That is the question posed by Ruth Graham in her latest Slate article. She goes so far as to say we actual adults should be "embarrassed" to be reading so-called "children's books." Let's start by pointing out the fact that children and young adults are two completely different groups of readers, separated by about 3 years (the Tweens, as they say), you'd think Ms. Graham would have taken the time to check on that before completely dismissing one of the most popular and fastest-growing areas of fiction as all "children's books."
Before I go bashing Ms. Graham and her myopic view of a genre* that includes some of the greatest books ever written, it is worth noting that as a high school librarian it is part of my job to read books for young adults. So even if we accept her stance as 100% correct there's no reason for me to be embarrassed. She must be writing about other adults with less interesting jobs. I'm just admitting that I may be a bit biased, just like her, only I have better reasons than my own need for smug superiority. I should admit that she does have some good points, in particular that that 55% of YA purchases were made by people over the age of 18, i.e. actual adults. Now many of these were probably made by college students and other people who qualify as "young," and still more were probably purchased by parents for teenaged children, but I'll bet there are still a sizable number purchased by full-grown, not-young-at-all adults like me. Based on this shouldn't we be asking not whether adults should be embarrassed to read them, but why these books are separated from mainstream fiction in the first place?
Just as there isn't really a clear cut line between childhood and adulthood, there isn't a clear divide between YA and "regular" fiction. And books that were written before the existance of a large YA market could now be considered "young adult," and often are shelved with them. A few titles that come immediately to mind are The Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye, but the list could go on and on. Graham argues that YA novels tend towards neatly packaged endings, based around what teenagers want to read, and that adults "ought to reject as far too simple."
But she seems to forget that people my age, which is also her age** were young adults when the Harry Potter novels turned the YA world into something immensely and uncontrollably popular (and profitable to the industry, I might add). We grew with it, or maybe it grew with us, and before that there wasn't the huge variety of YA titles available. But is there even a clear cut time when we are supposed to stop getting excited for an authors latest novel to hit the shelves, to buy it at midnight and read it as quickly as possible for no other reason than to be able to re-read it sooner? Perhaps Ms. Graham has a different view of adulthood than I do, one where you can only read serious books that were purchased during normal business hours, and can't enjoy them if the ending is remotely positive for any of the characters.
Now, if an actual young adult were to argue that one of the common themes throughout all young adult fiction is alienation from the adult world, of trying to find something unique and private and special to you alone in a society that pushes conformity and obedience. And that, in a sense, adults reading YA are taking that special thing out of the young adult world, that by making it more mainstream they are taking away the very thing that makes it good. If the common point of YA is that adults don't understand teenagers, that can't really survive if it's read primarily by adults.
But Ruth Graham didn't say that. She just said we should be embarrassed.
* we could debate if YA is in fact a genre, but that is another blog post for another day
** I looked it up