YA Lit - Not Just For Kids
- by Carole McKellar
Young adult literature (YA) refers to books written, published, and marketed to adolescents and young adults. The American Library Association defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen, but some sources place the ages between sixteen and twenty-five. However the category is defined, YA books represent a growing market in publishing.The popularity of the genre is partly due the shifting demographic of its readers.
According to a 2012 study reported in Publishers Weekly, 55% of all books classified as young adult are purchased by adults. The majority of those surveyed stated that they were buying the books for their own reading. Google the phrase ‘adults reading YA’, and you will find diverse opinions from writers and readers of the propriety of adult readership in periodicals such as the Atlantic Magazine and the Paris Review. Some critics deride and shame adults who enjoy reading YA. The defenders claim that good storytelling transcends the strictures of genre.
I decided to take a closer look at YA books for two reasons. First, I was introduced to Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir in poetic form written by Jacqueline Woodson. I heard some of her poems read aloud on a radio talk show and thought they were beautiful. I bought the book at a local bookstore and was amazed to find the book classified as young adult literature. It is a wonderful story of family and place that should simply be categorized as exceptionally good literature. Brown Girl Dreaming won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Secondly, my interest was piqued while listening to a discussion of favorite YA books by two of the best readers I know, who happen to belong to my book group. Cindy Williams is the librarian at Bay High School who told me that she enjoys reading YA books because “they can be an exciting escape and they invoke a sense of nostalgia."
She provided me a fascinating recent history of the genre, plus quite a few recommendations that I will list at the end of this article. Allison Anderson, a Bay St. Louis architect, finds some of the writing “to be equally as lyrical and powerful as fiction written for adults. In YA fiction, the themes are typically conflicts that arise from one's liminal place in the world - a feeling of uncertainty, or confusion.”
Cindy started a teen book discussion group at her school, and they chose Paper Towns by John Green, which was made into a movie to be released this summer. That book as well as Mr. Green’s immensely popular The Fault in Our Stars are part of a new wave of realistic teen fiction.
I decided to read Paper Towns before determining if this topic was of sufficient interest to write about. I read it in almost one sitting. The characters were appealing and Mr. Green did a good job describing the emotional landscape of adolescence. I also thought he provided a worthwhile cultural roadmap for teens into the adult world. Perhaps after reading Paper Towns, readers will give more thought to the adverse effects of our consumer culture and the development of a personal philosophy for living in this world.
The Book Thief is graphic and violent, but YA books do not shy away from disturbing issues. Common themes include suicide, sexuality, family struggles, substance abuse, and bullying. Adolescents today relate to these issues and reading about them helps clarify their experiences.
Margaret McMullen, another author writing in both genres, has Pass Christian roots. In a response to my email, she enthusiastically stated that YA books are “mostly terrific reads” and “the characters in these books are interesting and often edgy and the plots really move.”
She also noted the emergence of Mother/Daughter book groups. She said, “I saw this when my book Sources of Light came out, and some of these book groups asked me to Skype or come visit. ‘Sources’ is a mother/daughter story set in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi."
"Many adult parents like the idea of reading what their teens are reading—to keep up, have a good discussion, etc. It’s a nice idea. When you are reading the same book, you will always end up talking about important things that are difficult for parents and their children to talk about otherwise.”
I plan to read quite a few of the recommended books listed below.
Recommended Reading from Cindy Williams and Allison Anderson:
I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry
Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick.
Upcoming Movies from Recommended YA books. (Always read the book first, Cindy recommends.)
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Legend by Marie Lu
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransome Riggs
Epic Reads Explains/A Brief History of YA
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