Why not YA???

(No, Jessica, you are not grown up. You are a cotton ball)

I don’t read much YA.  In truth, I’ve always kind of disliked a lot of books for “young adults”.   


 Well, partly because there wasn’t much YA writing when I was a kid. There were wonderful books for young readers, books that might be considered YA now.  Because the main characters just happen to be tweens and teens.

And there were lots of adult books I loved, books that might also be considered YA today, for the very same reason.  But there wasn’t much for the YA market that I enjoyed.  A lot of pulp.  There was a wire rack of paperbacks in the middle school library that the preppy girls all fluttered around. I was a snob. I thought these books (and the girls who read them) were kind of dumb.  Sorry.

But really, when I really think about it, I don’t hate paperback fluff. I LOVE Agatha Christie and comic books and sooo… what is it? Why don’t I like YA? 

I think maybe it’s this:

For me, children’s books (especially magical ones) are so incredible because they unlock  the universe.  Maybe because kids are new to the world, and in discover mode.  Kids are looking outward, collecting new information, learning how to be, how to think. Taking cues from the world around them. They are unabashedly gathering vocabulary, context clues.  Good books for kids help them with this journey.  L’Engle and Lewis and Dahl made my world BIGGER!  They made anything seem possible.

And adult books, the ones I enjoy most , do the same. Either by thinking about the world philosophically or metaphorically, or by exposing readers to new information, layers upon layers of psychology and envoronment and image. Like Stegner, Eugenides, Irving.  There’s a vast scope.  When I’m done reading I feel I’ve traveled.

But the YA I remember is inward looking, and I’ve always assumed most YA was inward looking. Not in a revelatory kind of way. Not in Kundera’s deep-search-way or Salinger’s self-awareness-way.  Just self-involved.  Whiny.

I want a boy. Why can’t I have the boy I want?  My mom sucks.  I’m going to sit in my room. Oh, look! Something unexpected happened and now I’m prettier than I thought and now the boy likes me and now I’m still going to sit in my room, but that’s okay, because now I have crap to tell me best friend about while I sit there. The End.

But it would seem that while I was off doing other things, YA books changed. A lot! 

Last night I read Jerk, California.  And it is GOOD!  And though it is still that kind of sorry-for-myself-in-search-of-kisses storyline, because (I suppose) that’s what teenagers think about ALL DAY EVERY DAY, it is also revelatory and deep and expansive. And I learned things reading it. I thought about stuff.

So now I’m revising my idea of what a YA novel is, and I wonder… what’s the absolute BEST YA book you have ever read?

13 Responses to “Why not YA???”

  1. Matt Says:

    A Wrinkle in Time was definitely a favorite–and I think it was considered “young adult” when I read it (6th grade, circa 1993-94). The Westing Game–everyone loved that. When I was even younger I was into the Ramona Quimby books. Some choose-your-own-adventure. Some Goosebumps. A Hardy Boys. And I seem to remember a book about a baseball that was actually a tiny UFO.

  2. Collin Says:

    That cover is so creepy. The dude looks like a child toucher Chris Hanson would bust on To Catch a Predator.

  3. Miss Erin Says:

    I have no idea what the BEST one is…but I would HIGHLY recommend two recent YA reads that were utterly astounding: Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt and The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante. Neither have the “sorry-for-myself-in-search-of-kisses” plotline, either. :)
    Read them and let me know what you think.

  4. Carol Says:

    I just read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolute True Story of a Part-Time Indian. I might not have the title completely right, but I loved it. I had to go foraging in the “teen” section at the San Rafael library, and there it was. This is a sad, funny, heart-wrenching novel.

  5. laurel Says:

    Matt: See, now… I would never consider the Westing Game (WHAT A BOOK!) to be YA. Maybe *because* it doesn’t have dumb kissing in it.

  6. laurel Says:

    And Miss Erin, I will totally find these books. I’m making a list!!! T’anks.

  7. laurel Says:

    And Collin…

    Yes, yes he most certainly DOES. That’s why I used that picture. That’s pretty much what they all looked like. No wonder I hated all the boys at my high school. Because I was certain that if I spoke to them I would end up in a basement sitting too close to (inevitably) gross facial hair.

  8. laurel Says:

    Thanks, Carol. It really sounds like an amazing book.

    The phenomenon of “adult” authors writing for kids is awesome I think. It’s changing the way the rest of the publishing world sees kidlit, maybe?

    My friend Margo has a novel out as YA that she wrote as adult fiction, I think. All the chapters were published in litmags as stories for adults. And then her blurbs are from the likes of Michael Chabon and Joyce Carol Oates. Weird.

    Lines didn’t exist. Then got rigid. Now blurrrrr?

    Here’s the book: http://www.margorabb.com/

  9. Becky Says:

    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is probably one of the first YA books I read. (I skipped this genre all together growing up. Somewhere between sixth and seventh I migrated to the adult section. But as an adult, I’ve discovered YA lit and come to love it.)
    The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson is wonderful :)
    Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
    I really love Elizabeth Scott and Sarah Dessen.
    Sara Zarr is also great.
    And I love Susan Beth Pfeffer. Life As We Knew It and The Dead & The Gone.
    You’ll either love or hate the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. But you can’t deny the impact they’ve made in the field. :)
    Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    Dairy Queen and Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
    Unwind by Neil Shusterman
    Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker

  10. Jen Says:

    Love Markus Zusak, Sonya Hartnett, and Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn and Skybreaker. No navel gazing or kissing in sight. I sort of skipped YA as a teen also, but have come back to it since. I’d also add E. Lockhart’s newest–Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, thought there’s a bit of kissing. :)

  11. Kerry Says:

    I’ve not been YA myself for a while so my choice is out of date, but I recently reread Mom The Wolfman and Me by Norma Klein and it was wonderful. And not so out of date at all.

  12. pamelalibrarian Says:

    Wow! There are way to many to list one favorite. How about the UGLIES trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES by Chris Crutcher and the unbelievably unique & life changing STUCK IN NEUTRAL by Terry Trueman. (none of those are sorry-for-myself or fluffy in any way)

  13. Kaethe Says:

    Let’s see: everything by David Levithan, E. Lockhart, and they may be more middle-grade, but you must read The Invention of Hugo Cabret and The True Meaning of Smekday.

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