The Crossover Conundrum: Teens Reading Books for Adults

If January and February are any indications, then it is going to be another banner year for volunteer-submitted reviews. So far in 2021, we have received more than 130 book reviews. 

Trends are emerging, and the most visible one is the number of books written for adults that teens are reading. Readers as young as 13 are submitting reviews of books intended for adults. Before I say anything else, let me say this:

I am NOT recommending censoring or restricting book access.

Rather, I am thinking about ways that we can help readers navigate and balance their curiosity and love of reading with content that is appropriate. Our volunteers are avid readers. I envision them “browsing the stacks” using their mad book-finder skills to select stories that sound interesting. So far this year, I have received reviews of 10 books clearly intended for adults, with adult main characters, and with plots including traumatic and potentially triggering events, sometimes from their youth. 

crossover book YA

The Crossover

The phenomenon of crossover titles – books that are written for youth audiences that also appeal to adults and vice versa – is not new.  Realistic fiction, science fiction and fantasy, adventure – the genres are equally diverse. Exceptional writing and wonderful stories appeal to broad audiences. 

Even so, kids aren’t always ready – emotionally, psychologically – for the content in books not “addressed” to them. Themes of rape, torture, slavery, child abuse, assisted suicide, and debilitating health conditions are among the themes in the book reviews being submitted by our teen volunteers.

These are all things that happen in real life and I believe very strongly that these stories can be windows and mirrors … when the reader is ready to handle them. “Not now” is not the same as saying “no.”

Tips for Parents and Adults

Despite their claims to the contrary, as a parent, you know your pre-teen/teen better than they know themselves. While you may not be with them 24/7 you do have a sense of how they react to certain things and the types of stories that could be harmful, hurtful, or triggering for them.  

Tweens and teens today are familiar with behaviors and realities that, when I was growing up, were not discussed “in front of the children.” Times are different and things have changed. What hasn’t changed is the need for adults to stay engaged with the kids in their lives. And that includes what they’re reading. These tips can help you stay connected with your child and what they’re reading. 

Ask them what they’re reading – nicely.

If you’re a reader, you may already have a good idea about what your child is reading, but not all of us do. Here are a few light questions you can ask your teen about what they are reading – without grilling or judging them! 

  • What kind of story is it (mystery, adventure, realistic fiction, etc.)?
  • Is it a book you think I’d like to read? [or maybe sister, brother, etc.]
  • What are the main characters like (relatable, mean-girl, athlete, loner)?
Read “together.”

Adult books aren’t built to be family read-alouds, and although we might wish for it, many teens don’t want us to read to them. This is their relaxing time and they want to be by themselves. BUT! That doesn’t mean you can’t share your reading experiences. 

  • Read the book at the same time. Use two bookmarks, two different copies, whatever works. This allows you to come together discuss the book – and potential issues you spotted – along the way.
  • Read the book first. Getting a front-row seat for a book that interests them will help you decide if they are ready for the story. 
Check It Out.

The first place I visit when a new review comes into the Reading Tub is Readers of all stripes – including lots of librarians and educators – keep book lists. Without fail, they identify the audience: middle grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult. You’ll find the tag list on the right side of the page. While I’m there, I read the summary.

The next site I visit is Accelerated Reader Bookfinder. Search the title and use the results to help you. Ignore the book level (BL) and look at the audience: LG (Lower Grade = Elementary); MG (Middle Grade); and UG (Upper Grade = High School).

crossover book tips parentsI searched “Romeo and Juliet” and as you can see, there are versions created for different audiences. While it may not be the best example, it does illustrate my point. Romeo and Juliet wasn’t written to be a high school text, but it is. Ditto Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, and many more you probably recognize from your own high school days. 

Thankfully, educators are finding more appropriate books that can teach many of these same points and will engage readers. I don’t know what they are, so AR Bookfinder is helpful in identifying contemporary literature currently (or recently) being used in classrooms around the country. 

Dig a little deeper.

What is known as “triggering content” – material that can bring on memories of pain or trauma – is not always readily apparent, especially in a book summary. Authors and publishers are inconsistent in identifying this content, as well. Many book bloggers, however, DO include that in their reviews.

  • While you’re visiting, look at some of the reviews. If there are spoilers, read them. They could be very helpful.
  • Use a search engine and include the book’s title and “blog review” and avoid reviews on bookseller websites. 

Bottom line: we don’t want to deter kids from reading for pleasure. It is definitely something worth celebrating!

While they are closer to making all of their own choices, they aren’t there yet, and these tips can help you guide them without discouraging the importance of reading choice.

If you have other tips, we’d love to hear them!