08 March 2013

fridays with friends: give me a "YAY!" for YA lit

This Friday with Friends is all about Young Adult Literature. I've always loved young adult fiction, though lately the love pool has been tainted a bit by the whole vampires-and-werewolves thing. But as I start some new reading series with friends (including a re-read of the Harry Potter series and some great discussions of children's literature), I realize the passion is still there ... and I want to share it with you! So, this Friday, we're looking at some great articles and resources about YA Lit. Enjoy!

Over at BookRiot.com, you can read about some of the appeal of YA Lit in “Why I Read Young Adult Literature.” This brief article, by Brenna Clarke Gray, works to “drop the animosity” between those who degrade the merits of Young Adult Literature and those who praise YA Lit at the expense of other literature. There are also some great recommendations of YA Lit reads that exemplify some of the appealing factors of the genre.

Joel Stein, on the other hand, argues not against the power of young adult books but against their appropriateness for adult readers in his New York Times editorial “Adults Should Read Adult Books.” Apparently, in Joel’s mind the only thing more embarrassing “than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer” is “seeing a guy on the plane reading ‘The Hunger Games.’” Joel argues that he will read young adult books only when “I finish reading the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.” It’s a strongly stated piece—by an author who also admits that he’s talking about books he, obviously, has never read—but a fascinating read nonetheless.

Check out the Goodreads listing of the Best Young Adult Fiction of 2012. The winner was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It’s one I haven’t read … but considering the fact that the description alone had me gasping with tears (no … seriously), I think it’s probably going to wind up on my list of upcoming reads.

Becca Rackley asks, and answers, the question “What is Young Adult Literature?” in an article for the Columbia Daily Tribune’s blog. Rather than an academia-laden definition of the genre, however, Rackley shares very down-to-earth yet important definitions of YA lit: it is well-written, diverse, and “more adult than it is young.” One great reason to check this piece out is that it isn’t just telling “adults” why YA lit has merit … it’s also explaining to teens why their books—and their experiences—have merit in this world. (PS: Any parent or teacher living or working with teens might enjoy this for its attempt to initiate a better conversation between generational lines and make reading more pleasure than pain!)

In 2011, The Guardian’s Maureen Johnson wrote against the arguments that teen fiction is becoming too dark and suggests “a slipping of moral standards.” In this article, Johnson delivers a slow BUUUURN! (embracing my inner teen there for a minute) to an article by Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal that accused YA lit of “constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is” at teens. Johnson’s answer to Cox Gurdon is that, yes, YA lit can be “dark” … but so is this little thing called life. Further, Johnson argues and her title suggests, teen fiction not only reflects the real world teens must navigate, but also “shows teenagers they aren’t alone.”

Finally, if you’re a writer of Young Adult Literature (if you are, holla at me, yo … we need to talk), check out Writer’s Digest’s collection of Young Adult Literary Agents and interviews!

Happy Reading!


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  1. Well, I'll admit. I enjoy a good YA book ever now and then, though I don't really buy them exclusively for myself. If I see a book has been popular and I'd like to give it to my daughter, I often will purchase it and read it before giving it to her. For instance, a few years ago I bought Jay Asher's "Thirteen Reasons Why". I read it and thought it was wonderfully written. However, my daughter was too young for it then. She read it last year and liked it.

    I recently bought A Heart-shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne. It was on a shelf at the book-store in the English book section. (I live in Germany). I hadn't realized it was a YA book. It was just setting on the shelf with other new arrivals. What made me buy it? The blurb on the back. It reads:

    When Archway Young Offenders Institution is closed down a notebook is found in one of the rooms.
    "I have to start by saying that this isn't an apology. I'm not sorry. I'm not."
    This is that notebook.
    "They say I'm evil and everyone believes it. Including you. But you don't know."
    Its pages reveal the dark and troubled mind of Emily Koll, Archway's most notorius inmate.
    "Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever shake off my mistakes or if I'll just carry them around with me forever like a bunch of red balloons."

    Sound interesting? I thought it was. I love those human nature type books. The writer shows many sides of the main character and the writing at times can be very poetic. Though Emily is troubled, she is no dummy. And after reading the book I am still not sure if I like her or hate her. I guess both to some degree. But the author did a great job of portraying her so that I understand her.

    The difference between this and an adult thriller? The writing is still good. Characters are complex. The plot is still diverse, weaving many moments together. It was not always predictable (which I like). I think the main difference is that the book centers around young characters, youth experiences and emotions. Do I think it is better than an adult novel? No. Do I think it is lesser than an adult novel? No. It is literature. Good literature. Now that I have read it, I will pass it along to my daughter. It will be interesting to see what she gets out of it compared to my thoughts on it.

    What to read now? I have a Jack Kerouac book I've been meaning to read. Just one of the many unread books staring me down from my bookshelf. Or maybe the German book my daughter book me for Christmas. It doesn't matter to me if it is a popular author, new author, adult novel, YA. Why label? Good literature is good literature, and I can enjoy and take something away from it either way.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Linda. That sounds like an interesting read, one to add to my (constantly growing these days) list of books to check out! And I love your final statement: Good literature, indeed, is good literature, no matter what genre labels get placed upon it!

  2. Thank you Khara for this tribute to YA. I think that you can find amazing books regardless of their classification. So many books, so little time...

    1. I totally agree, Carol. There is so much worth reading, and it's a strangely haunting idea that any good literature could be passed over simply because it's labeled as "young adult," as though there's something lesser about the genre. "Where The Wild Things Are" is classified as children's lit despite even Maurice Sendak insisting that he does not write for children. Who's to say we can't still learn from picture books at 18 and 25 and 37 and 54?

  3. As a reader and reviewer, have enjoyed YA reads for a long time. If the quality of writing is there, interesting characters and all, why not?
    Great post on this topic, Khara!

    1. Thank you, Patricia! I like that way of looking at it, as well: Quality of writing trumps quantity of years deemed "suitable" for the appropriate reader!

  4. I too thank you for paying tribute to the YA novel and hasten to rise to its defense. I read extensively - when I have the time - I have 2-3 books on the go at once and usually one of them is a YA novel, by design. Why? Because many of them are at least as well written as adult novels, some of them, I find, are better. My favourite novel for a long time has been Zucker's "The Book Thief" - it is as layered and nuanced as any adult novel, and most classics.

    And for those who keep harping on the new YA novels (even tho' it appears they're not reading them, just disparaging them) - I direct them to books by Robert Cormier (The Chocolate War, I An the Cheese),M.E.Kerr (Dinky Hooker Shoots Smack, Gentlehands)and Paul Zindel (The Pigman). Even best-selling mystery author James Patterson has written an interesting YA series "Maximum Ride" that as many adults as teens admit to enjoying.

    Finally, should a writer think the way to a quick completion of a novel is writing a YA novel - try writing one. If you're giving it your all, your best, it's at least as difficult as writing an adult novel. You have somewhat less time to make your story interesting, develop believable and memorable characters, and bring together a page-turning plot - all the while writing with language suitable for the age-group but without talking down to them in the least.

    Okay - that's my rant on behalf of YA novels. Basically, I applaud anything that gets people - especially young people - reading, and if it's not my cup of tea? I don't read it.

    1. Thank you for your comment and thoughts, Sharon! It's interesting that you bring up "The Book Thief," as that's one I've seen brought up a lot in various discussions of the merit of YA Lit. On one hand you have folks who say TBT is "inappropriate for young adults," or too adult. Others say it's inappropriate for adult readers because it's for young readers. I saw one piece in which it was described as the best book the author had read, "despite the fact" that it was for young people ... It's interesting to me how those distinctions get made. It's also fascinating to see what gets classified as appropriate or inappropriate ... considering where "children's literature" came from! The earliest of children's literature would be the last thing we'd call "appropriate" for any youths these days! :)


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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