One-Quarter Of Young-Adult-Lit Readers Are More Than 28 Years Old

Young adult fiction such as The Hunger Games, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and the Heartstopper graphic novels might be aimed at teenagers – but new research has shown that more than a quarter of readers of YA in the UK are over the age of 28.

Research commissioned by publisher HarperCollins, in collaboration with Nielsen Book, the UK book industry’s data provider, suggests that a growing number of adult readers have been reading YA fiction since 2019. According to the report, 74% of YA readers were adults, and 28% were over the age of 28. The research suggests this is due to behavioural changes described as “emerging adulthood”: young people growing up more slowly and delaying “adult” life. The feelings of instability and “in-betweenness” this can cause has led to young adults seeking solace in young adult fiction – and for some these books remain a source of comfort as they grow older.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L Sánchez. Photograph: Oneworld

YA is “just another genre to enjoy” for 34-year-old video games producer and author Amy Jones. “I know there’s an idea of YA as being ‘fluffy’ or not as worthy to read as adult fiction, but I disagree – while there are, like there are in any genre, examples of badly written or poorly plotted YA, there are also total masterpieces – Fangirl, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, The Hate U Give, A Wrinkle in Time, these are all books that tackle deeply important issues such as identity, growing up, racism, family and grief, and are beautifully written,” she said.

Twin Crowns by Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber. Photograph: Electric Monkey

Katherine Webber Tsang, author of the bestselling Twin Crowns YA fantasy series, along with her co-writer (and sister-in-law) Catherine Doyle, said she has both adult and teenage fans. “I like to say that the Twin Crowns series is for everyone aged 13 and up,” she said. “At a recent signing, a mother and her teen daughter said they both love reading the Twin Crowns books and that the series had brought them closer, which was so lovely to hear!”

According to HarperCollins’ report, the association between reading for pleasure and wellbeing is reflected in the growing popularity of young adult books, “with readers of all ages increasingly turning to YA as a source of comfort, nostalgia and self-care”.

Literary travel blogger Julia Mitchell said reading has “frequently given [her] the strength to keep on going when life is difficult.

“Young adult literature helps with this in particular”, added the 29-year-old. “I find these stories easy to immerse myself in and there’s much to learn, even though the characters are younger than me.”

Jones thinks there are two reasons why YA could be classed as “self-care”. The first is that it is “often more accessible than a lot of adult fiction due to being written specifically for slightly younger readers, so reading for pleasure when you’re tired or stressed becomes less taxing.” The second is that “YA books are often heavily plot-driven, so as a form of escapism they’re perfect”.

The research also showed that 29% of 14- to 25-year-olds “strongly think of themselves as a reader”, with many of these young people choosing to build an identity around books online, on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. Of the young people surveyed who answered “very true” to the statement “I think of myself as a reader” 40% described themselves as “very happy”. In contrast, 21% of those who did not think of themselves as readers described themselves as “very happy”.

Alison David, consumer insight director at HarperCollins, said the research “suggests wellbeing comes from more than the act of reading (relaxation, escapism, the content itself). The psychology of being a reader is enormously powerful.”

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Katherine Webber Tsang. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz/HarperCollins

Webber Tsang said she has noticed that it has become more “cool” for young people to call themselves a reader. “I think the fact that readers have so many opportunities to connect with each other online, and to attend events where they can meet each other and also the authors, means that they are more likely to feel proud of being a reader,” she said.

Although most of the young people surveyed said they recognised and experienced the benefits of reading, the research showed that only 16% of 14-25s read daily or nearly every day for pleasure. Boys between the ages of 14 and 17 were more likely to be disengaged from reading, with 38% saying they rarely or never read for pleasure. Over half of both boys (55%) and girls (63%) said they had too much schoolwork to read books for fun.

Cally Poplak, managing director of HarperCollins Children’s Books and Farshore, noted that while it is “really encouraging” to see that young people have a positive attitude towards books, “the vast majority of young people are not reading every day.

“How do we tackle this contradiction that today’s young people, who are already being referred to as the ‘anxious generation’ know reading is good for them, but still aren’t picking up books?” she added.

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