Earlier today came the news that J.K. Rowling, the beloved (and very rich) author of the captivating Harry Potter series, would be turning to a new audience by writing a new novel, for adults. We can't blame her for wanting to branch out after all the years she spent on the Potter franchise, but is it possible for a novel for adults to elicit the same joy and fervor as a well-drawn YA series? Even with a writer as obviously talented as Rowling, we have to wonder. Forbes' Jeff Bercovici asks "Can J.K. Rowling Bring Her Magic Touch to Adult Fiction?" And while it's not unusual for authors to swing between genres, we have to ask: Why does Rowling have to?
The "magic" of Harry Potter went hand in hand with its young adult-ness. A whimsical, deeply conceptualized, fantastically plotted, and often dark reality unfolds in front of our eyes. With each book, we got more, and as the kids grew up, we grew along with them—no matter how old we were when we started reading. From the very beginning, Rowling set us among Harry and the gang, learning magic (and magical ways and secrets) as they do, feeling their pains and pleasures, cheering when Harry wins, crying when he loses. We're in the cupboard beneath the stairs with him, waiting on Platform 9 3/4, at Hogwarts, and in Voldemort's clutches. There's a pervasive feeling of this is happening now even for oft-too cynical adults, which breeds that childish need to finish the book in one reading, no matter how late it gets or tired you are. A more distanced "adult" perspective wouldn't have allowed that sort of intimacy.
While some are rejoicing over a book for adult Muggles, this reader, for one, already had her book. Seven, in fact.
Obvious confession: I am an avid reader. I read things written for adults, things written for children, and things written for young adults. I read the Internet, which includes things that should be written for no one. But my favorite, at least lately, are books for young adults. I just re-read Anne of Green Gables and cried like I was reading it for the first time. I devoured Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series and am eagerly anticipating the movie. I loved Twilight. (I'm sorry, but I did!) I re-read A Wrinkle in Time and immediately went to Amazon to purchase other books in the series. Don't even get me started on the Betsy-Tacy books, which I read over and over and over again. Or, for that matter, on what may technically count as an adult novel but reads like sophisticated YA in the best possible ways: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I still have the copy that was given to me when I was, like Francie Nolan, an 11-year-old girl. It's so dog-eared at this point that I had to buy a new copy that I could actually read.
Maybe we adult readers of YA books love them because they remind us of our youth. Maybe we love them because they're easier to digest, or at least, somewhat less emotionally complicated (or differently so). As one avid YA reader well in her twenties explained to The Atlantic Wire, "I use them as palate cleansers, kind of. After I read Blue Nights, I re-read Catching Fire [from the Hunger Games series] and it got me out of my Didion funk. Also, the romantic relationships are so much simpler -- like the distilled version of a serious relationship, almost."
Many seem to agree that YA books are not just for the kids. As Pamela Paul wrote of the rise in adults reading YA books in The New York Times in 2010, "Today, nearly one in five 35- to 44-year-olds say they most frequently buy Y.A. books. For themselves." Novelist Lev Grossman told her, “A lot of contemporary adult literature is characterized by a real distrust of plot. I think young adult fiction is one of the few areas of literature right now where storytelling really thrives.”
Or, maybe, young adult fiction is just more enjoyable overall, and more likely to develop into major, mainstream love affairs between readers and their beloved books and characters. Anyone who's attended a midnight showing on the night a Harry Potter movie is released could attest to that. Another fan of the Hunger Games series told us: "I can have fun discussing YA books with people with whom I don't usually discuss literature, and in a way in which I don't usually discuss literature -- Team Gale vs. Team Peeta, for instance." And perhaps some of us are actually finding our way to YA for the first time, after having spent our youths on other things. Says one grown-up YA reader: "When I was in the 'young adult' demographic, all I really read were books about baseball and politics, or "serious" novels. I wonder if part of the appeal now is that I missed out on these books the first time around."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.