangled genre of literature, one that consists solely of Harry Potter, Gossip Girl and the Twilight saga (and maybe some other vampire books if we’re lucky). We heard “I hate YA” from Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic Monthly, yet almost all Flanagan’s examples of YA were published before 1977. It’s dismaying, to be sure, but we guardians of the YA literature world have two options: we can either complain to our colleagues about it, or we can help other adults see what they’re missing when they dismiss YA. While it’s easy to think it’s teen opinions that really matter when it comes to collection development, it’s adults who fund that collection and adults who often buy books for the teens in their lives. It’s time to get adults fully on the YA bandwagon and help them overcome their embarrassment.

My advice is simple: lie and cheat. To get more adults to read and enjoy YA literature, the lie of omission often works. The Luxe by Anna Godbersen has an eye-catching cover, touting a tale of high society scandal in a world of luxurious ball gowns, making it easy to hand-sell. Who has to know it’s marketed to teens? Paranormal romance is a hot genre, so why not recommend the crossover-ready Impossible by Nancy Werlin, in which a pregnant teen has nine months to solve the Elf King’s mystery or go insane? In addition to these YA novels with adult-friendly covers, you have another trend on your side, the trend of well-known adult authors writing YA. Sherman Alexie fans don’t have to know that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is aimed at teens. Alice Hoffman, Joyce Carol Oates, Carl Hiaasen, Jacquelyn Mitchard and many other popular, talented adult authors have written YA. Use these ambiguities of authors and book designs to your advantage. Don’t say it’s a YA novel until your readers come back to rave about it. Which they will.

Now that you’ve woven that tangled web, on to cheating. The easiest way to get adults to look at YA novels and see the variety and quality in the genre is to take them by the hand and lead them there. Adults who wouldn’t normally go within 10 feet of any YA book will follow a librarian or bookseller anywhere. While you have their undivided attention, show them what’s new, especially if you have books that appeal to older teen readers. These books help to emphasize the idea that YA spans 12- to 18-year-olds. Teen books must make an appearance outside the teen section. Staff picks and themed book displays should include teen books. If you feature Pulitzer winners in a display for adults, why not also feature Printz winners? Encourage adults to embrace their YA reading tastes by talking to them, adult to adult, about YA books. Remember, though, that cheating does not work if you don’t have the lies to back it up. Keep an eye on YA book reviews and know what’s on the children’s bestseller lists.

After all this deception, will there still be adults who won’t touch a book if they learn it’s published as YA? Yes. No matter how much guidance we offer, there will still be adults who think YA is beneath them. Those who believe our lies and don’t catch us cheating, however, are on their way to becoming our partners in crime.

One Response to “What They Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them”

  1. Beth Fehlbaum Says:

    I really don’t understand the stigma associated with adults reading literature that is “geared” toward younger audiences. Good, strong storytelling, engaging plot, and empathy-inspiring characters all add up to great writing. Period.
    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of HOPE…
    http://courageinpatience.blogspot.com
    Ch. 1 is online!

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