Sunday, January 13, 2008

Books for Young Adults, Tweens, Teenagers, Whatever-you-call-them

I don't know how many girls in the 10-18 year-old range read my blog (my guess: zero), but I've been pondering on literature choices for that age. What was I reading at that age, anyway? Anything with supernatural scariness or teen angst drivel with a dorky, slightly attractive girl getting the boy in the end (he likes her for her witty humor and non-conformist attitude--shoot, this is getting autobiographical). My point is that I wasn't reading anything by the Bronte sisters or Mark Twain, but I was past Beverly Cleary and Nancy Drew. I don't remember there being amazing and wonderful contemporary young adult literature that was particularly worth reading.

Of course, there was no such thing as the internet back then (gasp!) and I had to rely on whatever a librarian suggested for my choices. Did I ask said librarian? Of course not, what a question. My reading choices during those informative, tender ages were garbage. Nothing great. Total mental junk food. Now I look back and think of how I wasted precious reading time! But I also have a theory that the YA literature offerings back then weren't as good as they are now. I'm talking about books that are contemporary, not the standard gems that everybody should have read by the time they reach eighteen years of age (which, of course, I didn't). I think the books for the YA genre that are being written right now are better than they were back in the day. Why is that, you ask? Because publishers discovered that YA literature is a big money maker. That means that great writers can lend their craft to books for that age group and still afford to feed their cat. I think that the Harry Potter broke down those barriers, for which I am thankful. I think that some of the best reading out there right now falls into the YA category.

The only complaint I have with this genre of books is when an author feels like they need to water-down adult books and call them YA fiction. When issues of sexuality, violence, and substance abuse are dealt with in a attitude of "they're going to do it anyway, so we might as well talk about it" I get frustrated. It's the same way with sitcoms. They assume that all high school students will drink and sleep around, so they depict that as normal, when in fact, it is not. Will young adults have to deal with these things? Absolutely. But they have choices, not inevitabilities. I'd rather read about a protagonist who makes good choices based on what they have been taught, or makes bad choices that they have repercussions for than read about some glamorized Hollywood unreality of what a young person's life is like. There is so much junk out there in the world, why add more? I think adults get used to being sent those kinds of messages so we don't realize how damaging it is to more impressionable minds. I don't think we should censure everything our young people read, but I think we should give them more choices that depict situations they will actually find themselves in.

My preaching is done now, so I'll give my two latest YA fiction reads.
"The Goose Girl" by Shannon Hale was excellent. Great writing, suspenseful pages turner, well fleshed-out characters. I love coming of age stories because you get to watch this character figure things out, become who they want to be. There are a bunch more books about these characters, so
I'm anxious to try those out. It's based on the fairy tale by the same title, which is somewhat of a newer concept, beginning with "Beauty" by Robin McKinley and "Ella Enchanted" by Gail Carson Levine. There are other fairy tale remakes out there, but these are some of my favorites. I love getting a better version of fairy tales because the originals tend to lean towards the weak female syndrome. Yes, yes, culture of the time, blah blah. I do hate books that take the female protagonist and turn her into a boy. She does boy stuff, acts like a boy, beats all the boys up with sticks, whatever. I want strong, feminine characters. Girls are unique and have attributes that are not masculine. I want to see those attributes being lauded, not dismissed. These books do a good job of that.

"Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: The Confessions of Georgia Nicholson" by Louise Rennison was simply fabbity fab fab, darling. I died laughing while cringing from horror at the same time. Not an easy task. Georgia is 14, boy-obsessed, parent-intolerant and not a particularly good student. She's someone you wouldn't want your daughter to be friends with or your son to date. But she is hilarious. She's also British, so she conveniently adds a dictionary for us Yankee blokes to decipher what she's talking about.

My book list is quite long right now and YA books make up almost half of it. There's so much good stuff out there and I have the wonderful benefit of a great library system that sends me monthly e-mails on the newest book selections in the genres of my picking. I'm excited to check them out and then either praise or trash them for your entertainment.


  1. I am so glad you mentioned the confessions of Georgia books. I own three of them, and I plan to buy the other 5 as soon as I can. They are witty and entertaining and, like you said, fabbity fab. And all the Robin McKinley books I've read I've loved. "The Hero and the Crown" and "The Blue Sword" have great heroines.

  2. I LOVE Shannon Hale. One of my other favorites of hers is Princess Academy. It's not about the Goose Girl characters, but it is wonderful. She also wrote a book called Austenland, which my sisters have all read and loved. She's delightful.

  3. I just finished reading the Georgia books again, after reading your blog, and when I use the loo I think, "I'm off to the piddly diddly department!" in a British accent. Still laughed like a loon after having read them many times. They are double cool with knobs. And you're right. I don't want Jacob to ever date a Georgia.