Get Yer YA-YA’s Out!
(and by YA-YA’s, I mean fiction of the Young Adult variety)
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that nobody, and I mean nobody, emerges from teenager-hood unscathed. From the nerd in the back of class to the captain of the cheerleading squad, adolescence is that rocky, pot-hole ridden bridge from childhood to adulthood that every human must travel. We don’t get a choice. And not to be depressing or anything, but we carry the vestiges of those teenage years inside us for the rest of our lives, for good or for bad. Inside every outwardly successful 30, 40, 50 or 80-year old lives a forever 15 year-old who is scrawny, chubby, pimply, too short, too tall, lost, confused, mortified, or just plain awkward.
This is why I believe so many adults today enjoy reading young adult fiction. We remember the teenagers we were. In ways, we still are that person. Adults read YA literature because it speaks to that inner teenager. We read it because it comfort us to hear about other peoples’ struggles, both those that are similar to what we’ve gone through, and those that are dramatically different. (Which is the same reason teens read YA, of course.) We also read it because there are a whole lot of outstanding YA novels being published these days. The genre has grown radically since the days of, say, Nancy Drew and The Babysitters Club. Teenagers want the same things in their literature that adults do: great stories, written well. On that, we can all agree.
And so, in this particular blog, I thought I’d make a Top Ten Best-Of List of YA Books I Have Loved and Been Inspired By. (Please ignore the awkwardness of that sentence, especially the dangling participle.) By “Best-Of,” I basically mean the best examples I can come up with in this very moment in time, now, today. It’s not like I’ve done extensive research or read every book ever published. No doubt your list would have different titles, and I invite you to email your opinions to me, or mention them in the comments after this blog.
But in the meantime, here goes nothing…my Top Ten Best-Of List of YA Books I Have Loved and By Which I Have Been Inspired. (See, it sounds goofy if I make it grammatically correct.) Anyway.
My Top Five (Older Titles):
- Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous. (1971) This is probably the first real “teen” book I ever read, back when I was a teen. It’s the actual diary of a girl who got addicted to drugs. I remember being so moved by her writing because it sounded a whole lot like my own diary at the time (without the drugs, thankfully), and I could understand a lot of what she was feeling, both good and bad. It’s a true teenager’s voice that still resonates.
- The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. Ditto the above. I read this when I was a kid, and found it to be profoundly real and fascinating. The life of Pony Boy in the city was very different from my safe suburban life, but still it resonated with me. I cared about those characters, and trusted the voice of the author, who was herself a teen when she wrote it. (It’s no accident that teenagers themselves guided YA literature to where it is today.)
- Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. (1947) Need I say more?
- I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier. (1977) This is a fascinating book about a boy who thinks he’s on a long bike ride, who is actually suffering from severe emotional trauma. He discovers he’s not who he seems to be—a creative twist on the whole search-for-identity theme.
- Little Women, by Lousia May Alcott. (1868) I read this book for the first time when I was about twelve, and absolutely loved it. It had feisty girl characters including Jo, (a writer like me), and a loving family dynamic. I’ve always had family connections to Concord, MA, so I felt I could at least relate to the place if not the time. A classic.
My Top Five (Newer Titles)
- Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. (1999) This book is something of a modern classic. It has a serious theme—a girl who was raped at a party who can’t find a way to talk about it, or speak much about anything—but somehow she maintains an inner hope and humor that make the book an excellent read.
- Keeping the Moon, by Sarah Dessen. (1999) This is just one of Dessen’s teen novels that I’ve enjoyed. The voice is fresh and smart, about a teenage girl named Colie who struggles with being (formerly) overweight and missing her mom while spending the summer with an aunt. Many of Dessen’s books resonate because her teen characters are so “real.”
- The Giver, by Lois Lowry. (1994) One of the first-ever dystopian YA books, it’s about a boy named Jonas who realizes that his world is far from the utopian ideal that was intended. I’m not usually one who reads fantasy or dystopian-themed books (as you can probably tell by my selections above), but this one is not to be missed, not even by me.
- The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins. (2008) Yes it’s true, I’m not a sci-fi, dystopian-book fan. But this was different. The Hunger Games was a fascinating, addictive read. I think the reason I liked the trilogy so much is because Katniss has so much integrity, heart, compassion, and strength. It’s nice to have a female character with these qualities. As I’ve said, I like what’s “real,” and she definitely felt real to me.
- Being Henry David, by Cal Armistead. (2013) Oh, come on. You had to know I’d include this one. How could I not feel partial to a book so close to my heart? (Humor me.)
So go ahead, give yourself permission. If you’re an adult and you’re NOT reading YA, I think it’s time you seriously got your YA-YA’s out. Frequently.