YA Lit - Not Just For Kids
With compelling characters, exciting story lines and exceptional writing, some YA books turn out to be ageless.
- by Carole McKellar
In 1997, according to Publishers Weekly, 3,000 books Young Adult books were published. In 2009, there were over 30,000 with sales exceeding $3 billion. Much of the rise in popularity of the genre can be attributed to the meteoric sales of the ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Twilight’, and ‘Hunger Games’ series. These novels were read and enjoyed by all ages. Their movie adaptations were immensely popular and only increased adult interest in YA fiction.
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.
I mentioned my interest in writing about YA literature to Scott Naugle, the owner of Pass Books in Pass Christian. He agreed that more adults are reading and enjoying the genre. He mentioned The Book Thief by Markus Zusak as a popular book that sells well in the shop. I hadn’t thought of that book, which is one of my all-time favorite books, as a young adult novel. In my opinion, it’s just an astounding work of literature. I should have realized it would be appropriate for adolescent readers because it’s the story of a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany.
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.
Authors of YA books are typically young adults, but youth does not seem a requirement. Most of us remember what it is like to be a teenager, both its joys and pains. Several successful fiction writers, whom I admire, are comfortable moving between adult and young adult fiction, including Meg Wolitzer, Michael Chabon, Isabel Allende, and Nick Hornby.
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
So… what exactly is YA? It’s our favorite kind of literature, and we pretty much breathe, eat, and sleep all things young adult, but where did it come from? What’s the actual definition? Let us break down everything you need to know about how YA came about!
Read more about this on our blog! http://www.epicreads.com/blog/a-brief...
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