My college classmate Ann Jacobus writes and writes about Young Adult literature, and I got the OK to re-purpose the below piece that she’d written for my college class’s newsletter. You can find Ann at www.annjacobus.com and www.readerkidz.com. Here goes – and thanks, Ann!
The world is made of stories, not atoms, poet Muriel Rukeyser once noted. If you like stories, especially strong and fast-paced fiction, often dark and only less graphically x-rated than adult offerings, then according to many in the publishing industry, current Young Adult (YA) literature is where the action and innovation is.
Not a genre, YA is a category encompassing gritty realism, romance, sci fi, biography, fantasy, historical fiction, etc. YA (or kidlit in general) is defined as literature with a young protagonist, and according to Wikipedia “theme and style are often subordinated to the more tangible elements of plot, setting, and character.” While I disagree about theme, it’s truer about style. Younger readers tend to be more impatient. They want the story, not fancy footwork.
YA has changed since we were YAs (the bad news is that a story set in even the early 90s is considered “historical”). YA was ground-broken by J. D. Salinger and then firmly established by Robert Cormier, S.E. Hinton, and Judy Blume. No doubt many of us read these authors back in the day.
In the last decade and a half, the category has gone ballistic. Many adult authors now “cross-under” – Joyce Carol Oates, T.C. Boyle, Michael Chabon, and Isabelle Allende, to name a few. They make a much better go of it than the celebrity authors who by and large (there are exceptions) produce awful stuff and give kidlit a bad name.
As you know, jillions of copies have been sold of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which if you haven’t, is a great read. Then came Twilight. Some authors sniff at the writing, but Meyers brilliantly rendered lust, for young female readers, metaphorically into the much safer blood-sucking.
And now Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. I recommend the first book highly. It showcases a strong and sympathetic protagonist, high stakes, nonstop action, fast pacing, great secondary characters, romance, excellent world-building, and tight writing. It’s a good book.
Some adults have despairingly noted the preponderance lately of dark dystopian YA fiction. It’s true. And teen readers gravitate to it like to the house of a sophomore with out-of-town parents. But is it a sign of the collapse of modern civilization? Nope. Really. Dystopian worlds mirror many young peoples’ morphing internal view of the world. Don’t you remember? As we emerged from childhood, it dawned on us that adult society is cold, corrupt, and cynical, not to mention war-like. We often reacted with adamant idealism. Main characters in dystopian stories are usually strong and full of hope – they have to be – to fight and change a world gone wrong. Teens love it. And it’s the stuff of great stories.
Some recommended dystopian titles:
- Feed by M.T. Anderson
- Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go
- Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion
- Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
- The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak (not dystopian, but excellent)