Wikipedia defines Young Adult novels as:
Young-adult fiction or young adult literature (often abbreviated as YA), also juvenile fiction, is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Authors and readers of young adult (YA) novels often define the genre as literature as traditionally written for ages ranging from twelve years up to the age of eighteen, while some publishers may market young adult literature to as low as age ten or as high as age twenty-five. The terms young-adult novel, juvenile novel, young-adult book, etc. refer to the works in the YA category.
YA literature shares the following fundamental elements of the fiction genre: character, plot, setting, theme, and style. However, theme and style are often subordinated to the more tangible elements of plot, setting, and character, which appeal more readily to younger readers. The vast majority of YA stories portray an adolescent, rather than an adult or child, as the protagonist.
The subject matter and story lines of YA literature are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character, but, beyond that, YA stories span the spectrum of fiction genres. Themes in YA stories often focus on the challenges of youth, sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming-of-age novels.Writing styles of YA stories range widely, from the richness of literary style to the clarity and speed of the unobtrusive and free verse.
When browsing this section at the local bookstore for my next "fix", my cheeks would flush, my eyes shifted around looking nervously to see if any other adults were viewing me with amusement. Why exactly, I thought, would normal adults read literature specifically written for teens?
I know why I read the genre-the stories I gravitate towards are usually about a late teen-early twenty something person who becomes something greater than they thought they were by the end of the story. Harry Potter is one such example, and I suppose my first foray as an adult into this genre. I have since discovered SO many well written, engrossing books since then.
I think many adults like myself read Young Adult Fiction because so much of it is so well written. For fantasy lovers, jump into Julie Kagawa's The Iron King series and prepare to be enthralled with her use of language to create a darkly lovely world full of beauty and danger.
The characters play a huge part in any good YA novel as well. So many of them face heartbreak,loss, love and joy at a level we as adults have forgotten. It is an opportunity to step back in time almost to how we felt and acted at that age and imagine what we ourselves would have done had we been the protagonist in the novel. A great example of a love story written against a mafia setting is Sempre by J.M. Darhower. Haven and Carmine's relationship is sweet and timeless.
The subject matter is varied as well. Its not all stories about dating, or school. Whatever genre you like to read, it's represented in YA literature. Steampunk, Paranormal, Fantasy, Dystopian, "Growing Up" stories, Romance..it's all there.
So, should someone be embarrassed about reading YA fiction? No, I have come to realize that YA is for the young at heart.