Adults Can Read Whatever The Hell They Want

Adults Can Read Whatever The Hell They Want

Yeah, I wrote it.

Well, well, well. And what do we have here? Just a clickbait article from my (usually lovely) Slate called “Against YA.” And the subhed is fun: “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”


It’s on, motherfuckers.

Full and proud disclosure: I write YA novels. I wrote a teen lesbian Gatsby reboot called “Great” that came out in April. I just finished another one, “Believers” (inspired by “Lord of the Flies” with teen girls from an evangelical Christian show choir). That comes out next year. I also wrote a memoir that is most decidedly an adult affair, but that’s another story (literally).

More importantly, I read YA. I love YA. I love “juvenile fiction” books by Tahereh Mafi, Lauren Oliver, Ransom Riggs, and John Green. I love “children’s” books by Neil Gaiman.

These authors are not just brilliant children’s authors; they are brilliant authors, period.

And as for their grown-up readers?

Well, I’d say they’re pretty damned smart, too.

They know good stories when they see ’em. They appreciate the thrill of a tale well-told. And unlike the author of the Slate piece, they recognize that some of the deepest and most illuminating truths can best be hidden, like treasures, within the angsty thicket of teen drama.

“Out of the mouths of babes,” and all that.

I don’t put myself in the same class as the aforementioned best-selling authors. I’m a newbie at this. I don’t know what it’s like to sell a kajillion copies of a novel the first day it’s out, or to win industry awards for excellence, or to have a million fans.

But I can tell you what my readers are like — the ones who adore my shit and the ones who fucking hate it — and they’re smart. They’re really, really, really smart. And God, are they passionate. In general, their criticism is intelligent; their opinions (while sometimes painful to hear) well-supported by evidence; their reviews (even the biting ones) well-written. Most of them are over the age of 18.

Adult readers of YA fiction are not dummies. They are not missing out on whatever fancypants high literary art one discusses over million-dollar local free-range grass-finished organic bourbon and artisanal crackers made by hippie elves in a barn in Tibet. Adult readers of YA fiction know that the dreams of teenagers are perhaps even more vivid and alive than the dreams of adults; that a young character can and will do things a grown-up character cannot; and that the pleasure of a good story, any good story, is reason enough for its existence.

YA fiction sells because YA fiction is fascinating. It’s alluring; it’s alive; when it works, it’s triumphant. When it fails, it sucks, but that’s true of any genre. YA fiction has as much inherent worth as anything in the adult literary fiction section.

The idea that one should be ashamed or embarrassed to read YA fiction because it is somehow a betrayal of one’s obligation to Real Literature? That’s intellectual posturing. That’s snobbish. That’s ill-informed.

That’s fucking bullshit.

Look, I don’t have an MFA. I’m not fancy. I just write stories. And I just read stories. Sometimes the marketing people at book publishing companies have labeled these stories as children’s tales. That’s cool. Whatever works for them, I guess. They’re in enough trouble as it is and I’m not about to split hairs over where my new favorite book is shelved.

In the end, stories are for everyone with the ability and desire to access them. And I’ll argue that point until I’m out of breath (or coffee).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write some more adolescent garbage literature for anyone who wants to read it. And after that, I might read something in the YA section. You know why?

Because it’s fun. And it’s great. And it means something — maybe everything, sometimes, for a moment, when it’s done right.


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  • Annie Towne

    I’m with you, all the way.

    • sarabenincasa

      Thank you Annie.

  • Dragoon21b

    Hey as long as there aren’t any “Sparkling” angst ridden vampires I’m good everything

    • sarabenincasa


  • savethispatient

    Presumably Slate thinks we also shouldn’t go see YA movies, such as Star Wars or the Marvel ones?

    • sarabenincasa

      We must never go, lest we Disappoint anyone.

  • seancf

    SaraB, spittin’ knowledge and truth.

    • sarabenincasa

      I got so mad.

  • Fun with Cthulhu

    Firstly, while I don’t love YA as much as my wife does I have read some wonderful YA books by great authors (Libba Bray, Holly Black, Paolo Bacigalupi). So thanks for standing up to a particularly pin-headed perspective.Secondly, “…inspired by “Lord of the Flies” with teen girls from an evangelical Christian show choir.” sounds like the best premise ever.I’m going looking for both of your novels.

    • Zippy W Pinhead

      leave us pinheads out of this…

    • sarabenincasa

      Thank you!

  • MausFeet

    That Slate article almost made my head explode, but the Slate comments won’t work for me. So even though I’m preaching to the choir, I can’t believe the author isn’t a recent grad of a lit program somewhere because assuming that one can be the arbiter of what constitutes ‘worthy fiction’ for anyone else is pretty nutballs. We tell stories because it’s important for humans to do so to learn, and humans can learn and grow and be entertained by any story, Twilight or Shakespeare. The article must be clickbait. It’s just too stupid. GAH

    • MausFeet

      Well, bright side? You sold another copy of Great right now because I haven’t read it and it sounds fun. Feh, Slate, FEH.

    • MrsShuck

      Adblock Plus on Firefox? It blocks the Livefyre commenting system. Give it permission to run.

  • Zippy W Pinhead

    so this a teen lesbian Gatsby reboot, is it by any chance illustrated?asking for a friend…

    • BMW

      It is for children, though!

      • TJ Barke

        They gotta grow up sometime!

  • BMW

    Maybe I am wrong, but the dismissive “stories written for children” implies to me the author thinks they are written at a lower reading level than other books, as if there is some great disparity between the hypothetical lexile score of a 16 year old and most adults.

  • pollosmoky

    Who actually makes the call on whether a book gets classified as YA? The author [I’m doubting that] or the publisher? I wonder if Ms Graham would be bitching if the titles she mentions were classified simply as literary fiction. But then, I suppose she wouldn’t get paid by Slate.

  • Fitzgerald Chesterfield

    I sense that you’re a little pissed, but geez, would a paragraph break kill you?

    • rebecca

      something funky with our wordpress. Seeing if just “updating” will fix. Maybe?

      • Fitzgerald Chesterfield

        Ah, that’s better.

  • Otto66

    I no longer participate in, “Name your 3 favorite…,” conversations. I enjoy different books, art, music, movies, television shows…for different reasons and what I once thought was my transcendental touchstone to the secrets of the universe becomes a fond memory of where I was at a given place and time. I’ve learned never to question someone else’s tastes but to be curious about their choice. And if I feel like being a dick I ask them to justify their position.

  • lastroth

    I love YA fiction. Used to work at a bookstore and ran the school bookfairs. Started reading YA when trying to find reads for very good readers. You can’t recommend what you haven’t read. I love the pace of YA most authors keep their stories moving along which keeps me engaged.

  • I read and enjoy YA fiction and people should be able to read whatever they want. besides, in my future profession as a school librarian, it’s practically a job requirement.

  • Deleted

    This post was deleted.

  • BMW

    “Listen to Shailene Woodley, the 22-year-old star of this weekend’s big YA-based film. “Last year, when I made Fault, I could still empathize with adolescence,” she told New York magazine this week, explaining why she is finished making teenage movies. “But I’m not a young adult anymore—I’m a woman.”Shailene Woodley is a pretentious spaz, exhibit 3. Exhibit 1: 2:

  • Tony Thompson

    Sara: I don’t read YA novels, but I do read comic books, so I empathize with your frustration at people looking down on other genres. I read the Slate article and thought “she thinks everyone should share her tastes” and that’s just wrong headed. Good luck to you in your future writing endeavors.

  • I’ve always had more interesting conversations with people much younger or much older than me because we don’t share a generational perspective. Narrative voice doesn’t seem to be much different in that regard. A good story is a good story, and it’s nice to read them from different POVs. It was great to read a post addressing adults reading YA. I wrote a post about this a while back, I usually don’t comment with links to my blog so I’ll include the link to my YA post in a following comment in case you don’t want links on here and want to delete it.

  • Sarcastic_Commenter

    I just re-read Blubber solely to spite Slate. Suck it, Kinsley.

  • $73376667

    I watch My Little Pony.

    • Doktor Zoom?

    • TJ Barke

      Shit’s got some broadway level musical numbers. How can anyone resist?

    • Dana

      I don’t watch much of it directly but I’m glad my daughter loves it.Even Spongebob is kind of interesting if you know the background. The creator’s a marine biologist.

  • Yep.

    Hunger Games! Although the kissy kissy love triangle got a little clunky through 3 novels with no release, it was always about post apocalypse for me anyway.

  • gingerland62

    I can like Casablanca and Pineapple Express of you know what I mean? . I spit on such snobbery! I suppose graphic novels are completely gauche.

    • Dana

      I think Miss Thang at Slate would have a damn heart attack if anyone told her adults were reading “comic books.”

  • I’m 41 and I recently revisited a YA novel from my school library days, “Futuretrack 5” by Robert Westall. It’s the original YA dystopian novel.

    • Melindrea

      Thank you! I’ve been trying to remember the name and author of that one for ages =)

      • It’s just as relevant today, as the ideology it portrays is exactly what the current UK government is trying to bring back. It holds up too, good book.

  • Tapati McDaniels

    I figure if I read adult books as a child I can also read children’s books as an adult. A good book is a good book. Period.

  • Joseph Zieja

    I think the Slate article was really stupidly titled, but I thought there were maybe some good points in there as well. I totally get your anger here, and it’s completely justified. Nobody should be shamed for what they choose to read. Ever. For any reason. But there’s something to be said for diversifying your reading, maybe. I’d love it if you hopped on over to my page and let me know what you thought of my response – Chuck Wendig directed me over here and he’s a cool dude, so I assume you are a cool dudette. Anyway, a great response article on your part!

    • Dana

      Just because someone reads YA doesn’t mean they read nothing else.I actually don’t read a lot of YA. But I recently (and rather belatedly) read the Hunger Games trilogy and was just blown away. And I remember the critics coming out with knives sharpened because she dared to include sentence fragments in her novels. OMG NO. NOT SENTENCE FRAGMENTS. Read the stupid STORY and get back to me.

      • Joseph Zieja

        I agree – I think the slate author maybe took it a bit too much into the realm of hyperbole. And we can all agree that critics, in general, are stupidheads.

      • n00tch

        That being said, I couldn’t help but in the back of my mind to keep telling myself about every fifty pages or so “I wish this was written for an adult audience”. No criticism of the readers, just a wish for greater complexity and a more adult presentation of the themes.

    • Edmond Dante

      I found it interesting that the novels mentioned on slate, were all romance novels (at least based on the description and the little I know of them). I do not believe the Slate author intended to diversify what people read. It was more a judgment, personally I have no interest in romance genre novels. When I read them, or rather parts of them as i did Twilight, I do want to roll my eye’s often. That has little to do with the intended age group however, I would be more attracted to reading Richard Feynman, than your average romance novel. Yet I enjoy books in every category. It’s cute that she can talk about YA Romance VS Adult romance (though YA romance tends to have much more complexity and depth and far less “Fabio”) but either way I would get more enjoyment from programing an SQL database. The question here is why the writer from Slate honestly believes her opinions would be respected with such a poorly constructed argument? If she had at least referenced a wider range of YA material over a greater time period, then maybe I would have taken the time to listen. I have read quite a bit of YA and even childrens books (I’m re reading one of my favorite childhood stories “The Phantom Tollbooth” just for fun), is she saying my intellectual development is less than hers? I am 30+ know several programing languages, network engineering, IP routing, and was an English tutor in college (and no I will not waste time fully editing an online post made in a comment thread). I have read everything from Don Quixote, to Harry Potter, Catcher in the Rye (a YA novel -cough) to Developing IP Multicast Networks. I see many differences but ultimately I read books for clearly definable qualities which make them enjoyable for me, NOT based on what category the isle is when I find them. And I read a far greater variety than simply romance novels. This extends to my consumption of all Art I am capable of expressly identifying why I enjoy the Art that I do; either this woman is not capable of clearly defining her art past the entry it is listed under in the database she pulled up (likely on google) for her references, or she made no attempt to define why YA books would mean the reader must be a child or ignorant other than the erroneous correlation that the marketing divisions need to categorize a books should truly be the soul definition of its ALLOWED (as she implied) audience. and thank you Sara Benincasa for also making that last point. Incidentally telling someone they should and can do whatever they like, yet also saying in the same breath that they should be ashamed if that decision is to read YA novels is not an intellectually sound statement. It is not a benign statement, it is a clear attack on those who fall into that category. The least she could do is not start off by lying to the audience, she does not believe an adult should be free to live as they choose, she believes adults should abandon YA. I have heard (read for those who don’t like colloquium’s) other quotes to this effect going back to the B.C. era, it is not a new concept, it is a flawed concept. Do me a favor Ms Slate, go to school; not for another art major this time for programing instead (that is if you even have a major ), at least then you will learn the structure of logic which is the basis of true analysis (which a review falls under).and Joseph, I appriciate your balanced comment :)

  • edith prickly

    Uh yeah, Slate. Maybe discerning adults don’t read literary fiction because so much of it is fucking unreadable. Wanking on paper doesn’t equal brilliance.

    • HSEnglish

      Exactly. I have a BA in English Lit, and most of it is utter crap.

  • edith prickly

    Also, I just reserved all your books at the library. Yes, I’m a cheap bitch!

  • Islanding

    I think the issue is the overused, overly dramatic dystopia theme. I Have read many YA books (I am a teacher) but I just cannot stomach all the fantasy, fairies, witches, wizards, vampires, undead, post-apocalyptic crud. For goodness sakes, can anybody writing for Tweens describe something REAL? I love Paulsen, I like real…all the fantasy is not good for our Tweens and is is not mature reading.These books are a disservice to the brains of our youth, not to mention adults. Youths are more emotional and dramatic and focused on death than ever! It’s the games, books, entertainment and social media. I believe these topics are the cause of the end of society: not right from wrong, no absolute rules, just do what feels good or sounds fun at the moment. Goodness, what nonsense. Where is the balance?

    • Islanding

      And before you decide that I am 90 yrs old and a troll, nope. I have worked with middle schoolers and younger, I get them, we get along fine. There’s just a lack of balance in YA and too much emphasis on fantasy and death. That’s why the reading public 30 and up isn’t sure it’s quality lit, since the stuff that gets the PR is rarely “real”

      • RachelK

        Yes, that is the stuff that gets the PR, if you ignore other stuff that gets the PR, like John Green or Rainbow Rowell. It’s also just one slice of the pie. The balance is there. You just aren’t seeing it. You seem to have drawn a conclusion based on an incomplete picture, and I don’t blame you really, but perhaps you should spend some time talking to a youth services librarian. Then you will be in a position to recommend some different books to your students.I thought Twilight was terrible, but the fact is that it turned a lot of non-readers into readers, and many of those readers are now reading things of which you would approve. Who are you to judge how they got there? I would also say that while I am sick of dystopia personally, I do not agree that fantasy is harmful or immature. On the contrary, it can provide a framework to address things that are very hard to approach from the “real”. Sometimes there is more truth to be found in story than in the news. In YA Fantasy, I have seen some incredibly sophisticated storytelling, touching upon things that are too hard to look at directly. You don’t like fantasy. That’s fine! It’s not for you!But your judgment of what you deem not “real” is disproportionate and condescending. It is not destroying society, good God, take a breath.

    • Eric Scoles

      No, the issue is that writers working in the Literary Fiction genre are starting to feel threatened by the restructuring in the publishing industry, so they’re trying to swing their sharp elbows and carve out some space in the lifeboats.

    • Dana

      The balance is they live in real life and can’t escape from it for real. Get over yourself.

    • nothingisamiss

      Try “Great” by the author of this post, Sara Benincasa. I get what you’re saying, I’m not big on fantasy either. I love the books by John Green as well. Honestly, even though fantasy is not my “thing” I don’t think C.S.Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkein rotted their brains…my 85 y/o housemate loves the genre!

  • Molly Ringle

    Amen! Shared over on my FB author page. I write for both adults and teens, sometimes real world, sometimes paranormal. I feel variety is good for the world. Similarly, people can sometimes read dense epic Real Literature, and other times (or even at the same time) read fun YA. I do it. Most of my friends and family do it. And jeez, Slate writer, at least people are still reading books.

  • Yeah, adults should read sophisticated adult novels, like those by John Grisham and Danielle Steel.

  • Dana

    The irony is people like her turn their noses up at an author like Stephen King and he’s a hella better storyteller than any of the crap *they* read.

  • I think it’s the people who don’t read who are the bigger problem.

  • jangoodell

    I will out myself now. I read The Hunger Games AND The Fault in Our Stars this year. Now I’m reading Crime and Punishment. Guess the YA books make me stoopid. I teach YA and those who read these books and love them are not dumb.

  • Katie

    I have been reading adult fiction since I was teenager. That being said I do enjoy a good YA series or book once in awhile. A great story is a great story. I read the Harry Potter series, gave Twilight a try, read and loved The Hunger Games, and I enjoy the “House of Night” Series by PC and Kristen Cast. People read what you love not what others dictate you do. I enjoy reading picture books to my children what does that say about me.

  • Really?

    I love YA novels. I have read Twilight, some of the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, Vampire Academy (all 6 books), Bloodlines series, Graceling, Bitterblue, Poison Study etc…All classified and YA novels all of them (well most of them) brilliant works of fiction. I also read Jane Austin and what is now known as erotic fiction. I love books in general. I am a 26 year old single mum but I am also in my last 18 months of my Forensic Science degree and am currently sitting on a 5.0 GPA.People can read what they want and really no one should tell you what you can and can’t read. They should just be happy that you are reading rather than sitting in front of a TV.

  • autw

    Only time I have an issue of what I read is classified is when I can’t find it in BAM!.

  • Marsaili

    When I was a teenager, I read any book I could get my hands on. I went through and read everything in my mother’s bookcase and I found Tolkien, T.H. White, Jane Austin, Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, Agatha Christie, Poe, Carlos Castaneda, just to name a few. I read and reread my Little House books, anything by Judy Bloom and Beverly Cleary, e.b. white, Madeline L’Engle, The Great Brain books, and all the books we were supposed to read for school. And as a nearly 50 year old adult, some of my favorite newer books are young adult fiction. I have always been deeply into fantasy, Harry Potter was right up my alley. Twilight, though, not so much. If I want to read about vampires, I’ll go to Anne Rice. Fantasy novels such as LOTR and DragonLance and the Shannara books and my favorite subject, King Arthur, pulled me through some very difficult times in my life as a teen. I read a lot if dystopia as well but my favorite will always be The Hitchhiker series. I appreciate a good story. I don’t care who the audience is suppose to be, I’ll read what I want. And when I am in my 80’s, I’ll still reread my Little House books and Tolkien and Whyte, and Mary Stewart and anything else that captured my heart in my lifetime. Even George R.R. Martin! For shits and giggles I’ve been reading mysteries centered around quilters or knitters or cookie bakers or writers with Siamese cats. I love them, they are quick reads and they are about people like me. When I want something deeper, my mind will be refreshed and ready. I just live to read. No, that isn’t a typo!! :-)

  • Daxis

    In my own personal experience, the people who seem most impressed with how good they are at being adults tend to be the most immature ones (in all the worst ways to be immature — and the worst part is that those types, by virtue of their mindset, are totally oblivious regarding their particular brand of “aggressive” immaturity, so the people around them are constantly having to deal with it). Insecure, childish jerks who are overly concerned with how they’re perceived by others. It’s like they never fully emerged from that proud-to-finally-be-wearing-big-kid-pants phase. The writer of that Slate piece strikes me as one of those.

  • Jennifer

    Oh for pete’s sake. Daxis. Slate had great points, and one universal point stands out: no one should read immature fiction, including teens. Great “YA literature”, though, should not be prejudiced against: Ellen Hopkins, Laura Weiss, Ann Brashares, Jane Yolen, J.K. Rowling, Walter Dean Myers, and numerous others are people whose work anyone should be proud to have.”Well, well, well. And what do we have here? Just a clickbait article from my (usually lovely) Slate called “Against YA.” And the subhed is fun: “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”Oh.It’s on, motherfuckers.”You convinced me more than ever her article was dead-on.

  • kel_gill

    :::raucous applause::: Read dammit! Just read!

  • Shaun

    A pandering, vulgar, and self-promoting response written to a well thought out article that you clearly did not read through entirely, or did not understand on a website covered with stars and polka-dots? I believe the existence of this page is the perfect microcosm of the reason why adults shouldn’t waste their time with YA novels.

    • Nekosite

      I read that article. It was far from well thought out. It was immature intellectual snobbery.