Everything I Learned From “Against YA” and More

Two announcements before my post:

T.B. Markinson’s debut novel, A Woman Lost, is on sale until June 11th. Only .99 cents. I really admire T.B. Markinson, so I hope you take the time to check out her novel by clicking here.

The eBook of Seconds Before Sunrise releases in 5 days! That’s right. Only 5 days. I cannot believe it. I plan on sharing more insights from The Timely Death Trilogy soon. (Actually, I wanted to today, but the upcoming topic is very important to me.) Feel free to check out my Pinterest board full of hints and surprises before I announce more information, and be sure to join the ebook extravaganza party on Facebook for your chance to win a Kindle.

Happy reading!

Two days ago, my Facebook and Twitter blew up with a giant pink picture of an Alice-in-Wonderland-Look-Alike. It is an image that came with a title I cringe at: Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books.Even worse? The subtitle is “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”

This horrifying article I am about to discuss can be found here. Written by Ruth Graham (not by THE Ruth Graham, you know, the philanthropist, but by Ruth Graham of New Hampshire.)

Don’t know who she is?

According to her Twitter, she’s a “contributing writer to the Boston Globe’s Ideas section; freelancer out and about (Slate, the Atlantic…). Former editor (New York Sun, Domino).” Her website – Ruth Graham: Freelance Journalist – is actually right here on WordPress.

Why am I sharing this?

Because I think it’s important to understand the writer behind the piece. I was hoping that if I followed her, I would understand where her opinion derived from. I was desperate for a deeper understanding, a slight chance that she meant well when she clicked “publish” on her viral post, so I followed her Twitter feed yesterday. I learned a lot from the woman behind the chaotic arguments that consumed every social media outlet I can think of, and I thought I would share what I learned below.

This wasn’t good for my blood pressure. It probably won’t be for yours either. You have been warned.

1. “Also YA writers & agents asking if I think they shouldn’t do their jobs. Uh, no? Definitely keep doing your jobs!”


It isn’t okay to read YA as an adult, but it’s definitely okay if you can make money off of it. Also, if you’re a YA author, make sure to tell your adult readers that if “they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.” This is because all YA novels are “uniformly satisfying” and completely unrealistic. Make sure your YA novel follows these standards because they are undoubtedly true. Every YA ending causes you to either weep or cry. Trust me on this. Graham explained how “emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.” Forget the fact that fiction is FICTION – not nonfiction. Adult fiction is a reflection of the real world and young adult fiction is a pleasurable escape from reality. Every. Time.

2. “Another mysterious thread today has been angry librarians & parents defending themselves for reading YA for professional/parenting reasons.”


So mysterious. Readers actually want to defend a genre they read? Whoever thought readers actually cared about books? I definitely wouldn’t have expected teachers, librarians, and parents to defend novels they shared with their child. Weird. I would call Nancy Drew to get on the case, but I am a 22-year-old adult; therefore, I should no longer think of her as a viable reference to solving mysteries. But I do know this: parents should never read what their kids read. Knowing what their kid enjoys or trying to understand why their kid enjoys it is exactly why we have so many bad parents in this world. Librarians, too. Why should they spend more time trying to understand the marketplace? It’s not like it’s their job or something.

3. “I’m not saying I’m not pretentious at all, of course. But I’m definitely not the MOST pretentious. But trust me: There’s more pretentious stuff out there.”


If you’re not the most pretentious, you’re okay. If you’re not the most mean-spirited or hateful or cruel, it’s also okay because there are worst people out there. In regards to reader shaming and reading snobbery, as long as you’re not the worst, it’s okay. Just put the disclaimer, “at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old.” Follow that sentence with “we are better than this.” This will unify your reader and you while also distracting them from the fact that you don’t sound snobbish, joyless, old, or pretentious. You just sound like you want everyone else to be.

4. “I’m not at all opposed to guilty pleasures! I’m just arguing for some guilt along with the pleasure.”


You can read YA as an adult, but you better feel damn guilty about it. You better feel so guilty that you ask for a gift receipt anytime you buy a YA book at your local bookstore so they won’t know you are the reader. Actually, get an eReader, so no one knows what you’re reading in public. Shame on you if you don’t feel any guilt. You could’ve spent that time reading real literature, preferably something with “Weird facts, astonishing sentences, deeply unfamiliar (to me) characters, and big ideas about time and space and science and love.” This is what Ruth Graham reads without any guilt, because she considers it literary, so you should, too.

5. “Working on something today that will make some people mad, wheeeeeeee!”


Rejoice in the fact that you can anger people. This means you’re an adult with important things to say. Angering people means you are, in fact, important, and you should be proud and happy to anger people. This is literature. This is what reading is all about.

Okay. So I may have gone a little overboard. My blood pressure is still too high, after all, but I had to respond. I had to point out the fact that this article was written, knowing how much it would anger the reading community, yet we allow it to go viral because it strikes a place in our reading hearts that HURTS.

We love to read what we love to read.

I am very passionate about changing our reading community to only encourage readers. In fact, I’ve written about this before in my blog post Readers Hating Other Readers, and – sadly – I doubt this will be my last time writing about this.

With a heavy heart, I want to conclude all of the emotions I have ever had about reader shaming:

Adults shouldn’t be embarrassed to read young adult fiction. No one should be embarrassed to read anything. Reader shaming is what we should be embarrassed of.


P.S. If you’re a young adult fiction reader – no matter your age – I would love it if you read one of my novels. In fact, I will probably do a little dance of excitement if you do. I even share all reviews right here on ShannonAThompson.com. (If you’re boycotting Amazon, don’t worry. Also available on Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.)

Click today!
Click today!

26 thoughts on “Everything I Learned From “Against YA” and More

  1. I don’t read YA as a rule but I do read lots of children’s literature and that’s all just foolish. That woman needs a life and to stop judging other people’s reading material. Also, I’m from New Hampshire, I hope you don’t think we’re all crazy.

    1. Oh, I don’t judge New Hampshire at all! I’ve been there before. Beautiful state. I only mentioned that because that was the only bio Slate credited to her. I had to Google to her to actually learn anything other than that. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  2. I just stumbled across this article and…. you are far nicer than my initial response is. I need to take a little time before I can put together a decent response but… ugh… why can’t people just be happy that others are reading!? Also, I would be very curious what it is that she thinks “real literature” is….

    1. I’m glad you read my article. Thank you. :] Trust me, I cut out a lot. This topic is very important to me. I want reading to be a positive experience for everyone. Reader shaming – especially shaming a genre marketed for young readers – is destructive in nature because it teaches them that our reading environment is judgmental. In fact, I found it blatantly rude that she attacked YA fiction because most teens (stereotypically) strive to act older than they are. By representing an older audience, this woman was practically teaching young readers that they aren’t seen as “mature” because they read YA, which – indirectly – encourages them to read other kinds of literature on the basis of being judged. So wrong. So sad.
      Her “real literature” definition absolutely horrified me, because she failed to mention how genres are decided for marketing purposes, not the age of the characters, and her definition was very self-serving. She shared one example as ““Weird facts, astonishing sentences, deeply unfamiliar (to me) characters, and big ideas about time and space and science and love.” I could name many YA novels that fall under this definition. It seems, to me, that she read a few YA novels and decided to define them all based off of them.
      Let me know when you write a response. I would love to read it. Feel free to link it on here as well.

  3. Oh my gosh, I must feel guilty now, for I am a 45 year old who has read YA novels and enjoyed them. I have shamefully read series like The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter (which I started reading when I was in my mid 30′s). For shame.
    People like this really bother me. Just because YA is not their cup of tea, they berate other adults for not reading “serious literature”. I enjoy reading for entertainment. Every day life is serious enough already. I don’t tell other people what they should or shouldn’t read. Geez.

  4. You’re so right Shannon. People should read what they want to read. And why should they feel guilty about it? I’ve read a fair amount of YA fiction in my time and loved it. Sounds like this woman has sour grapes! Great post BTW. You didn’t rant; you just gave us the facts which I thought was good. 🙂

  5. Couldn’t agree more. Trying so blatantly to make people feel embarrassed by how they find enjoyment is what a grown adult should be ashamed of, not reading books that they enjoy.

  6. I’m 42. My daughter is almost 16. She’s introduced me to some Y.A that I’ve loved reading and I’ve introduced her to some loved classics. A mutual exchange we’ve both benefitted from. I’m proud to say all of my 4 children even the youngest are ardent readers and that’s probably at least partly due to my husband and I not being snobs about what we read!

  7. I still read children and YA books, watch children and youth media and I am certainly not going to feel guilty over doing this. It reminds me how I have been judged at university for working on Science Fiction when I should have used my time at university to research worthy topics. I don’t understand the judgmental attitude of this author, and rejoicing at being able to make people mad looks like a reason to feel guilty of, instead of about what you read. Thank you for your article, Shannon!

  8. I’ve seen this article everywhere the last couple days. I couldn’t even get angry about it because it felt so silly to me. People will read and enjoy what makes them happy and/or makes them think. It is strange to take such a stance considering we live in a world where Harry Potter still has a powerful fan-base. Unless that’s the exception to the rule or is no longer considered YA fiction.

  9. I love YA books! I’m 28 and I don’t plan on changing that. It isn’t a guilty pleasure, it’s what I love and I have no shame admitting it. YA has the love stories and excitement I love. I enjoy “adult” books, but sometimes I like to read without being bombarded with who is having sex with who, and detailed descriptions of that sex. I swear…when did it become wrong to enjoy a good story?

  10. This is all over the place this week. I’ve seen so much response to this topic, both directly and indirectly. My take on YA is that some of the most incredible stories in the last few years have appeared in the YA market. I will always cite to The Book Thief as a prime example. There are plenty of other examples as well. If it’s wrong to want to read a compelling story, I guess it’s wrong. Doesn’t seem to a problem to me, however. What bothers me the most about the individual you are responding to here and some of the other anti-YA critics is that they’re focusing on what I believe is the worst of the YA market. And, yes, maybe, that’s a huge subset of the YA market, but it’s not all of it. There is definitely some incredible quality out there. Just like a lot of horror writing is dreck, but there are some quality horror pieces.
    With all that said, I’ve just completed a 30,000 word novella I never intended as a YA piece, but after my teenage son read the entire thing in one night I began to think I might market it as YA. And write two more novellas about the characters. And see what happens.

  11. I’m glad I’m not the only one who wasn’t too happy about her article… though your post is a bit more sound and better worded than my own… I didn’t look into her… I just released my frustrations into a post lol… check it out http://dolewrites.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/reading-is-reading-is-reading/ though I do feel better about my own post now that I’ve read yours… sometimes I wonder if I misunderstand something or overreact… but you’re right… people should be ashamed of trying to make others ashamed of what they read…

  12. It’s just bizarre, isn’t it? That people can be arrogant and snobbish and self-involved and (pick your favorite character flaw) and totally not see it in themselves. But I do suggest you not waste any more energy getting angry with some self-involved, arrogant snob on the Internet who probably just enjoys the attention.

  13. Thank you for pointing this out, Shannon. The comments made me angry (hers not yours!). Unfortunately I have seen this before. There is a rich tradition in literary criticism that tends to decry the popular genres in favor of whatever the critic finds “acceptable.” When the novel first appeared on the scene, such people were aghast that anyone would waste their time with this form of crass entertainment. Jane Austen (one of my favorites) makes fun of this attitude in Pride and Prejudice with the attitude displayed by Mr. Collins over “proper” reading materials for his female cousins. (He believes that religious tracts are the only reading any young woman should do.)
    The problem is not in the type of literature. It is all out there for anyone to enjoy without limits. This is a benefit of a free society where people can make entertainment choices based on their own interests. The problems are with the people who want to limit those choices–who feel their choices are superior and anyone who does not like the same movies, plays, television shows, novels, and so forth should be publically shamed.

    And just my opinion–nothing that is a “pleasure” should make anyone feel guilty. For example–I enjoy gardening. It is one of my pleasures in life. By Grahm’s reasoning, I should feel guilt every time I plant, water, weed, and harvest vegetables. And don’t get me started on cooking those vegetables for my family; the amount of guilt I am supposed to be feeling might overwhelm me!


  14. “emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.”

    Hm…Ya know, she’s right, the last Clive Cussler novel I read had WAY more emotional and moral ambiguity than Harry Potter, Dealing with Dragons, and Where the Red Fern Grows combined. How silly of me to think otherwise.

    *sigh*I consider this woman’s writing another piece of evidence that we return rhetoric and logic to school curriculum. At least then we’ll get to read reasoned and thought out idiocy instead of this drivel. How in the world does she manage as a successful freelancer with writing like this?

  15. What a wonderful response. I am a YA author, I read YA, I read Shakespeare (finished all of his work by age 10), Rowling, Peters, Le Carre, Tan, and many more. Shame on her. She appears to be very angry at someone. As long as we all keep reading we are on the right track. She is entitled to her opinion even if it is narrow. By the way, is she the Ruth Graham that remarked, “You aren’t a writer until you make money?”

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