Terrific Summer Reading Choices for Young Adults
One of the most lucrative markets in publishing - and one of the busiest sections of your local library - is devoted to Young Adults or YA. There was a time when these readers were obsessed with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew; later, novelists S.E. Hinton and Judy Blume cornered the market. More recently, Harry Potter and the Twilight vampires took over. But the YA demographic is evolving and this summer’s bestsellers reflect the change.
WHO ARE YOUNG ADULTS?
Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) of theAmerican Library Association (ALA) defines “young adult” rather broadly as readers between 12 and 18. You would have to agree that this measures an unwieldy and crazily diversified group. Try to identify the common factors among the 12 to 18 year olds in your life.
Consider some of the social statistics among this age group:
- 47+% have engaged in sexual intercourse before 12th grade
- The largest group of viewers of internet porn is children between ages 12 and 17
- The risk of obesity in adolescents increases by 2% for every hour they watch television
- 63% had been bullied once or twice during the school year
Such statistics do not exhaust the class of American youth. But throw in the complexities of urban living, immigrant status, and ethnic diversity and you have a class of young people well beyond the communities of Tarzan, Tom Swift, and Horatio Hornblower. Young people will pursue and follow writers that reach them, writers that they can relate to in today’s world, writers that address their problems and yet still allow them an escape from those problems.
CHARACTERISTICS OF YA FICTION:
- Young adults think they are adults. In these days their vocabulary is adult. Still in a learning mode, they are eager for plots, characters, and sensitive issues that adults may already have experienced. Most narratives are the observations of an adolescent or young adult – and not a “grown-up” looking back on his/her teenage years. Most narratives are, therefore, in the first person, solipsistic and self-referential as teens will be. Young protagonists act quickly without much introspection while older teens are often paralyzed with too much thought.
- Grown-ups, when they are present, are stereotypical authority figures. Even the few who are mentors don’t have much to do, and grown-ups are never part of the solution to the plot’s problem.
- Adolescent motives strive for high standards and morals, but actions are often local and within arm’s length. Plots move quickly through set pieces, and there are few complications, twists, or sub-plots.
- Worlds are not richly detailed or textured; scope, horizons, and depth are marks of mature narrators. Backgrounds are often two-dimensional or diorama-like. Young people are only coming into shades of gray, so colors remain primary or painted surfaces.
- Depending on the situation, obscene language may be “appropriate,” and sex may be a part of life – although this might be targeted at the older members of the YA group. Drugs, violence, and depression may be topics in the culture of the novel’s world; they may be occasions for action, but they not the central to the action and are rarely sensual or erotic.
- Emotions tend to be genuine and close to the surface, with little nuance or deception as if the narrator were feeling his/her way to their personal emotional development and independence.
- Social skills and manners are perceived as false and disingenuous, so dialogue and behavior may appear brusque – just like the teens you know. Individual growth is front, center, and unfiltered by retrospection, so observation and experience are fresh and concrete, optimistic and un-schooled.
- A large number of these narratives take place in fantasy worlds or future times, so that writers can purge them of contemporary detail and vice. Even stories set in current time may be set in a distant school or environment. Strangely enough, narrators have to eliminate their own contemporary history with electronic and social media; after all, these innovations can simplify experience and obviate action.
- The protagonist’s wholesome and optimistic innocence is often the absence of past. For example, there is action and motion in writing about skateboarding or surfing youth, but nothing happens when the protagonist is on Facebook or tweeting.
RECOMMENDED YA READING
Current recommendations for YA summer reading in paperback serve this market well.
- The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne reports on Bruno who, in his innocence of political causes and evils, befriends a boy prisoner on the other side of a Nazi prison camp fence. That innocence creates tragedy in such a world.
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins takes place well into a future where the Capitol keeps surrounding territories in check by pressing them into an annual televised fight to the death. A girl of 16 is chosen as a champion to fight the Capitol. She makes tough choices and grows through sacrifice to reach her goal. (Some critics feel this book is too violent for younger readers.)
- Looking for Alaska by John Green (winner of major awards for Young Adult fiction) follows a bored teen to a strange boarding school where he is captivated by Alaska Young, described as “gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating.”
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is a National Book Award Winner by Sherman Alexie. This “diary” is a poignant and informative look at a Native American’s teen life.
- Monster by Walter Dean Myers covers the trial of a 16 year old African American accused of murder. A film student, he occupies himself with writing a film script about his troubles, but he falls into a world where it is difficult to separate film and fact.
Of course, there are hundreds of titles about dragons, witches, vampires, and the like. There are stories about nasty teenage gossips and teen gangs. There are others about addiction and rehab, and still more about dealing with dysfunctional families. And, many of the Hinton and Blume classics are still big sellers. However, the books, e-books, and paperbacks available for young adult readers this summer are diverse, colorful, relevant, and imminently readable. Check them out!