Science Fiction/Fantasy

What Do Adults Love About YA Fantasy?

Mary Kay McBrayer

Staff Writer

Mary Kay is a belly-dancer, horror enthusiast, sideshow lover, prose writer, Christian, and literature professor from south of Atlanta. Her true crime novel, America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster is available for pre-order, and you can hear her analysis (and jokes) about scary movies on the podcast she co-founded, Everything Trying to Kill You. She can be reached at

YA Fantasy Week is sponsored by Flatiron Books.

Welcome to Finale, the final book in Stephanie Garber’s #1 New York Times bestselling Caraval series! It’s been two months since the Fates were freed from a deck of cards, two months since Legend claimed the throne for his own, and two months since Tella discovered the boy she fell in love with doesn’t really exist. Tella must decide if she’s going to trust Legend. After uncovering a secret, Scarlett will need to do the impossible. And Legend has a choice to make that will forever change him. Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun.

The YA fantasy series that I love the most is Harry Potter. Have an original thought, Mary Kay, right? But the fact of the matter is, those books are compelling. I loved them when I was a child for the obvious reasons: Harry Potter was MY AGE, he was ALSO a nerd, and…MAGIC, duh.

But as an adult, I still love that series. Most of us do. And after consulting with a few of my friends for validation and confirmation, I came up with these reasons why adults love reading YA fantasy:


It’s Escapist

The number one reason adults and children alike enjoy reading YA Fantasy is that those stories typically deal with low fantasy, or fantastical things in a modern world, without being so realistic that they’re rendered mundane. We love to fantasize about a different, better world—wouldn’t it be better if I could teleport to the DMV instead of sitting in the waiting room, or ride a dragon to work to avoid the commuter traffic, or grow a limb back that was severed in a horrible accident? What about…since I can’t leave the house, if I just walked deep enough into the back of my closet into a world of centaurs and talking lions? Yes. Everyone wants that. Everyone wants enough familiarity so that it’s not jarring—nobody’s trying to go to Westeros or Westworld, am I right? But Cherry Tree Lane? Sign me up! We want JUST enough magic to ease the struggles or inconveniences of our normal lives.


We Identify With Children

When we are children, we identify with the protagonists of YA fantasy because of their ages, but as adults, we’re allowed to become nostalgic for the child WE once were: YA heroes and heroines are often precocious but underestimated, and nearly all adults feel that people don’t recognize our potential.

Too, oftentimes in YA, adults are represented as authority figures, and name a person who has never been frustrated with his or her boss, teacher, parents, landlords…the list goes on. (Think about Captain Hook. Did you picture Dustin Hoffman or your supervisor? Be honest, haha!)

Children are never physically stronger than adults, so they have to use their skills, cunning, or magic to overcome the odds, which they do, which lets US believe we can do, too. Think about the movie Hook, when Pockets squeezes Robin Williams’s face and finally grins and says, “Oh THERE you are, Peter!” Every adult wants to be seen that way by a sweet child! YA Fantasy lets us believe we can be the hero or heroine, too.


YA Fantasy Lets Us Use Our Imaginations

I can remember just a few years ago my stepdad fantasized about a self-mowing lawn. Wouldn’t that be great? YA Fantasy lets us use our imaginations. In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, we learn about peculiarities from old photographs of Jake’s grandfather. An invisible boy. A girl who starts fires with her bare hands. A teacher who transforms into a falcon.

There’s a reason why one of the most common icebreaker questions for corporate meetings is, “What would your superpower be?” Sure, everyone says flight, or invisibility, or holding their breath forever…but don’t you want to be friends with the guy who shoots noodles out of his fingers? The woman who says she wants to make rude men lose their gravitational pull on command? What about the person who shoots way off the mark and says it’d be nice to have a prehensile tail, you know, just to help bring in groceries when his hands are full…?


The point is, YA Fantasy is not JUST escapist; it lets our creativity fly without being encumbered by realism. It’s not strength or wisdom, but imagination, after all, that lets our teenage protagonists save the world. Which brings me to my final point.

It Gives Us Hope

The most compelling part of YA Fantasy, when it’s done right, is that the characters all have heart. We care about them, they care about us, about humanity, about a moral sense of right and wrong…and sometimes, in the adult world, we can lose sight of what’s most important in favor of what’s most immediate. YA doesn’t let us do that: it holds us accountable. It makes us into the adults that we thought we’d become when we were kids.


What about you? What’s YOUR main reason that you enjoy YA fantasy? Let us know in the comments!