Hang on, these were meant to be for kids, right? In a golden age for young literature, we name the books that sent thousands of adults flocking to the junior section in bookshops.
1. The Hunger Games trilogy (Suzanne Collins)
Intrigued by the prospect of flawed young heroes being thrown headlong into gladiatorial contests in a nightmarish future world? Well, so were 65 million other people. This powerful series features strong characters, gritty story-telling and tragic loss – all expertly sewn together in a compelling narrative. Adult readers who barfed at the tweeny Twilight books absolutely lapped it up – and that was before the Jennifer Lawrence movies took over the world.
2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)
The publishers of this British novel were so confident of its crossover appeal that they simultaneously published it in separate editions for adults and children. (Their confidence paid off: It won all kinds of adult and children’s literary prizes.) This bracingly original story about an autistic child investigating the murder of a local dog is a real page-turner.
3. If I Stay (Gayle Forman)
It’s not hard to see why this full-box-of-tissues weepie had legions of young fans – death and romance are the staples of teen fiction. But so many adults also raved about the novel that it soon got the full Hollywood treatment and a star-studded movie. The story follows 17-year-old Mia, hovering above her own comatose form after a car crash and pondering whether to pass on with her newly-dead family or stay behind with her dreamy boyfriend.
4. Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell)
The clever trick in this teenage love story was turning the usual ‘jock meets prom girl’ storyline on its head. Both the main characters – a heavy-set redhead girl and awkward half-Korean kid – are outcasts in their own way. Neither feels entirely like they fit in. The book’s many adult fans saw their own teen awkwardness in the story, and loved it.
5. Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)
There’s a famous photo of London Tube train commuters, where almost half the (adult) passengers have their noses buried in a Harry Potter book. Perhaps more than any other kids’ book series, the heroes of Hogwarts seemed to effortlessly straddle every demographic. (Trivia fact: So many adults bought the books, they were each published with children’s and adult covers.) It seems everyone, from college graduates to retired professional, was smitten by Potter-mania. And why? Because like all the best stories, they had something for everyone.
6. Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger)
What, you mean this isn’t an adult book? Actually, this controversial novel was originally published in 1951 for adults, but has since become hugely popular with teen readers drawn to its themes of angst and alienation. And there’s plenty of that in the story of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, freshly expelled from school and wandering aimless and lonely around New York. Of the 65 million copies sold so far, it’s a good guess that many have been read by young and old alike.
7. A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket)
Given that this 13-book series sold 60 million copies, you could never call it unsuccessful. But it’s also true that the plight of the Baudelaire orphans never quite captured the popular imagination in the way that Hogwarts did. And that was probably because – despite its many laugh-out-loud moments – the stories were just that wee bit sadder, more cynical and darker in tone. In other words, all the ingredients that grown-ups love!
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