Should we feel embarrassed when we are reading material written for people under the age of consent? Amazingly, a vast public for “young adult” (YA) novels, aimed at ages 14–17 … is adults.

As Slate’s Ruth Graham tells it,

The once-unseemly notion that it’s acceptable for not-young adults to read young-adult fiction is now conventional wisdom. Today, grown-ups brandish their copies of teen novels with pride. There are endless lists of YA novels that adults should read, an “I read YA” campaign for grown-up YA fans, and confessional posts by adult YA addicts. But reading YA doesn’t make for much of a confession these days: A 2012 survey by a market research firm found that 55 percent of these books are bought by people older than 18.

One factor might be this: Many young people today move back home to live with their parents after they graduate from university. This group should not be equated with people who do not have jobs. Of course, they might not have jobs in the fields for which they were trained, and they (or their parents) may be carrying education debt.

What they don’t usually have, however, is marriage partners and children born from that union, traditionally understood as lifelong.

So they don’t have the types of commitments that would make the Odyssey, War and Peace, or Pride and Prejudice more meaningful than vampire soaps or end-of-the-world fiction. Also, the most popular young adult novels are probably valued in part because they are easy to film. As New York Times culture critic points out,

Writing a big, imaginative epic, and particularly one aimed at children or that vaguely defined demographic, “young adult,” will get you plenty of money and status in the grown-up population. You’ll get your big Hollywood movie, and you’ll get your New Yorker profile.

But can serious literature survive the loss of serious lives?

Here are the top ten YA novels of the century:

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...