When you think of teen literature, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the current obvious image: dreamy Edward Cullen (or Jacob, if that’s your team preference). Maybe it’s an old stalwart like The Catcher in the Rye. Or maybe you don’t even realize there’s a big teen literature scene.
Let me paint another picture for you. Imagine novels that tackle some heavy themes: dystopian futures, government repression, human trafficking, personal identity and heritage, individual autonomy, notions of true beauty. All these themes and more are woven in to recent young adult novels. You see, it’s not just all vampires and romance.
So how do you find the good stuff?
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) gives out several awards each year. One is the Printz award, which is given to “a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature”. I haven’ t read all the winners, but have overwhelming loved the ones that I did. 2009’s winner, Jellicoe Road, had me bawling with its coverage of issues like drug-abuse and abandonment. (That’s okay though, because I like to read things that make me cry, and I didn’t want this one to end.) how i live now, the 2005 winner, became one of my favorite books of all time, addressing issues such as survival amidst a war and eating disorders. If you’re reading a Printz winner, you can be sure that it’s serious, high-quality young adult literature.
YALSA also gives out the annual Alex Awards, which are adult books with specific appeal to teens. Titles that win this award run from traditional novels, to nonfiction, to graphic novels. It’s a great starting point for older teens who are looking to expand their horizons.
Finally, word of mouth sure helps. Keep your ears open for suggestions from blogs, sites like GoodReads, and fellow readers. I have watched a couple of my favorite novels slowly take off since their respective releases in 2008 due to this kind of buzz. One of them, The Hunger Games series, has been met with extreme enthusiasm. To sum it up bluntly, 24 teens compete in a televised fight to the death with only one winner. It sounds brutal, but author Suzanne Collins takes on themes like violence as entertainment and governmental tyranny with grace and maturity. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a page turner with a break-neck pace. (And don’t worry HG fans, we have Mockingjay, the conclusion to the trilogy, on order!)
I’ve told dozens of people that I think contemporary teen fiction is a hotbed for fantastic, well written literature. Your Fontana Regional Libraries have some excellent collections dedicated to young adults. Next time you’re in your library, try taking a look at the teen section.
For those who are already sold on young adult fiction, what are some of your recent favorites?