Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Is It Time to Move the Books? Considering Your Library's YA Fiction Collection

Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Is It Time to Move the Books? Considering Your Library's YA Fiction Collection

Article excerpt

On a recent trip to my local public library, I noticed something surprising. The library had shelved a couple of hot young adult fiction titles among its display of "new books." There, among the newest Patricia Cornwall, Michael Connolly, and Jude Deveraux titles were John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park. While there has never been any signage indicating that the "new books" shelf was for "adult material only," nonadult material on this shelf represented a somewhat new development. Sure, copies of the latest "Hunger Games" and "Twilight" books had appeared on the "new books" shelf in the past, but those were different-- they were publishing phenomena that interested adults and young people alike. What were Green's and Rowell's decidedly YA novels doing on the unofficially "all adult" new books shelf?

As I thought about this new development, I supposed I shouldn't have been surprised. We've been hearing for a long time that adults are reading young adult books in increasing numbers. A recent Publishers Weekly (PW) report describing book buying data collected and analyzed by Nielsen Market Research concluded:

The popularity of the young adult category is driven largely by adult book buyers. "Readers 18 and older accounted for 79 percent of young adult unit purchases in the December 2012 through November 2013 period ... even as book buyers age, they still tend to buy most young adult books for themselves rather than for a child or grandchild." (1)

The PW report noted that young people ages 12 to 18 are only the third largest demographic purchasing YA material. At 21 percent of the YA book-buying public, young people ages 12 to 18 lag behind buyers between the ages of 30 and 44 (26 percent of YA book buyers) and buyers between the ages of 18 and 29 (34 percent of YA book buyers). (2)

These adult book buyers are also using the library to find and check out YA material. As Angela Benedetti reported in Library Journal in 2011, adults make up a significant portion of the library's young adult literature readers. These adult readers might be drawn to the YA titles written by crossover authors like James Patterson, Kathy Reichs, and Adriana Trigiani, points out Benedetti, or they might be part of a population of parents introduced to YA literature by their children. (3) The popular film incarnations of already popular YA series--such as "Twilight," "Hunger Games," and "Divergent"--that attract teen readers to these titles might also attract adults to the genre.

Not everyone is happy to learn that young adult literature's readership is extending beyond the teen demographic. In a notable article for the online magazine Slate, Ruth Graham criticized adult readers of youth fiction who, she argued, read YA literature for purposes of "escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia." (4) Responses to Graham's article were swift and defensive, with Washington Post opinion writer Alyssa Rosenberg comparing John Grisham's "blandly handsome crusading lawyers" unfavorably to John Green's "more closely observed" characters and author Meg Wolitzer extolling the virtues of "spend[ing] time around the losses and transformations of young characters without having to cast [yourself] in the role of a parent or authority figure" for the New York Times. (5,6) Young adult books are perfectly acceptable reading material for adults, Rosenberg and Wolitzer (and many others) argued, and adult readers of YA literature cheered.

Audience Designation or Genre?

Horn Book magazine editor Roger Sutton's brief response to Graham's essay suggests a new way to think about young adult literature. Sutton asks, "If the majority of a book's readers are adults reading for their own pleasure, does it even make sense to call it a book for teenagers?" (7) With his question in mind, we might begin to think about young adult literature as a genre rather than an audience designation. …

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