Young-adult fiction is referred to as “YA,” but it’s the A that’s more important than the Y at a book club in western Prince William County.
The club, which meets at the Haymarket Gainesville Community Library, is for adults who read the genre, which is intended for teens. It’s called Pardon My Youth, and it reflects the influence of YA on popular culture, evidenced by the successful screen adaptations of books such as “The Hunger Games” and “Thirteen Reasons Why.”
The club’s members have a simpler, reason for gathering monthly, though: They like the books.
Pardon My Youth, which first met in March, is organized by Jeanine Raghunathan, who works part time at the Haymarket library. She reads YA books almost exclusively, because she is drawn to their focus on adolescents facing messy life changes.
“It can be really raw and, like, a lot of feelings and emotions,” Raghunathan said last week at the club’s most recent meeting.
“The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton, first published in 1967, is considered the first real YA book, Raghunathan wrote in a story about the genre in this month’s issue of the local Haymarket Lifestyle Magazine. But the more recent boom in adults reading books intended for younger audiences began with the publication of the first “Harry Potter” novel in the late 1990s.
Although the J.K. Rowling series is not technically considered YA, Raghunathan wrote, the books inspired future YA authors. And by 2012, a survey by Bowker Market Research found, 55 percent of those buying books designated for ages 12 to 17 were actually 18 or older.
Raghunathan’s club has attracted five regular members, including Bristow resident Barry Lawlor. He works with teens as a therapist at the nonprofit Youth for Tomorrow, and he said he thinks adults are reading YA because it gives them a link to their past.
“We’re trying to connect to our teenage years,” Lawlor said.
The books allow adult readers to get a taste of that time in their lives without actually having to go through it again, he said.
His wife, Rheetha, is also a member of Pardon My Youth. She said YA can be more realistic than popular fiction intended for adults and often has more diverse characters.
“It’s not the whole ‘everything’s perfect, tied up in a bow,’ you know, type of thing,” she said.
Books geared toward teens frequently address topics such as racism, immigration and transgender subjects, as well, Rheetha Lawlor and Raghunathan said. The book Pardon My Youth discussed last week, for example, “American Street” by Ibi Zoboi, is about Haitian immigrants.
Rheetha Lawlor is a librarian at Osbourn Park High School, and she runs a book club for teachers there that primarily deals with YA fiction. Its purpose is to inspire student reading by showing that teachers, especially those who teach subjects other than English, are interested in literature.
Not everyone supports the notion of adults reading YA, however.
“A lot of people do think YA is a guilty pleasure, or something that adults shouldn’t read,” said Jennie Kendrick, who writes for the website Forever Young Adult, a portal for adults who like YA.
Forever Young Adult touts itself as a community for readers “who are a little less ‘Y’ and a bit more ‘A,’ ” and the site lists related book clubs around the world. Kendrick leads one in San Francisco that has about 85 members; the site lists three Washington-area clubs, in Fairfax City, Tysons Corner and the District.
Kendrick pointed out that although some are scornful of adults reading YA, no one would fault her father for his interest in popular westerns. And although they’re aimed at teens, she said, YA books aren’t necessarily “easy reads.” They can be as multilayered and complex as any other genre.
The main attraction is to “stories well told,” Kendrick said.
“That’s not necessarily what you get with mainstream adult fiction,” she added.
The Pardon My Youth book club meets monthly at 7 p.m., usually on second Mondays, at the Haymarket Gainesville Community Library. The next meeting will be Aug. 7. Members will discuss “When We Collided,” by Emery Lord.