January 10, 2011

Monday's Inspiration - Young Adult Fiction

I've recently been reading some novels that are designated "young adult" fiction.

As the times have changed, of course, so has the content of books directed at 14-21 year-old readers. We, who grew up on The Catcher in the Rye and initially wondered if Judy Blume's books were appropriate for our children, may be out of touch with the styles and issues that are now the young-adult book norm.

In addition to Harry Potter and his magical forays, young voracious readers are thinking about bullying, suicide, gay love, and other sexual preferences -- including fooling around with vampires (perhaps just another version of hormonal bad-girl/rebellious boy couplings). Young adult novels often focus on a single theme. They tend to be fast-paced and don't get sidetracked by side-plots. Some are serious, others are silly. And surprisingly, many challenge the reader with complex ethical dilemmas. 

The Hunger Games, a wildly popular young adult novel (with very definite cross-over into the adult market) is at once engaging, exciting, and depressing. The bottom line - set in a post-apocalyptic world,  children are sacrificed and forced to engage in gladiator fights to the death. Yet in this series there is strong character development as well as fast plotting. Rebecca and I both read the whole series -- and agreed. Our friend Heather seemed to inhale the three books during her christmas break after we suggested them to her. I am still waiting to hear if my brother found them readable. Highly recommended.

I also just finished If I Stay. This is how the book is described in a starred review in Publisher's Weekly:
The last normal moment that Mia, a talented cellist, can remember is being in the car with her family. Then she is standing outside her body beside their mangled Buick and her parents' corpses, watching herself and her little brother being tended by paramedics. As she ponders her state (Am I dead? I actually have to ask myself this), Mia is whisked away to a hospital, where, her body in a coma, she reflects on the past and tries to decide whether to fight to live. 
I realize that recently the so-called adult fiction that I have been reading may be intellectually interesting, somewhat complex, often too pat and that I find myself more drawn into the emotional life of the characters in young adult fiction. Often wiping away a tear or gasping with fear or anger.

And an interesting note about young-adult fiction in the news....
The most controversial young adult book at the moment is one that was written in 1884. Of course, I am referring to The Adventures of Huck FinnAlthough in the nineteenth century books were not categorized by age group, there were books published that appealed to younger readers. Because of the over 200 times that the N-word is used, many schools have chosen not to allow teachers to require the reading and discussion of Huck Finn. There is a move to replace the numerous mentions of "nigger" with the word "slave." 
A slippery slope the replacing of offensive words in published works. Twain wrote in a different era. 
Will we -- readers and educators -- allow the conscious re-writing of history to placate critics?

What do you think about current and historical young-adult books? Any you recommend?


  1. I love YA fiction. I didn't read it so much as a YA, but really enjoy it as an adult. I find it's easy to read and moves quickly, so it's a perfect genre during busy times.

    I totally agree with your assessment of the genre as being fast-paced, with few side plots. In the Afterword to his most recent story collection, Stephen King wrote "I felt that the best fiction was both propulsive and assaultive... I have no quarrel with literary fiction, which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but both as a reader and a writer, I'm much more interested in ordinary people in extraordinary situations". I agree with Uncle Stevie (which is probably why I like his books so much...) I think that quality YA fiction tends to follow his "best fiction" formula.

    Some of my favorite YA books have been around for a while. I love Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper is exceptional. Robert Cormier's books are fantastic (The Chocolate Wars and I Am the Cheese are my two favorites). Although I did love the Hunger Games, the idea is not new. I've read several YA and adult books with the same theme (dystopian future, fights to the death for money, life, etc.-- two of them were by Stephen King). Many of the themes in YA books are a new spin on an old topic, but it's a pleasure to read a fresh voice, with fresh characters. Which is why I hated Twilight. A common motif (adding sparkly vampires doesn't make a teen romance fresh) and a poorly written one at that.

    See, I did have a bit to say on this topic (shocking, I know!) I love books (and writing reflectively.)

  2. I found your blog on the Strathmore Art Journal group and was reading this post. May I recommend a really good YA fiction book that I happened upon when downloading audio books from my library website to listen to at work. I started this and couldn't stop it. The book is called Dear Zoey. Great story, sad but great. I don't know how old your kids are but I told my daughter (16) she should read it. No vampires or magic...just a really good teen story.

  3. Thanks to both of you -- I will check out your suggested books.
    Heather -- I must ponder Uncle Stevie's quote. Fiction as "propulsive and assaultive." Not sure if I know what that means, let alone if I agree with it. But I like the second part -- about ordinary/extraordinary -- and will try to use that distinction in evaluating some literary fiction.
    Lisa -- my daughter, the co-author of this blog, is 29. But I will still check out your recommended.