I’ve begun scoping out the Young Adult section of my favorite area library. No one has asked if I have a learning disability, or if I’m getting a book for my child, or whether I’m a pervert trolling for youngsters; libraries are polite places. But if someone ever did clear a questioning throat, I always have a ready response: This is where the cool stuff is happening in books today.
YA librarian Gretchen Kolderup explains her involvement – both professional and personal – with YA literature. She gives us a good feel for what YA lit is and isn’t, and how it differs from adult literature. This point stands out for me: “YA lit has a freshness that I really enjoy, and it rarely gets bogged down in its own self-importance.”
You’ve read those books (or parts of them), those adult books for adult readers in which the Author has tried ever so diligently to sound literary. He has striven mightily to use lofty phrases and concepts to attempt to make you believe from the first page-long sentence that you are holding something that will both enrich your life and last for the ages. As Dorothy Parker put it, this is not the sort of book to be tossed aside lightly; it should be thrown with great force.
The YA writer knows he’s got one hell of a tough audience to impress whose imagination and empathy have to be captured quickly and held prisoner throughout. There are electronic games available that won’t play themselves, so a book has to overcome the latest zombie-killing adventure and all the social media. Further, most of the kids aren’t going to read something in the hope of impressing their friends.
Once I felt secure that no one was going to see me read it, I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I happily read my way through the series and have openly recommended it to adult friends. That was my first clue that something was afoot in a section of the bookstore that I didn’t generally darken. Recently, I’ve discovered Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler’s Samurai Detective Series. It begins with The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn. The stories are not merely mysteries; they are also lessons in Japanese history and culture. Perusing their website, I can see other YA novels I’ll need to read, too.
Cory Doctorow says his book Little Brother was losing sales because potential readers were looking in the science fiction section rather than the YA section. He goes on to talk about all the great things being done in the name of youth literature. John Scalzi follows up on this with some fascinating sales numbers but notes that YA lit remains the Rodney Dangerfield of publishing. (The OMW he casually mentions is his novel Old Man’s War.)
Kolderup cautions us that not every YA book will appeal to adults; some of this stuff really is aimed at the teens and their worldview. For me, at least, The Catcher in the Rye is strictly a YA novel. When I first read it at age 15, I thought it was the best book ever written; J.D. Salinger really understood teenagers. When I tried to read it again seven years later, I couldn’t figure out why I had liked it so much or what Holden Caulfield was whining about. I was (for the purposes of Catcher, at least) an adult and thereby excluded from the club. I still feel a little sad about that.
Read the writers I’ve linked to and visit your bookstore or library and see for yourself the exciting things happening that your teenager will never tell you about.