Hello. I am a fully-grown adult who loves reading young adult fiction. And I’m not alone. Over half of today’s YA readers are over the age of 18. Sure, young adult literature focuses on teenagers, but no matter your age, it’s easy to identify with the trials and tribulations of self-discovery and coming of age. Not just because we remember going through it, but because each of us is continuing to grow and change every day.
Sometimes, when I read young adult fiction, it feels like no time has passed. It’s like I’m tapping into the memories of being a teenager all over again. But more often than not, especially lately as I inch closer and closer to 40, I identify with these YA characters and their actions less and less. While I still love young adult novels just as much as I always have, they’re starting to become a reminder that I am definitely not a teenager anymore. And thank goodness for that, am I right?
To be clear, all of the books I am about to mention in this list are books that I love! In fact, if you’re looking to read some really great YA novels, I would say start with some of these. But I will be real with you. Sometimes these books did make me feel very, very old.
When I Find Myself Relating to the Parents More Than the Kids
This one’s the biggie and my whole reason for making this list in the first place. The older I get, the more I identify with the parents in young adult novels. Heck, at this point, these parents are probably right around my age. Words cannot express how much I loved Lamar Giles’s contemporary YA novel Not So Pure and Simple. But when the main character Del takes a purity pledge to impress his crush, I related so much more to Del’s teacher and parents who work towards unteaching him toxic masculinity.
When the Young People Start Drinking
Oh, boy. I’m glad that many YA novels include drinking, because teen drinking is very much a reality, but it certainly does remind me of how old I am. For instance, in Never Ever Getting Back Together by Sophie Gonzales, our protagonist Maya says she prefers Jell-O shots over wine. In fact, she wishes Jell-O shots were served with dinners instead of wine. Honestly, I feel like when I was a teenager, I would have felt the same way.
Drinking to get drunk is a young person’s game that I can no longer identify with, and that behavior comes with consequences. For instance, in volume 3 of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper, the kids throw a party on a school trip, and one of them gets super sick from drinking so much and has to go to the teacher for help. I would say probably the only unrealistic thing about that situation is that only one of the teens got sick from drinking. Youths, am I right?
When Characters Do Wild Things for Love Interests Who Aren’t That Great
You remember that person you had a huge crush on in high school? Yeah, looking back on it now, they probably don’t seem as cool and wonderful as they used to, right? Sometimes looking at all of these love interests in young adult novels now, I wonder what the appeal is and why characters act in totally bananas ways to try to get the person they’re crushing on. The book that takes the cake? Chandra Prasad’s Mercury Boys. There are girls literally poisoning themselves with mercury in this book to make contact with cute boys from the past. I cannot.
When I Realize the ’90s Were, Like, A Long Time Ago
To be fair, this one comes up for me all the time, not just when it comes to young adult books. But any time I am confronted with ’90s nostalgia, I am reminded just how long ago the ’90s, and therefore my old childhood/teen years, were. As I was reading This is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey, I was so drawn in by all of the ’90s references. But I also did the math. Without spoiling too much, Jess in This is Not the Jess Show thinks she’s living in the 1990s, but really, in the outside world, it’s 2037. She’s 17. Which means she was born in 2020. Which means her parents are likely around my age. This feels intentional, like Anna Carey is saying, “hey, old people who read YA fiction, I got you.” There is a lot of ’90s and even ’00s nostalgia out there in the world right now reaching out to us olds, but This is Not the Jess Show takes the cake.
When Teens Discover Feminism For the First Time
Ah yes, I remember my first foray into feminism. When I was in 6th grade, our PE coach had the boys playing football while the girls did Buns of Steel videos in the gymnasium. Something about that seemed not right to my young, adolescent brain. In Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Vivian discovers the power of feminism through Riot Grrrl zines, which was super cool. But it also reminded me of how long ago it was that I was making the same discovery. And how old the Riot Grrrl movement is (these zines, you guessed it, belonged to her mom).
Look, even though YA novels might make us old people feel even older sometimes, they’re still worth reading. The teen years are a tumultuous time when we were all figuring out how to be people and navigate an adult-ish world. It’s fun to look back on that time, and it’s still easy to identify with these teen stories. Looking for more good young adult recommendations? You can’t go wrong with the Best YA Books of All Time.