|You mean...teen books...can be...well WRITTEN?!|
As someone who began reading adult books at an early age, I'm no stranger to the idea of reading across the board of genres, regardless of the age group that they are being marketed to. And when I see a well-meaning person who isn't as avid of a reader describe a Young Adult book as being "so good it could have been an Adult," I often give them the benefit of the doubt. People who aren't super interested in publishing are usually not going to be as hyper aware of the aspect that a lower age group for the target audience does not, in fact, equal lower quality literature, and hey--at the end of the day, they are reading as well as taking part in the number one marketing process that is word of mouth.
That being said, I won't lie: the "it reads like an Adult!" compliment isn't quite as easy for me to digest when I see it being used in the midst of the YA community online. From what I can tell, the biggest reasons it is used is to describe either especially sophisticated language, complicated plots and/or subplots, or characters with a surprising amount of maturity and/or intelligence. When, silly me: I thought that the difference between YA and Adult are the ages of the protagonist and the type of conflicts that are plaguing them (in a purely age-based sense, rather than the level or intensity of emotion involved.)
Part of me wonders if it comes from a place of feeling the need to apologize for really truly loving a piece of teen fiction. Sort of like, "It wasn't written for me, but it could have been with how much unexpected ass it kicked!" While also seeming well meaning, the problem there is that you are implying that qualities such as aforementioned sophisticated language, complicated plots, and mature or intelligent characters are not something that YA is known for possessing in noticeable quantities. When really, your impression is simply based on how wide your own reading boundaries are, as well as how willing you are to take a step back and realize that those writing qualities are both very present and somewhat rare in all genres--Children's, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult.
I feel like people very often assume that the Sparkly Vampire Effect is what's to 'blame' for the very poorly written articles about YA in the media, and how it is perceived industrially from the outside, but I disagree with that notion. You cannot blame one or two books on such a serious disservice to our genre, simply because of massive popularity and the inevitable waves of haters that will come with it. Plus, blaming something that is essentially a thing of the past does absolutely nothing to move the genre forward, in fact, it does quite the opposite.
So what can we do? I'm not entirely sure. I didn't mean to approach this as if I have this big important plan for the genre or the industry to turn things around and demand the respect that the genre truly deserves, but more to maybe open a discussion on speculation as to why it's so easy to fall back on what is, essentially, a pretty misleading statement about publishing as a whole, in Young Adult and beyond.
Maybe we can challenge ourselves to accept, and point out to fellow readers, just how rich the teen fiction world is of especially sophisticated language, complicated plots and/or subplots, and very mature and/or intelligent characters. Maybe we can stop being embarrassed for simply reading....because, seriously, that's what it feels like sometimes. Pop culture be damned, people are reading what they want to read, just like they always have and will continue to do.
Or maybe, if we really really like a book that we didn't expect to like, we can take a moment to think about exactly what we liked it when describing it to a friend as opposed to shrugging, "It was really good.. for a teen book."