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?