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Young adult, old adult: Readers say categories don’t matter

David Wilson

Along with perennially top-selling blockbusters like Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" and Dan Brown's "Inferno," a new kind of book increasingly crops up on bestsellers lists (including the Globe's local list): young adult fiction, known colloquially as YA. John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars," an emotionally powerful story about teenagers forging relationships amid cancer treatments, has been selling like crazy in Boston.

"It starts off with the young adults," says Lisa Fabiano, children's book buyer for Wellesley Books, noting that Green's and other top YA titles sell well in part due to summer reading lists. But before long, she says, "I see more adults purchasing them. I think they just love the story. It's very well-written."


Grown-ups reading books published for younger readers face a stigma, says writer and critic Lev Grossman. "People assume you're emotionally regressed, or too lazy or stupid to tackle the towering intellectual challenges of 'real' literature," he told the Globe.

But YA novels, which Grossman praised last year in a "Room for Debate" feature in The New York Times, have a lot to offer, he says. "I love their clarity and their brisk pacing," Grossman says. "They have a wonderfully healthy respect for plot. I also love the way they're comfortable with big, unironic emotions."

For readers of a certain age — past high school, not ready for assisted living — YA serves up the paradoxical satisfactions of nostalgia and rebellion. "I think our generation, aging though it is, still has a rebellious streak, and we're getting a bit sick of all the hierarchies and power structures associated with Big Important Literature," Grossman says. "Reading young adult fiction is a way of saying, the hell with all that, I'll read what I enjoy, and I decline to be embarrassed about it."

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at