“I Don’t Read YA…”

One of my bookish pet peeves is when people proudly declare that they don’t read a particular genre or type of fiction. “I don’t read romance/YA/comic books/memoirs/…” Weird flex, but okay?

I firmly believe people should read–and not read–whatever they want without judgement from others. But taking pride in what we don’t read (and haughtily announcing it as often as possible) just comes across like we’re calling people idiots if they do read it.

Maybe I’m extra sensitive to it because I’m a big fan of YA books, and next to steamy romance, there’s no category that gets more guff. People get so catty about how they don’t read YA… like it makes them better than people who do. Whether these people have ever actually read YA or not, they’re usually completely off the mark about what YA is about.

If you don’t know, Young Adult (aka “YA”) is a marketing category for books that target readers in the 12 to 18 age range. The key word, however, is “targeting” which doesn’t mean “exclusively for.” It just means books in this category have wide appeal in that age range and are age-appropriate. Vegetable cookbooks have wide appeal for vegetarians and are vegetarian-appropriate, but that doesn’t mean meat-eaters won’t enjoy the recipes.

But why would adults enjoy juvenile stories and simplistic writing?” Why wouldn’t they? But also, that’s not what most YA books are like. In fact, the moral complexity of themes explored in YA rivals that of adult fiction, and the backdrops of these stories are often anything but simplistic. Right now I’m reading a YA contemporary romance called Pride by Ibi Zoboi. It’s a Pride and Prejudice retelling that tackles cultural identity, class, and gentrification in an Afro-Latino neighborhood in Brooklyn–and, yes, it’s YA. I’ve read sweeping YA fantasies set in dark and gritty worlds that ask complicated questions about trauma, vengeance, and finding justice in an unjust world. And YA urban fantasies that take on the power of myth and the complexity of family. One of my favorite YA sci-fi series is set in a terraformed universe with cities reminiscent of Blade Runner and wild frontiers like something out of Firefly, that examines corporate power and corruption along with class struggles, survival, trust, and culpability. So, yeah… YA novels are more complex than they get credit for, but that’s actually beside the point.

What I really wanted to say here is that everything isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. If teenage crime bosses, 17-year-old heart-of-gold hackers, myth-obsessed treasure hunting high schoolers, and young survivalists who aren’t as human as they think they are isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine, but why wear it like a badge of superiority? Same with any genre or category of fiction whether it’s steamy romances or comic books or celebrity memoirs. It’s okay if you don’t like something, but, don’t be snippy about it. Y’know… let people enjoy things?

3 Comments on ““I Don’t Read YA…”

  1. Your comparison of reading material to food is superb. Excellent, in fact! Thanks you.

  2. I used to be one of those people. I went through a phase of only reading nonfiction and proudly announced that I don’t read fiction every chance I got. Now I read everything I find interesting.

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