Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
Once upon a time (not so long ago), I was an awkward adolescent perusing the bookstore. Back then, the young adult section consisted of one lonely shelf. My options were pretty limited: either the pseudo-horror of R.L. Stein or the Love Story-esque teen romances of Lurlene McDaniel. By the time I was about 12, I decided that adult books were more suited to my tastes, and I abandoned the world of young adult literature altogether.
Fast forward to 2009. The young adult genre is hot, crowding out picture books and middle-grade series in the stores. More and more adults are openly reading young adult books, and the stigma attached to such behavior is gone.
The recent resurgence of the young adult genre can be attributed, in large part, to the success of the Harry Potter books; more recently, the Twilight series has kept the trend going. And I, for one, have made no secret out of the fact that I’ve enjoyed these types of books. But the Twilight series is by no means great literature. But what I’ve discovered through my recent exploration of the young adult literary world is that there’s better stuff out there, intelligent, thought-provoking stuff that would make great reading for any preteen or teen.
I spoke about Michael Grant’s Gone series in-depth in my book review last week. This series forced young teens to take care of themselves without the aid of adults. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins—which I named as the best book of 2008—showcases a society where children are murdered every year for entertainment. And Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It—which I spoke about in this column—shows a world in chaos after the moon has been knocked off of its axis by an asteroid.
But there are other great young adult novels that I haven’t talked about in this column. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak tells the story of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, who steals book. The story takes place in World War II-era Germany and is narrated by Death, which should give you the idea that this isn’t exactly a happy story. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson features a teenage protagonist who discovers that her miraculous recovery from a coma may not be as miraculous as she thinks, tackling debates about the ethics of bioengineering. And the protagonist of If I Stay by Gayle Forman lingers between life and death after her family is killed in a tragic car accident.
What do these books have in common? They’re well-written and contemplate some serious issues, yes, but that’s not the only thing. One of the reasons I gave up on young adult novels long before I had grown out of them age-wise is that they featured cardboard-cutout characters that were impossible to relate to. Today’s young adult novels feature smart, flawed protagonists who deal with serious problems in a believable way. They don’t act like adults, nor should they: teenagers—as anyone who has ever been around them knows—think and behave very differently than adults do. But they are placed into situations that many adults would have trouble dealing with.
There’s nothing wrong with books that serve solely as entertainment; I’ve read a lot of these myself. But sometimes, books can transcend that, forcing the reader to think about something that he/she wouldn’t have otherwise. And the fact that there are so many young adult novels out there now that can aid in that process is fantastic.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s still a lot of crap out there. There are shelves filled with Twilight clones and Gossip Girl-esque serials about mean girls in rich prep schools. But the advantage of having high-traffic, low-quality books like the Twilight series to bring teens into the young adult section is that, once they’re there, they may just dig around and find one of the many smarter books out there.
I only wish they’d had books out there like this when I was a teenager.
Selected Book Releases, June 15-21
Knockout: An FBI Thriller by Catherine Coulter
The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Rogue of My Own by Johanna Lindsey
Queen Takes King by Gigi Levangie Grazer
Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon
Below Zero: A Joe Pickett Novel by C.J. Box
Robin Rescues Dinner: 52 Weeks of Quick-Fix Meals, 350 Recipes, and a Realistic Plan to Get Weeknight Dinners on the Table by Robin Miller
In the Kitchen by Monica Ali
The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner
Fragment by Warren Fahy