I've never aspired to be a spy, which is good, because I've determined I'd be terrible at it. See, before I accepted the fact that I'm an adult who loves young adult novels and stopped caring what the hell other ~elitist~ readers thought of me, I used to try and hide my human form when I went lurking in the young adult section of Barnes And Noble. It turns out, though, that it's hard to hide five feet and four inches of total fangirl—and also, bookstores have this uncanny habit of making sure that the young adult section is propped in the most obvious part of the store. It's like a stage that complete with a loudspeaker saying "LOOK, GUYS, ANOTHER FULL GROWN HUMAN LADY RIFLING THROUGH POST-APOCALYPTIC TEEN ROMANCE!" So yeah, I'm not the best at being subtle, and definitely not on anybody's short list for Spy Of The Year.
At some point I just got over myself and stopped trying to hide. (That, and I learned how to order stuff on Amazon and side eye anybody who looked judgey at me for reading the latest Jenny Han novel on the subway.) The truth is, it doesn't really matter what anybody thinks of us. It's not going to make reading about heroines kicking butt any less riveting, or the cliché war torn romances any less cathartic, or the characters any less relatable. The heart wants what it wants, and what it wants isn't hurting anybody, so haters can mind their business.
Because the unfortunate fact of the matter is, there are haters. Most of them are not deliberately hatin', but the things that they say are a subtle form of it, however unintentional. I think all adults who enjoy young adult novels are tired of hearing people say any of the following:
"Aren't you a little old for that?"
I hate this idea that we are just banned from an entire spectrum of the human experience as soon as we reach a certain age. When we were kids and we felt like our parents were being unfair, we had all these fierce, melodramatic thoughts, like, "I'm gonna remember exactly what it was like to be a kid, so I'll never do/say this, that, or the other thing to a kid when I'm older." Turns out for the most part our parents were right, but that struggle to relate to people of all different ages started at such an early age—why are some people so hell bent on discouraging it?
I might not have a lot in common with a teenager anymore, but I was there. I felt the things that those protagonists are feeling, and I want to be able to stay in touch with that experience the same way I want to stay in touch with all the past versions of myself. How else can we measure our own progress as we get older? There's no such thing as "too old" for any kind of fiction.
"Ugh, all of those books are the same."
Only people who have never read a young adult novel in their life will say something like this, so really, I don't waste that much energy being annoyed by the sentiment. But for the record, there are some wonderfully diverse, incredibly nuanced characters in these novels. Yeah, a lot of them are set in crazy futures, have some element of the supernatural, or put their characters in unrealistic situations. It's not so much the situations that matter, but the way the characters react to them—and once you are paying attention to that, it's clear that none of these characters are in any way "the same."
"Why don't you read books about real issues?"
Young adult novels are dealing with real issues. In fact, a lot of what I've read in the young adult genre has been much more brutally honest in portraying "real" issues than the actual adult fiction I've read. The first young adult book I ever read was in the fourth grade, and in it a kid watched his friend drown. Since then I've read books about people struggling with deaths in the family, with suicide, with abuse, with every shade of insecurity and self sabotage. To call these issues anything less than "real" isn't just disrespectful to the genre, but to the very real people who are dealing with these issues every day.
"I saw the movie for that. It sucked."
"Don’t tell me you’re re-reading that book all over again."
If anything, it’s a testament to just how great these books are that we want to read them all over again. Besides, people binge watch Netflix all the time and we're totally on board with that. I could write "lol watching the office for the 1601st time" on Facebook right now and get infinite likes. So why am I getting flack every time I want to reread Harry Potter? (Looking at you, MOM.)
"Real love is nothing like those books."
Of course it isn't. I'm also hoping that real love doesn't involve aliens taking over our planet and wiping out 99% of our species with a strain of bird flu. (Guys, if you haven't read The Fifth Wave, GET ON IT.) Maybe teens who read young adult fiction read those books hoping to find the Peeta to their Katniss, but adults reading young adult novels have had enough life experience to know that real love is alternately much messier and much more subtle than what goes on in those books, and definitely cannot be captured in a tidy 250 pages. We like reading about the fantasy of the intense young adult brand of love, but the truth is, we know that the real thing is so much better.
"When are you going to grow out of this?"
Never. If there does come a day that I tire of reading young adult fiction, then I am sad for my future self, because it has been such a fixture of joy in my life—particularly after I stopped caring that people thought I was "too old" to be in its target audience anymore. I'll probably die with an Ann Brashares novel clutched between my cold dead fingers, but at least I'll die happy.