It seems like the YA genre is getting a lot of heat lately. Thanks to John Green and The Fault in Our Stars, the spotlight is on YA novels turned film, but the scrutiny is on the value of these books in the adult literary world and whether we should spend vs. waste our time with them. So for everyone judging adults reading from the YA section of the bookstore, let me ask, what defines a YA book?
Probably the first answer is a teenaged protagonist. Then, subject matter relating to adolescence. Occasionally, there is some element of fantasy, though not required. And more often than not, these books arrive in series. Let’s explore: Twilight, Ender’s Game, Divergent, The Hunger Games. Wildly popularized by their movie buzz, but still marketed as YA.
But if we follow that set of rules, it could also be argued that books like Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie are also YA novels. And I’m sure no one would tell you to feel embarrassed about reading that. I’m firmly in the camp of read whatever you want! If you are a kid who only wants to read comic books, a teen who only wants to read magazines, or an adult who only wants to read blogs; I’m all for reading anything that informs, enriches and enlightens your world. I’m the kid who read every word on my activity placemat at diners, practically memorized the signs in the aisles of the grocery store and tried to pronounce all the vitamins and minerals hiding in my cereal. Why? Because reading is good for and it’s more fun than staring into space while you wait. Thats why I’m the adult who carries reading materials everywhere and measures my purse to my Kindle before buying. My point: never feel ashamed of your reading material! You’re already one-up on the person playing candy quest on their phone!
Instead of my normal review format, here is a list of YA novels I’ve read recently that are totally worth reading as an adult:
1) The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Hazel and Augustus meet in a support group for kids with cancer. They bond over their shared fates and as they become close, they share their favorite books with each other. Hazel’s book has an unsatisfying ending, and they decide to pursue the author together to ask for further closure of the story. It’s rather like reading the plot of a Shakespeare play in modern times.
2) The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
Set in WWII Germany, the story is narrated by Death who becomes intrigued by Liesel when he sees her steal a book at the site of her brothers grave. Death follows her story as she is taken in by foster parents, learns to read, and steals books from Nazi book burnings and affluent community members. The story is beautifully descriptive and gives unique insight into being a German citizen during the Nazi reign.
3) Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight
Kate is a single mom, doing her best to raise her daughter well, but she works hard as a lawyer in a competitive firm and isn’t as on top of things as she may think. When she gets a call to inform her that her daughter jumped from the roof of the school, she is in utter disbelief. Then she starts receiving mysterious messages indicating that Amelia’s death wasn’t suicide after all. Kate investigates the remains of daughter’s life to uncover the truth. A bit like an episode of CSI, this story offers insight into high school social media and the privilege of affluence.
4) If I Stay, Where She Went, Gayle Forman
If I Stay tells the story of Mia who is alone in the world after a horrible car accident takes her family from her. She is hurt badly and while her body lies in the hospital, her consciousness roams amongst her friends and grandparents gaining a different perspective of the situation. It becomes clear that she has a choice to stay with them or to join her family… Where She Went tells the story of Adam, Mia’s boyfriend and his life after Mia. At the time of the accident, Adam’s band was gaining ground in Portland and Seattle and since then, they’ve reached super-stardom. While I enjoyed the first book better for the interesting perspective, I appreciated the closure of the follow-up.
5) The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau
Ember is a city created by “the builders” with a specific infrastructure and community plan to save its inhabitants from the dangerous conditions occurring on the surface of the Earth. The city was supplied for 200 years, but 40 after they were due to exit, Ember’s people are running out of supplies. When they are assigned their jobs, Lina and Doon become suspicious of the city’s ability to survive and discover a way to save the people of Ember. This post-apocalyptic fantasy proposes an interesting means of survival and renaissance.
Those are just a few suggestions to get you started, all coming with my recommendation for personal enrichment, book club discussions and side-by-side reading with your favorite 13-17 year-old!
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ― C.S. Lewis