This and That: YA Is A Big Deal, Dontcha Know?

A few recent articles have been weighing in about YA lit. Most recently, the Boston Globe published an article called “Young Adult Novels Heating Up the Charts.” Really, this is news? I guess it’s not news to me, since I work in the publishing industry and because I’m a YA writer. But is that really news to anyone who doesn’t live under a rock? It seems like every week or so we have an article about how popular YA is becoming, how adults are now reading more and more YA, how “mature” YA lit is becoming, how these books really are quite good and even—shock of shocks—actually well written. Yada yada yada. Every article dutifully ticks off the books that paved the way—Harry Potter, then the Twilight novels—and then circles around to the newest sensation, The Hunger Games trilogy. I suppose these stories have their place, and anything that highlights the YA world is fine with me, but it also just seems like the same article gets dusted off every few months, presented as something new.

A few of these recent pieces even had near-identical titles: The Atlantic’s “How Young Adult Fiction Came of Age” and Publishers Weekly’s “YA Comes of Age.” Once again, I came away from these stories feeling like I had not read anything new. The PW article—which opens with “The young adult market these days is a bit like a nephew you haven’t seen in years: transformed from a little darling into a hulking almost-grownup who is maybe even a little scary”—largely discussed trends in YA, touching on the Harry/Twilight/Hunger trifecta, naturally. Interestingly, the article, quoting agents and editors, seemed to predict that the paranormal genre is losing steam. But who knows? Kids still seem to eat these up. I keep waiting for dystopia books to lose steam, and yet more and more keep coming out, and they all seem to be pretty successful. The Atlantic article at least concluded with a great take-away quote from Erin Kelly, a novelist and short story writer, discussing the challenges of writing YA, in case anyone out there thought it was not only easier to read such books, but also easier to them:

You have to remember a time from your past–the sound of sneakers on the gym floor, the smell of lockers and middle school hallways and, most importantly, the way it felt to be an adolescent. You have to remember the struggle of wanting to be an individual, but needing to fit in, of loving and hating your parents at the same time, of trying to maneuver through the social strata. And you not only have to remember what adolescence feels and looks like, you have to be able to convey it with a believable tone and voice that relates to readers. I’m not sure anyone could call that easy. That there is nothing easy about writing a good book, whether it’s a picture book with 50 words or a novel with 50,000.”

If you want to read some fresher, more interesting articles, try some of these I’ve recently come across:

  • Tracy Clark-Flory made the “case for raunchy teen lit” in Salon. I can get behind that.
  • Again in Salon, Brian McGreevy argued “Why teens should read adult fiction.” Maybe a no-brainer, but still a good piece. Of course, YA lit—as we all know!—is go great now, so mature, that there’s no reason kids shouldn’t read both adult books and all the great YA books on the market.
  • On the Today Show web site, of all places, Jennifer Worick featured the “10 Books You Really Should Have Read in High School.” Check out the list and see how deficient (or sufficient) your high school was. I think the only two books on this list that I read in high school were To Kill a Mockingbird and The Scarlet Letter. Sadly, I read most of the others (like The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye) on my own—and some I still haven’t read (a big “no thanks” on the Hesse).
  • The National Book Awards for Young Adult Literature were overshadowed by the who Lauren Myracle mess. I won’t go into that again. Instead, let’s focus on the positive. The winner was Thanhha Lai for her novel-in-verse, Inside Out & Back Again. Lai immigrated from Vietnam to Alabama in the 1970s, so I’m extra curious about this one. Here’s an interview with Lai from Publishers Weekly. Meanwhile, all of the finalists were written up in a nice piece in the Washington Post. I can vouch for Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now. It’s wonderful.

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