What’s So Great About Young Adult Literature? (or, No, It’s Not All About Sparkly Vampires)

Better late than never…

Here we are (finally!) with the April featured post. This one is by yours truly (of Rancho Cucamonga Library). I originally wrote it for a friend’s blog, in a slightly different form, as an introduction to YA lit for non-librarian adult readers. I want to encourage audience participation on this blog as much as possible, and this post lends itself to that well I think, since there’s a book list at the end you can add to. So, comment away!

Take a look at the ever-growing book section next to the music and videos at your local Target, or at the movie marquee of your local theater. What do you see? Books (or in the case of the theater, movies based on books) for and about young adults. Where did this come from? Why should you care? And who let all these vampires and werewolves into the building?

It wasn’t too long ago that literature for young adults was a mushy grey area somewhere between the chapter books of our grade school years and the books in the adult section that our parents may or may not have wanted us to read. Books for teens were often shelved in both sections, and without any kind of indication that they might be a good reading choice for a 14 year old unless a knowledgeable librarian happened to steer that teen there. Now go to any library and you will find an entire section devoted solely to books for readers aged 12-18. That’s a good thing, too, because, like the new generation of teens they were written for, these books deal with some decidedly un-childish themes: sexuality, teen pregnancy, gender identity, eugenics, murder and drug use, just to name a few. (See, I told you it wasn’t all just about vampires!)

While, like in any genre, not all of it is good (*cough* Twilight *cough*), the sheer volume of young adult literature being published should be signal enough that it’s a force of some power. But though it’s got the neon “YA” sticker on its spine, this is no reason adult readers to stay away from it. I’d actually go so far as to say that YA lit is some of the best literature – in any genre – being produced today. Perhaps what is off-putting to some adult readers is the fantasy nature of a lot of the titles recently published. What’s with that anyway? Well, remember how you felt when you were 14? Like a mutant, right? (Or was that just me?) Teenagers relate to tales of monsters; they themselves often feel like outsiders, and the idea of a parallel universe where they will fit in, where the underdog has the power, or where things are just plain more exotic (or less dreary) than their real life, is profoundly appealing.

(For an interesting book on the topic of monsters in young adult literature, check out They suck, they bite, they eat, they kill: the psychological meaning of supernatural monsters in young adult fiction by Joni Richards Bodart.) Not all YA lit is “monster” lit, but I think it helps to look at it the way we look at science fiction and fantasy (into which genre many of these teen books fit) – books unbound by the strictures of reality allow the writer and the reader to explore some very mundane ideas in a new, interesting and often deeper way than straight fiction would permit. Fantasy fiction is more real than reality, so to speak. You might even extend this idea out to all (good) YA literature, fantasy or not. It’s almost as though without the scrutiny leveled on more established genres, YA authors thought no one was really paying attention to them anyway, so they could write whatever they wanted, and in the process came up with some really unique and insightful stuff. Of course, now people, teens and adults alike, are paying attention, and it’s a gold mine. (And I will throw a bone to the Twilight series on this one – I still have no idea why it went viral the way it did, but hey, if it’s getting teenagers to read, I’ll take what I can get.)

Ok…now before I bore you all to death with my English major rhetoric, here are some of my favorite YA books published in the last several years. (Let me preface this by saying, I could have made this list at least ten times longer – there really is a lot of good stuff out there. These are the ones that kept me up at night reading because I didn’t want to stop – if you don’t see one on this list that you’ve read and liked, I may have excluded it only because I haven’t read it yet! I also fully admit I have a penchant for sf/fantasy, so most of these here will fall into that category. And finally, and you well know, the majority of YA lit right now is part of a series. So, be prepared to read a lot. That’s awesome news though, if the writing is good, right?)

1) The Hunger Games (sequels: Catching Fire, Mockingjay) by Suzanne Collins
(You may have heard a thing or two about this one… But seriously, if you haven’t read these…just stop reading my post right now and go get them. Go on. I’ll wait.)

2) The Mortal Instruments series (City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls [May 2012], City of Heavenly Fire [March 2014]); prequel series: The Infernal Devices (Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, Clockwork Princess [November 2012]) by Cassandra Clare

3) Anything by Libba Bray
(Hell, even read the introduction to the superb Going Bovine – that alone is really funny)

4) Incarceron (sequel: Sapphique) by Catherine Fisher

5) The Maze Runner (sequels: The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure) by James Dashner

6) Delirium (sequels: Pandemonium, Requiem [2013]…starting to see that trilogy theme?) by Lauren Oliver

7) Pretty much anything by Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier
(I put these two authors together because they’re married. Of particular note, the Uglies series (Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras) by Westerfeld and Liar by Larbalestier.)

8) The Forest of Hands and Teeth (sequels: The Dead-Tossed Waves, The Dark and Hollow Places) by Carrie Ryan

9) The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. 1 & 2 by M.T. Anderson
(Amazing.)

10) An Abundance of Katherines (and other works) by John Green

11) Wither (first in the Chemical Garden trilogy; sequels: Fever, Book #3 in 2013) by Lauren DeStefano

12) Divergent (first in a … oh come on, you know where this is going; sequels: Insurgent [May 2012], Book #3 in 2013) by Veronica Roth

13) Daughter of Smoke and Bone (sequel: Days of Blood and Starlight [November 2012]) by Laini Taylor
(I really cannot say enough good things about this book. It is easily one of the best – in any genre – I’ve read in years.)

14) Matched (first in a septet…just kidding, it’s a trilogy; sequels: Crossed, Reached [November 2012]) by Ally Condie

And if that isn’t enough, be sure to check out two of my favorite YA book blogs:
www.readingrants.org
www.teenreads.com

What did I not include? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on the article, or other books you want to recommend.

Happy reading!

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