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A YA Lover’s Journey Into Adult Literature

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Mikkaka Overstreet

Senior Contributor

Mikkaka Overstreet is from Louisville, Kentucky by way of Saginaw “Sagnasty”, Michigan. She has been an educator since 2006 and earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction in 2015. By day she is a mild-mannered literacy specialist. By night she sleeps. In between, she daydreams, writes fiction, and reads books. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and cats.

Okay, so I absolutely love reading YA. I think that it’s partly because, as an educator, I like to stay current on children’s literature. But I also just enjoy the category because it’s full of excellent stories and relatable characters that are easy to root for.

Perhaps my inner child is happy to finally have a chance to read books with diverse characters. When I was younger, there weren’t a lot of options featuring poor and/or Black and/or queer characters. Admittedly, it’s nice to see that changing.

Don’t worry! I’m not going to rehash the tired argument of whether adults should be reading YA or anything like that. I also have no intention to present my journey to reading adult lit as some triumph. I believe in letting people enjoy things that don’t hurt anyone else. Full stop.

Instead, I’m going to relay to you the strange phenomenon of my current interest in adult literature. You see, it came upon me by complete and utter accident. One day I’m reading Cinderella is Dead and the next I’m deep in the The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. So what happened?

To explain, I’m going to have to reveal a few things about myself as a reader. Don’t judge me, please. *cue the flashback dissolve*

Happily Haphazard Habits

I am an absolutely unapologetically chaotic reader. Typically, I read multiple books in different formats simultaneously. I delight in reading books without any idea what they’re about. A friend loved it or someone mentioned it on Twitter? I’ll give it a whirl without so much as a glance at the book jacket.

Furthermore, I refuse to waste effort finishing a book that I am not enjoying. (Admittedly, this would probably happen less if I read the book blurbs beforehand.) I often quit a book after a few chapters, especially if I’m not invested in any of the characters by then. Conversely, I had gotten halfway through books before quitting remorselessly. Life is too short and there are too many books in the world.

In most areas of my life, I like a carefully organized plan. However, when it comes to reading, I am always flying by the seat of my pants. My TBR is out of control and there is often no rhyme or reason to what I choose next.

Stumbling Down the Rabbit Hole

I often go through spurts where I can only read a specific type of book. For example, when I started reading again after a lengthy reader’s block early in the pandemic, I could not handle my regular choices. My fictional escapes needed to be low stakes to combat the uncertainty in the world. Plus, I’d recently read Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I traded in those heavy topics and picked up To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and BOOM — reader’s block gone.

To be clear, I have always read books for adult audiences, just less frequently than I chose YA. I love horror, so I’ve done a lot of Stephen King. As a bonafide Austenite, I reread most of Jane Austen’s novels annually. Typically, though, I’m consuming coming-of-age stories featuring diverse characters.

I blame a series of romantic YA stories for sending me down the adult rabbit hole. Last year I devoured several fabulous YA books with sweet romantic subplots. Here’s a quick and incomplete list of some of those titles:

After swooning my heart out, I joked with my husband about being emotionally invested in the love lives of fictional teenagers. We agreed that the relationships I was rooting for most likely weren’t meant to last forever because — duh, they’re teenagers.

Still, I couldn’t see myself reading “real” romance novels. Even though I knew the genre was broad, in the back of my mind all I could see were Harlequin Romance books. No shade, I’ve simply had my fill. Growing up, I read about 200 of those books because I was a voracious reader and that’s all my grandmother had in her house.

Then it happened. One of my college students asked me if I had read Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston. Dearest reader, my life changed that day. I read it, died of joy, came back to life, and read her other books.

Suddenly, I understood that there were beautiful, well-written queer love stories just waiting to be read. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid offered me a little mystery with my romance. McQuinston’s One Last Stop turned me into a blubbering mess. Then T.J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door absolutely wrecked my heart in the best way.

So What’s Next?

Haven’t you been paying attention? I have no idea what’s next. I am currently capitalizing on creepy season and reading both YA and adult horror. But my last book in September was another romantic YA that made me sob my eyes out (They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera).

I guess the moral of the story is that I’m going to keep reading whatever book catches my fancy. I’m bisexual. You can’t make me choose.