Young Adult Fiction: Essential Reading?

The other day, I asked you wild-eyed marmots to explain the popular appeal — or, rather, the popular adult appeal — of the Young Adult (YA) fiction market. And you did. In an avalanche of awesome comments.

The actual truth of why YA is so popular ends up a little muddy, and will remain so until the culture is distant enough to give a good long look back over the trends and see what kind of pattern emerges.

Is YA merging into something PG-13 flavored, indicating works that are not necessarily for adolescents but are instead acceptable to anybody in that age range and above?

Is YA emergent because adults don’t want to grow up? Because they’re bound to some sense of adolescent whimsy, embracing a regressive look backward rather than the hard and unflinching look forward?

Is YA a cultural byproduct of the world around us? The world feels troubled, what with terrorism and crumbling financial sectors and Evil Muslim Presidents Trying To Build An Evil Muslim Terrorist Training Camp Upon The Ashes Of Ground Zero Victims (ahem, hot damn, people are mighty stupid these days)? In times of turmoil, audiences often turn to fantasy, and is this just another expression of that? The popularity of Star Wars way back when could be attributed to the need to look forward, to find comfort in fantasy (yes yes, space fantasy) after a particularly turbulent and troubling decade, right?

Or is YA something of the opposite: the need to reconcile the way that adolescents are growing up faster — perhaps in biology, but definitely culturally, mentally, emotionally — and thus provide them with a market of fiction that is sometimes fantastical but also challenging and complex? Maybe as teens evolve, adults regress, and YA is the middle ground upon which they all meet?

Could be that YA is just marketing: a way to exploit a trend and set aside a shelf with books that would normally be found elsewhere. This feels cynical, to some degree — though some truth lies here, as any kind of genre or classification is the product of marketing rather than literary need these days.

Maybe adults just like the ease of it.

Or the “Remember when?” quality of being an adult.

Or they just like relating to what their kids are reading. (Of course, the daughter is on the bed reading Ayn Rand, and the Mom is gabbing on the phone reading Twilight. Or so I imagine the irony of that choice.)

We can discuss it more, but that’s not actually what I come to ask.

What I want to ask now is:

Tell me what to read.

(Dang, that wasn’t a question, it was a statement. A command, as a matter of fact. Erm, let’s try this again. “Tell me what to read?” “Will you tell me what to read?” “Will you go to lunch?” “Go to lunch, George.”)

See, in people talking about YA, I heard about a lot of books that sound strikingly awesome. And, I also heard people call out a number of books I’ve read as “YA,” even though I’d found them on other shelves many years ago — Redwall, Ender’s Game, etc.

Cool. Hey, whatever. Good is good. As Amy Boggs wisely noted in the comments: “After that day I decided that I would read whatever the hell I liked. Sure people give me weird looks if I mention that I read kids books or sci-fi/fantasy. But awesome books are awesome books, regardless of classification.” Yes. That. A hundred times, a thousand times, that. Read what you like. Good is good. Awesome is awesome. Ta-da.

So: what’s good?

What books would you put on an essentials Young Adult fiction reading list? Y’know. For me. And to be clear, by “essentials” I don’t mean “What The Masses Would List,” I mean, what do you personally think is stellar enough to end up on that list? What did you love? What’s your personal list of faves?

35 comments

  • When I was little I borrowed Scott O’Dell’s ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS from the library so many times it was ridiculous.

    I have no idea if that would be called YA these days. I suspect it would. I guess I was about 10-11 when I read the hell out of it.

    Otherwise I remember the summer of 1985 when I was lying on a beach on Long Beach Island with my best friend and we were both reading Stephen King. At that time I was still reading the DESTROYER novels, and King really grabbed me. I’d reached a point where I’d just read whatever looked good to me. It turned out that most things marketed to my age group didn’t.

    What I’ve noticed about many of the newer crop of YA offerings is that they seem to be written a bit simply in form of language and depth. Not all of them, and the ones that aren’t are ones I’ve enjoyed.

    I still haven’t read HOLES, and I actually want to. I used to pick up books in YA at Borders as I shelved them, and a lot of them didn’t look half bad.

    My recommendation is THE AMAZING MAURICE AND HIS EDUCATED RODENTS by Pratchett. It’s funny and dark, the characters are a blast, there’s peril, and it’s got that wonderful buried “screw you” to The Powers That Be that Pratchett’s work often has.

    Just don’t eat the green wiggly bit.

  • I’ll start by getting Philip Pullman out of the way. If you haven’t read the Northern Lights trilogy, you should do so NAO. It’s your coming of age story with two characters and deep themes. Religion mainly. Also a lot of literary references in there. Oh, and don’t be fooled by the film, it doesn’t come close.

    Garth Nix has a great series of steampunky, multiversal, very gamer-friendly books. Keys to the Kingdom, it’s called. Excellent, masterful pacing. Funny characters, imaginative settings, pirates. Need I say more ? Only downer is the ending doesn’t measure up to the series. It’s still worth a read.

    That’s all I can think of for now. Might be back when the brain has come down from the high of this morning’s writing.

  • Toby Alone. Two French novels, recently translated into English (dunno if they’re available on your side of the pond, though). It’s a different, endearing story about a whole society of minuscule people and their changing world, the Tree. It’s both a suspense story and a green fable. Very poetic, everybody I know who’s read it loved it. It’s not a classic like Pullman, but it’s on its way to become one. (Oh yeah, and they’re first novels, as well – very annoying.)

    Oh, and yes, you can get them in the US: http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&tag=wwwcanoniccom-20&index=blended&link_code=qs&field-keywords=toby%20alone%20&sourceid=Mozilla-search

  • UGH. Still with the attitude that YA is somehow inferior writing, less meaty, just LESS. This is the last I’ll say on the subject, because I won’t lie, the last post got me really PO’d with the reading snobbery in a lot of folks.

    More ground is being broken in YA fiction than literary fiction. More writers of color, more queer writers, and they’re writing about deep social issues in a straightforward way. Literary Fiction has the Black Man raping a young girl so we can rehash race issues. Or the Perfect Gay Person that shows us how to get along. In YA they have flaws, they are regular characters, they aren’t the star of the show, they just are THERE like any other character.

    Don’t be fooled into thinking that YA is “simplistic.” The ability to appeal to a wider audience is a sign of skill, not the opposite. I read a lot of the new YA coming out because it’s outstanding storytelling, period. Good is good.

    I posted yesterday about this, got my rant on, and have about 100 comments of amazing recs, if anyone’s interested. And now I’ll gracefully back out.

    • @Stoney:

      I hope you don’t think the attitude is coming from me. Or any legacy posters.

      A few comments in response to, erm, your comment —

      a) I don’t think simplicity is a bad thing. A haiku is simple, but can contain surprising depth. Now, I don’t know that YA is driven to be more literarily accessible than adult fiction (some adult fiction is downright dumb), I’m just saying that I don’t think “simple” is automatically a bug. In fact, it can be a feature. Now: it’s very likely that YA isn’t simple at all. Again, I haven’t been reading it, so I can’t make that kind of claim. But I’m pointing out that it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Some children’s books are simple, yet profound at the same time.

      b) In regards to your LJ post, I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that a popularity of “coming of age” novels among adults is a bit noteworthy. Again, it’s not a bad thing, but it is *a* thing — in the same way that sci-fi was popular in the 1950s as a response to times, so too might adult interest in YA be a response to our current time. It’s not a judgmental attack, it’s just trying to get to the heart of the surge.

      c) I hate to flip it back on you, but your comment has a little literary snobbery all its own: “More ground is being broken in YA fiction than literary fiction. More writers of color, more queer writers, and they’re writing about deep social issues in a straightforward way. Literary Fiction has the Black Man raping a young girl so we can rehash race issues. Or the Perfect Gay Person that shows us how to get along. In YA they have flaws, they are regular characters, they aren’t the star of the show, they just are THERE like any other character.” That’s not particularly fair. Just as attacks on YA fiction are unreasonable, so too are attacks on literary fiction. Or adult fiction, or crime, or sci-fi, or whatever. Yes, some literary books are pompous, hoity-toity affairs. But some YA books are also books-for-teenage-dipshits. It doesn’t mean it’s representative of the genre. I don’t like Jonathan Franzen, but I’ll take a Don DeLillo book any day. Some of Bradley Denton’s books are certainly considered “literary fiction,” and I think they’re some of the strongest books I’ve ever read. If you’re going to subscribe to the “Good Is Good” theory — which I agree with, and do — then that has to also cover literary fiction as well as YA fiction.

      — c.

  • Pardon if some of these are MG, I’m just going to babble:

    –Garth Nix
    –Maureen Johnson
    –Scott Westerfield
    –The Bartimaeus Trilogy (sp?) (get it on audiobook; the BBC HHGG Arthur reads it excellently)
    –Eoin Colfer
    –Diana Wynn Jones (Howl’s, Derkholm, etc.)
    –Sorcery and Cecilia trilogy
    –Septimus Heap
    –Definitely Terry Pratchett
    –Holly Black, ooohhh

    And…

    MANGA!

    But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

  • I’ll second the Pullman books. Eric left out one important thing: armored polar bears. Just sayin’.

    I mentioned Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence yesterday. Arthurian themes, modern-day setting. This is another one where you shouldn’t judge the book by the movie. (Except for the part where Christopher Eccleston was in the movie. That’s all right.)

    Just recently out: Paolo “I Just Won the Nebula for The Windup Girl and Might Pick Up a Hugo This Weekend” Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker. Dystopian future, maybe a hundred years or so from now. The Gulf Coast is pretty much destroyed, and people who live down there scavenge and strip ruined oil tankers for a living. The kids who are skinny and small enough crawl through the insides of the ships, yanking out wires and cables for their copper. All of them hope they’ll get a lucky find — hidden pools of oil in the ships, something else valuable that’ll leave them set for life.

    The protagonist finds a new shipwreck. Inside, injured, is a girl from one of the very, very rich corporations from up north. So, so good.

  • I think my confusion does come from the fact that when I started in book retail (all the way back in the very early 90s) many things that are now considered YA were in fact shelved in their actual genre; your example of Ender’s Game comes to mind.

    The books on the actual YA shelves were usually thin little paperbacks, and many of them involved angst and romantic longing and / or other things that didn’t appeal to me in the least. But then, trying to figure out the appeal of Danielle Steel I attempted to read one and realized it was junk food fiction. Short sentences, small words, no big thang. So for me, anyway (and I am obviously not someone who must read LIT-ER-A-TURE), there was no appeal. Taste is totally subjective. That’s why our choices are so vast.

    When I left book retail, as I said above, YA was changing. I’d scan books and think they’d look interesting, and I’d very often wonder why a particular title was actually in YA instead of SciFi/Fantasy or what have you. I enjoyed Redwall, wondered when the Narnia books had been moved, why is this here and that there…

    So yes. Marketing.

    And that’s fine if it can sell books.

    That’s absolutely fine if it turns more kids into kids that read.

    What I don’t understand is the part that seems to be at the heart of what you’ve been asking, which is why YA has taken off so much with adult readers. I’m not in the business anymore. I don’t have the daily interaction with people asking me for titles or suggesting things to them based on what I see in their baskets. I don’t have the opportunity anymore of keeping an eye on the merch tables and watching what flies out and what sits there.

    For me, personally, if it’s something that interests me from a character and storytelling standpoint I’ll read it. Doesn’t matter where it’s shelved. If it’s something I glance over and realize it doesn’t appeal to me, I don’t. It’s that simple.

    John Hornor Jacobs has an amazing YA in his back pocket that needs to see the light of day. I got to the last sentence and needed more. Emailed the daylights out of him with questions. Good writing is good writing.

    • Julie:

      Mostly this post is looking for the really good reads — any pontification beyond that is mostly just a wank trying to get ahead of the cultural reasons behind the surge in YA popularity. I see YA everywhere now, and didn’t five, ten years ago, so something has changed. And I don’t buy that it’s purely down to marketing, because marketing often has a hard time *creating* phenomena — it usually just exploits preexisting zeitgeist. So, I’m trying to peer into the heart of that zeitgeist.

      Though, maybe I misunderstand: do you mean you don’t get why I’m asking this question, or what the answer is? (Or both?)

      In terms of quality, I think genre is meaningless — good is good, and I want to know “What’s Good In YA?”

      But the other thing is more nebulous, and harder to get my hands around. Hence the asking.

      — c.

  • So we learn something new every day. All those books I thought were YA (like Harry Potter) are actually “middle grade.” We’ve all been reading YA without knowing it for years already. Wikipedia lists all these and many others as “young adult”-

    Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Lord of the Flies, Great Expectations, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, The Catcher in the Rye, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Narnia books, and Harry Potter. Hm.

    And now we know that YA books are complex, deep, ground-breaking, plot-driven, and deal with serious emotional issues in serious ways with characters younger than 18, and I’d like to apologize to anyone who was offended by my being a stuck-up, snobbish lit-fic snob.
    My personal favorites and recommendations:

    A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
    The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
    Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

    Why are adults reading YA? Because YA is AWESOME! Okay, fine. How about a substitute question because The Uninitiated just think YA= (Harry Potter + Twilight et al.)

    Why are many super-popular, best-selling books obviously formulaic garbage? What best-seller #1 made you wonder how this moron got a book deal while Good Writers languish in obscurity? Or is mass appeal really the sign of a true literary artist and I’m just a snob for saying Dan Brown is a hack?

  • Madeline L’Engle. Also, I second the “His Dark Materials” trilogy (books are much better than the movie was).

    Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl” series.

    Also the “Percy Jackson” series, mostly because I groove on mythology. I only hesitated a bit with that recommendation again due to the crappy movie.

    One of my absolute favorite YA books when I was a YA was Margaret Mahy’s “The Changeover”. However I am not sure that book would translate to an adult audience and I am afraid to go back and reread it in case it is not as good as I remember.
    Stewarts “The Mysterious Benedict Society “.

  • I don’t get what the answer is.

    Matt hit it for me. It’s the mass consumption of formulaic garbage in all genres that astounds me, but as I said, at least people are reading…

    Right?

    I have my own brain candy. I have nothing against brain candy. I just wonder why the whole bandwagon thing explodes and we see people riffing on the same ideas instead of creating their own. It happens in every type of fiction. See Chick Lit and Mommy Lit for starters.

    I must admit I had never heard the term Middle Grade until the past few weeks. I left book retail in 2002 though.

    Now I’m wondering if my entry into your Wanna Do Laser flash fic is YA or what. I thought I was just writing a story.

    I agree with Heather on L’Engle for good reads. Really wonderful stuff.

    • I’ll agree that it’s pretty damn confusing.

      And that good is good.

      And that candy is candy, and sometimes is good even when it’s bad.

      And that YA can be more awesome than adult, and that adult can be more puerile than YA.

      And that no rules exist.

      And that marketing cannot create phenomena but only manipulate it.

      And that people are weird.

      And that I’m often a book snob.

      And that I should really put on some pants.

      — c.

  • I just want to echo EVERYTHING Stoney has said. Some of the comments in those posts (and a few in this one already) seriously had steam coming out of my ears. I can’t help but take it a bit personally. This stuff is (ok, will be) my bread and butter. When you insult it as simplistic, whether in style or structure, then it feels like you’re insulting my work as well.

    Anyway …

    You’ve gotten some good recommendations for older things that are great. Even some mid grade stuff (His Dark Materials, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, – all great series if they’re your thing (I couldn’t get into them)).

    Going to second Garth Nix, Paolo Bacigalupi – they’ve got great stuff right now.

    Dianna Wynne Jones does amazing comedic fantasy for the YA crowd. Howl’s Moving Castle is charming and very different from the movie. For the record, I love both.

    Charlie Higson The Enemy. I’ve been slinging this title around a lot. I love this book that much. Basic concept it that a deadly virus wipes out everyone over the age of 16 and the children are left behind to fend for themselves in zombie infested London. Features meglomaniacs, gladiator style battles, cannibals (not zombie), and the most charming references to Samwise Gamgee ever. You may also like his Young Bond series, though I haven’t read them as I was never big on James Bond.

    The Hunger Games Series seems to be required reading in the YA world right now. I haven’t read it all, but I can vouch that the writing is exquisite. At least I think it is. Suzzanne Collins has an evocative elegance to her style I just fell in love with. There is something of a romantic love triangle that’s not a small subplot. But it’s not enough to take away from the book either.

    I’ve already told you about Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. He has a nice, straight-forward style that keeps the story moving along at a nice clip. His previous series Uglies has quite a bit of acclaim. It’s about a society that cosmetically alters all their kids at 16 to be beautiful and a girl that rebels against the system. I could never get into it. You may. I don’t know.

    Scott Sigler’s series The Rookie pushes the outer edges of YA. Some say it is, some say it isn’t. Think deadly NFL in space run by the mafia. I haven’t read this on, but his other books are brutal, black, and funny. Best part is, despite being a NYT Best Seller, his gives his books away in free podcasts through his site and iTunes.

    James Dashner The Maze Runner. Boy wakes up with no memory and has to survive in a environment that is only other boys. A new boy shows up every month or so. Then a girl shows up and shakes thing up. Oh yeah, there are killer monsters that hunt them daily. If you end up liking The Hunger Games, this is a good place to go next.

    Patrick Ness The Knife of Never Letting Go. Now, I actually haven’t read this yet. But it’s high up on the list. Imagine being a young guy in a world with no women. Ok, now everyone can hear everyone’s (man and animals) thoughts all the time – or rather read in the air in a chaotic jumble. All you want to do is find somewhere quiet. I hear the world building is great and thorough.

    My best advice, however, is to pluck around Amazon for a while. The “Look Inside” feature is great to read the first few pages. See what grabs you and go from there.

    • @Kate:

      I don’t think anyone means to insult anyone else — I know I certainly don’t. The Internet makes it very easy to make more polarizing statements often without realizing the repercussions. I certainly don’t mean to insult YA by any of my statements, nor do I think its readers are stupid.

      But, also, it’s why I want to be careful not to go saying “YA Rules, Lit-Fic Drools,” either. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

      And I had no idea the ROOKIE was considered YA.

      — c.

  • I’m pretty sure I could still recite the poem from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet, even though I haven’t read it in over… oh god. Probably fifteen years, maybe more. A couple of years ago, I found out that there was a book in the series I’d missed, and rushed right out to buy it. Definitely start with A Wrinkle in Time, but if you’re looking for a pretty damned keen bit of espionage and marine biology, you can’t go wrong with The Arm of the Starfish.

    I wonder if the prominence of YA is partly that, over the last decade or so, reading has become “cool” again, to some degree? I was always happily a book nerd in school, but I still got teased for it. I’ll have to seek out the whipper-snappers in my extended family and see if/how much that perception has changed.

    • @Lauren:

      I wonder if the prominence of YA is partly that, over the last decade or so, reading has become “cool” again, to some degree? I was always happily a book nerd in school, but I still got teased for it. I’ll have to seek out the whipper-snappers in my extended family and see if/how much that perception has changed.

      I certainly like this explanation the best. :)

      — c.

  • Yeah, I know. Rule of the wild and all. Though, for the record, you were receptive and aren’t among the ones I found grating. Not that I think people meant it personally. It’s just one of those aggravating stigmas that keep popping up. Don’t knock it ’til you try it all that. :-p It’s cool now.

    And agreed. Either/or situations leave me cold. It’s all good.

    As far as Sigler goes, some say it is. I don’t personally think so, but I love him and his stuff. So any opportunity I get to plug him, I do.

  • First I offer some pantless wanking… I read somewhere that YA as a category was invented by Robert Cormier’s publisher because they needed a place to put The Chocolate War (or maybe it was I Am the Cheese). Despite being told from a kid’s p.ov., Cormier’s brutality along with his big theme (EVIL actually wins sometimes) made it unlikely that booksellers or librarians would place his titles in children’s sections. I think those same attributes still apply to YA today: kid pov; themes/ideas bigger than grade school; can’t/won’t sell it to grade schoolers

    I’d also add that the YA main characters are generally in the moment in a very immediate way. I think that’s why there’s so much first person story-telling in YA. A lot of YA is told in the present tense too. It’s a pretty narrow (and intense) focus when a story is present tense AND 1st person pov.

    Finally, YA is generally written with the idea that most readers will be teens.

    I think there’s a million reasons that adults are reading kids novels these days. One of my favorite explanations comes from a family member who now reads a ton of YA and middle grade historical fiction. A former Tom Clancy fan, he told me:

    “Jet fighters and nuclear subs have a lot of cool buttons. I’m glad that Tom Clancy knows what they all do. I don’t need to know what they all do. There’s a lot of buttons. I get it. Now go blow something up so I can see what happens next.”

    One final note, I think that To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Ryes are awesome books for teenagers to read, but I don’t believe that they’re YA titles. To Kill a Mockingbird is told by an adult looking back. As far as Catcher in the Rye, Holden has fallen out of innocence. He’s even fallen out of experience. Despite his age, he’s not a kid anymore… the book is told from a crazy person’s point of view. Also, neither one was written for kids.

    Now I’ll make a list…
    My favorite recent YA title is Marcello in the Real World by Francisco Stork. Off the top of my head (and in no particular order), you can’t go wrong with any of these:

    SciFi/Fantasy:
    Scott Westerfeld’s Pretties/Uglies series
    Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.
    Feed by M.T. Anderson
    Philip Pullman’s Dark Material’s trilogy

    Historical fiction:
    True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
    The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
    Black Duck by Janet Lisle

    Nonfiction:
    Charles & Emma by Deb Heiligman
    Hole in my life by Jack Gantos

    Contemporary stuff:
    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    A Brief Chapter In My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhart
    The Chocolate War and/or I Am The Cheese by Robert Cormier
    I am the messenger by Marcus Zusak
    Dunk by David Lubar
    Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes; Whale Talk and/or Stotan by Chris Crutcher
    Godless by Pete Hautman
    How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
    When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberely Willis Holt

    Sport stuff:
    Wrestling Sturbridge by Rich Wallace
    The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks
    The Boy Who Saved Baseball by John Ritter

    Now I will go do my day job!

  • I remember Island of the Blue Dolphins and Holes. I wouldn’t really call them YA, though, probably whatever’s before that? Middle grade?

    I think my first experience with what could be called YA nowadays (or maybe middle grade?) was the Animorphs series. It still sets the standards of what I look for in a lot of sci-fi, and I think it’s awesome. Probably not what you’re looking for, though; the books are short (like 120 or so pages each, maybe?) and there are over 50 of them. It was your basic kids’ serial, but it was so much more; a deconstruction of the “kid hero” idea that, despite the really soft sci-fi setting, showed very realistically how much it would suck to be fighting a secret war. There was a lot of heavy stuff in there for something so popcorn-y.

    I think YA is popular with adults because much of what is YA these days is pretty much the same as everything else, just with younger protagonists. If your main character is a teenager, your book will probably be considered YA regardless of whatever else is going on. (See: Ender’s Game being considered YA even though Card hadn’t intended it that way, because the main character is 6.) So kids have someone they can identify with and fast action/other things to keep their ADD minds interested, and adults get Deep Themes, and everyone’s happy.

    It’s also better to marketers for genre fiction if it’s considered YA rather than “just” genre fiction, too, which no doubt helps lots of fantasy/sci-fi get tagged with the YA label. I don’t really understand that, myself, but it has something to do with adults who aren’t already sci-fi/fantasy fans not taking the genres very seriously.

  • Not many recommendations that others haven’t said, at least not many I think would be for you. I love the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner (the first leans MG, the rest lean YA), but I don’t know if political coups and court intrigue in an alternate-universe ancient Greece is really your kind of thing. But hey, I’ll mention it in case it is. :)

    Also, I kind of want to note that YA fiction isn’t as new a concept as some commenters seem to think. The first time the term “Books for Young Persons” (separate from “Books for Children”) was used was in 1802. It wasn’t until the 50s and 60s that modern publishers started printing them as something distinct from Adult or Children’s books, though. Libraries and bookstores started creating areas for YA books not long after (when I was a kid, it was called the Juvenile section at my library), and the 70s and 80s saw the genre come into its own. Why it’s getting so much attention now, well, hard to say, but I think it’s more because mainstream readers are becoming more open to a wide variety of fiction. Possibly also because kids rule the internet; their excitement about a book has a further reach, and more kids talking about a book means more adults hearing about it and being intrigued and then reading and passing on the love to their friends.

  • For me, the defining characteristic of YA (and, I guess, “middle grade”) is empowerment of the protagonists. And, as they are youths, or even children, they have the deck stacked against them. In a story, it’s a great source of conflict, and provides a really satisfying structure for the plot, because you know the protagonists are going to prevail — and maybe even change the world — in the end.

    I devoured all kinds of YA series when I was younger: the Narnia series, the Madeleine L’Engle books, Lloyd Alexander’s weird Welsh thing, the Tripod trilogy, and a bunch of others that aren’t popping to mind. But recently, I loved Terry Pratchett’s YA books (particularly the Bromeliad trilogy), His Dark Materials, and, even, Harry Potter (though, I have to admit, Rollings really needed an editor with a pair after the first couple of books).

    Through all those books is the theme of burgeoning adults struggling and overcoming great difficulties, world-changing difficulties.

    I have a crazy thought, though, about why YA has become popular in the last, about, 10 years. 9/11. Maybe, I’m just a Canadian looking over the fence, but I can see how the fear could turn into a need to feel like one can prevail against it.

  • Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” series is the series that made me the author I am today. I read it when I was 10 and those five books opened me up to the magic of reading and writing and what they could do. I had my husband read them so he could understand me more. I reread them on an almost yearly basis. They also make me want to write YA. :)

  • As dumb as it sounds, I still really like the Giver. It’s one of my favorite books and I recommend people to reread it when they get older and can possibly understand more of the mythology to it.

    Patricia Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons series is amazing, along with Piers Antony’s Xanth series. When it comes to comics I recommend the Runaways and Pet Avengers, where Runaways actually has some good commentary on kids coming from messed up homes or abusive situations. Pet Avengers is just a humorous look at the Marvel world through the eyes of their magically powered pets. ;)

  • I will be sure to have an ancient Greek pie at the ready when you visit the office. ;)

    Also, forgot to mention, should you find yourself wanting to read a good book with an embarrassing cover (like The Demon’s Lexicon; thank god the publisher wised up and put badass swordfighting on the paperback version), this could be a great help: http://ilikeapplejuice.com/shame-shroud

  • One should never have to apologize for loving The Giver. Lois Lowry batted that one out of the park.
    When I’d read every fantasy book in the adult section as a child, I went hunting through the YA and kids sections, and found a lot more really great stuff. Many of my favorite books live there, and it’s where I found Narnia, L’Engle, and LeGuin.
    I too quite liked The True Confession of Charlotte Doyle, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. I also was head over heels for nearly anything Astrid Lindgren wrote, especially Ronia Robber’s Daughter. I think that when I found Patricia McKillip’s The Changeling Sea, it was in the YA section. That book began a huge love affair with prose for me.
    I’m writing YA now, though I never quite intended to. I just wanted to follow a group of characters who happen to be children right now.
    I could speculate that YA has a few things in common with the strengths of the short story. You aren’t usually encouraged to pull a Rowling, or handed a license to make fantasy bricks. You have to tell your story quickly, and engagingly, and cut away everything that slows downe, clutters or holds your story back. The best YA I’ve seen is usually a distillation of awesome. The books are often thin, but the plots and content certainly don’t have to be.
    Some books I love but never see referenced are Lloyd Alexander’s very dark Westmark books, And on the other end of the spectrum are Tove Jansson’s dreamy sweet poetic stories translated from Finnish. Though I’m not even sure what the classify them as. Existential fairy stories holding hands with Pooh like social commentary?

  • I really like the Warhammer 40K books, especially the Horus Heresy series. I guess it would be classed as YA sci fi.
    People like Dan Abnett, Aaron Dembski Bowden and Graham McNiell are fantastic writer.

  • The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (L’Engle), The Healer (Naipaul), Farenheit 451 (Bradbury), The Food of the Gods (Wells), Arundel (don’t remember the author), the four books on the Arthur and Merlin legends by Mary Stewart, Lord of the Flies (Golding), Dr. Frankenstein (M. Shelley), and, of course, all seven Harry Potter books (Rowling).

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  • Eragon was a bit dishwatery, but not too too bad, given some of the offerings in the genre. Harry Potter, of course. Artemis Fowl books were highly readable. Inkheart wasn’t bad either; it’s a translation, so there’s some stiltedness to the language at times.

    I would not recommend the House of Night, the Vampire Diaries or the Twilight books.

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