"You're listening to Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast on 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station, good morning! I'm your host, Tom Hall... oh wait a minute, I can't be your host, Tom Hall - I'm only eight!"
That's right. I took my kids with me to the radio station yesterday when I taped a segment on you crazy, stunted adults who read Young Adult fiction. What's wrong with me? Didn't I know they would act like crazed monkeys and pull out all the wires and make fart noises into the microphones? (They were very well behaved, although there were fart noises, I admit.)
More to the point, what's wrong with you? Seriously, you're a full-on adult with a car payment and a job, and when you pick up a book, you're all looking for violence and mayhem, and allegory, and characters you can fall in love with, and dialogue peppered with witty insults and wordplay - what's that about? Why can't you just read your age-appropriate Literature or Fluff like you're supposed to? (This is also me being FACETIOUS.)
As I tried to organize my thoughts about what it is that adults see in YA literature - and it's a huge trend, believe me, you're not the only one - I remembered a recent conversation with a young woman looking for something to read. I asked what she'd enjoyed lately, and she said she'd really liked The Road (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature) and the The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (winner of the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original and inspiration for Snoop Dogg's Oh, Sookie).
Now, these two items have more in common than you might initially think, but still, it would be a biiig Venn diagram that managed to include them both. Trying to imagine the sweet spot between Cormac McCarthy and Sookie Stackhouse, my gaze naturally drifted to the Young Adult section.
How did we get here?
Twilight came out in 2005, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1998. When adults found themselves reading those series, and when the publishing industry noticed that adults were finding themselves reading those series, a number of changes took place:
- publishers and editors started actively pursuing YA/adult crossover series
- writers whose first impulse might have been to write for other audiences took a long look at the possibilities that YA offers
- and adult readers, charmed by the fast pace and slightly overheated atmosphere of books written for younger readers, found themselves haunting the YA shelves looking for more.
This is, I think, by no means a cynical process on the part of the publishers. The YA editors at HarperCollins, at Little, Brown, at Simon & Schuster, and at wherever David Levithan works are the most sincere evangelists you will come across. They legitimately love this stuff, and love it when other adults discover how much fun it is, and how well-written.
And then the writers are in many cases finding out that YA is a blast to write. More is more in teen fiction: it's like a soap opera in which your long-lost identical twin sister is a demon hunter whose hot boyfriend is wanted for killing a man while he was working in a salt mine after having escaped the seed ship upon which his parents were murdered in their sleep by a robot gone mad; and meanwhile, although you are ecstatic to finally have a sister with whom you can share all your hopes and dreams, you are also feeling an unsettling loss of identity as all your friends keep mistaking her for you, plus you might be lusting after that boyfriend a tiny bit. I mean to say, it's AWESOME.
Here's my current list of YA fiction that fans of The Hunger Games might enjoy. A similar list will be on WYPR's Maryland Morning website tomorrow morning.
Futuristic YA adventures with strong main characters:
The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, although personally, I found Mary, the protagonist of this book, to be rather a "Mary" if you know what I mean.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Enclave by Ann Aguirre. The future is underground, and yes, there are cannibals.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner. If I call this "The Hunger Games for boys," somebody's likely to pitch a fit, but that's a little bit what it is.
The Roar by Emma Campbell - very underrated, excellent brother-sister sci fi.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young. I couldn't get past the dialect, but everyone else absolutely swears by it.
Un Lun Dun by my boyfriend China Mieville. More playful, less romance.
One of my favorite authors, Karen Healey, deserves special mention here. Her books are not set in the future, but neither are they strictly realistic. They are very smartly written, exciting and deeply felt at the same time. Look for Guardian of the Dead, reviewed by me kind of a long time ago, and The Shattering, coming soon from Little, Brown and, er, already reviewed by me.
Romance is not dead. It might be undead, or immortal, but it's sure not dead:
Laini Taylor's books, for sure. Lips Touch: Three Times is a collection of three hot little novellas, and the forthcoming Daughter of Smoke and Bone (September 27, Little, Brown), which I am in the middle of right now, has all the flying, fighting, kissing and killing a grown-up girl could ever want.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, due to pub September 27 from Simon & Schuster. A lot of reviewers and industry people are very intrigued about this one.
The Luxe books by Anna Godberson
The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell
Matched by Ally Condie
Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Wrecked by Anna Davies, coming in May from Simon & Schuster
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Misfit by Jon Skovron
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel
The Real(istic) Deal
People who have discovered YA do not necessarily limit themselves to sci-fi and romance. Realistic teen fiction is usually either so full of fashion and melodrama that it is likely to be turned into a show on the CW (the Pretty Little Liars books), or arrow-to-the-heart true (ladies and gentlemen, Mister John Green).
Everything by Jordan Sonnenblick
Then there's Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, which is apparently a kind of surreal realism, and beloved by my friend Eerily Similar Paula, as is Ms. King's previous book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Are You Going to Kiss Me Now? by Sloane Tanen, and ok Sloane Tanen sent me an extremely rockin' gold leather bracelet after I reviewed this book, but that doesn't mean this book isn't just exactly as funny as I said it was. It just means Sloane Tanen and I have pretty much the same taste in accessories.
Spoiled by GoFugYourself bloggers Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, who can send me anything out of their swag closet that they choose to get rid of, any day of the week. Because, like, I liked their book too!
Modelland by Tyra Banks. YES this woman is writing a YA novel and I don't think it'll be realistic in the least, but I do think it's going to be extremely amusing.
The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea Campbell. Not exactly realistic, but close enough.
And two very special, hard to classify books that I recommend to every open-minded reader I meet:
Here are some words I can leave you with:
I think the reason that I ended up with a book for teens is because high school is such a compelling time period--it gives you some of your worst scars and some of your most exhilarating memories. It's a fascinating place: old enough to feel truly adult, old enough to make decisions that affect the rest of your life, old enough to fall in love, yet, at the same time too young (in most cases) to be free to make a lot of those decisions without someone else's approval. There's a lot of scope for a novel in that. -- Stephenie Meyer
Yup. She said that, and I have to hand it to her - she's not wrong.