To say that Young Adult novels featuring darker, more mature, themes weren’t on the shelves some ten years ago would be inaccurate. All of the books featured in the above image were published before 2005. These novels were there, hiding in between all of the fluffy love stories and friendship dramas, but they weren’t as prevalent as they have become in recent years. There has been a gradual shift toward publishers releasing more books with this kind of content. There are two possible reasons that could be causing the shift, both with their own credibility. One is regarding the age of readers and the other is the relatability of the material they’re reading.
It’s becoming more apparent that a considerable portion of Young Adult fiction readers are, in fact, not teenagers. Nielsen statistics showed that adults made up 80% of those buying Young Adult books. I would like to know if this accounted for adults that were buying books for their teenagers instead of just for themselves, but regardless, I can imagine this number would still be high even if this was not an accurate figure.
With adults buying more of these books, publishers are responding in kind and releasing more books that this market is going to be interested in. The content is going to have to be more edgy and enticing if they are going to continue to turn a profit. Sure, at one point readers could relate to the high-school-first-love story, but it isn’t going to be as enjoyable now. They are going to want something that is captivating and thought-provoking.
The other distinct reason that there has been this shift to mature themes is because this is what the teenage audience wants to read. Mental health, sexuality, gender identity, racism, drug use, rape, death. These are all things that could affect a teenager, and readers want these things to be addressed. The world isn’t entirely a comfortable place, so fiction doesn’t need to be either.
Books that cover these difficult subjects are showing teenagers that, yes, these things can happen. More importantly, if it’s happened to you, then you are not alone. It gives these teens something to connect with. Gayle Forman, author of YA bestseller If I Stay, agrees that these topics should not be shied away from.
“What books can do, however, is reflect an experience and show a way out of difficult, isolating times.”
— Gayle Forman
The gradual shift that has been happening in YA fiction is now being seen in middle grade fiction as well. For instance, in 2015 books that deal with issues like anxiety and gender identity were being released by different publishers for this age range. These are heavier topics that until recently haven’t been deemed necessary to discuss within this group. Whether these things were always an issue for the demographic and it’s just now coming to light, or if children are starting to deal with this at a younger age, it’s hard to determine.
Submitted by Jessica Starr
Sources linked where used.