8-19-11: Young Adult Literature for Adults of All Ages

August 19, 2011 at 7:50 am 4 comments

Paula's pile of YA books! You can tell they're dark in theme, dark in color.

Young adult books aren’t just for teenagers anymore.  Book series such as  The Hunger Games are being read by people of all ages.  In fact, lots of young adult – or Y-A – books are getting picked up by adult audiences.  Tom Hall speaks about this with our resident expert on children’s books, Paula Willey.

Paula says that exciting, adventurous fiction in the adult section is usually series fiction – the ALL CAPS CLUB, like BRAD THOR or CATHERINE COULTER or JAMES PATTERSON, and while they may be fun to read, they are low on character development and not terribly memorable.  YA writers put their teenagers in interesting situations, but there’s often a coming of age component, or first love, or complicated relationships that must be resolved.

Teen readers don’t see a conflict between unrealistic situations and realistic emotion, and adults who are looking in the teen section are people who have a taste for so-called “real” literature and also a taste for adventure. We’re looking for books that hit the sweet spot between The Help and Sookie Stackhouse.  You can read more about the subject in this March article from the Los Angeles Times.

They also talk about the recent controversy, spurred by a June article in The Wall Street Journal, about whether teen books are too dark.

Paula’s Picks

If you liked the Hunger Games, Paula recommends you check out the following books — she’s sorted them depending on what you’re in the mood for.

The following teen titles are recommended for readers who loved The Hunger Games and are hungry for more in the same vein – these books are violent and exciting, but with characters as real as the kid next door.

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Enclave by Ann Aguirre.
The Enemy by Charlie Higson
The Shattering by Karen Healey
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Not all YA literature is postapocalyptic deathmatch zombie mayhem. Here are some teen novels that are more light than dark. Witty dialogue and up-to-the-minute cultural references make these books perfect popcorn for grownups.

Are You Going to Kiss Me Now? by Sloane Tanen
Spoiled, by fashion bloggers Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Audrey, Wait, by Robin Benway
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, by Lish McBride
How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain

In the afterglow of Twilight, there is still plenty of paranormal romance on the YA shelves, too. As often as not, however, the supernatural entity will be the girl, and she is guaranteed to be more assertive than Twilight‘s wimpy protagonist, Bella Swann.

Lips Touch: Three Times is a collection of three hot little novellas by Laini Taylor, who also has an angel/demon love story titled Daughter of Smoke and Bone on deck for publication this October.
Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
Fallen by Lauren Kate
The Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – the third book in that series, called Beautiful Chaos, will be out this fall.
Maggie Stiefvater, who wrote the werewolf romance trilogy The Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver, Linger, Forever), has a new book out this fall called The Scorpio Races that sounds good.

Grownups who go for realistic fiction don’t necessarily look to the teen section. It makes sense – teen novels feature different kinds of relationships than the relationships you’ll find in books for adults. There are still some marvelous titles that I would recommend to adults, mostly for the breathtakingly natural, funny dialogue and the depictions of teenage pain and triumph. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the great example of a book that is well worth the attention of the adult reader.

The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston
Paper Towns by John Green
Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
Pink by Lili Wilkinson
Freak Magnet by Baltimore’s own Andrew Auseon
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, coming in October
She Thief by Daniel Finn

The Enoch Pratt Free Library holds a one-day Young Adult literature conference every October. Called Books for the Beast, attendance is open to both adult and teen readers. Participants choose two categories of teen fiction, and read five books in each category prior to conference day, when they get to discuss those books in small groups. Although it’s attended mainly by librarians and teens, it’s a great way to learn about great books and to talk to like-minded readers about books you love.

Paula Willey is a librarian at the Towson Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library.  She’s also a library consultant, and she writes about books for children and young adults at her blog, Pink Me.


Entry filed under: Arts and Culture, Books, On Air. Tags: , , , , .

Public Radio Jazz 8-19-11: Step Away from the Pony

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Molly  |  August 19, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I enjoyed this discussion, but was disappointed that you, when talking about alternatives to the dark genre, you didn’t mention the new YA novel written by baltimore’s own, Joanna Pearson, The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills. It’s nice to highlight local authors when possible and this book is a lot of fun and has been very positively reviewed.

  • 2. :paula  |  August 19, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Molly thanks for the tip! I’ve put the Pearson book on my To-Read list.

  • 3. mollie  |  August 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I shared your choices with the librarians at the Cockeysville Library.
    Great discussion. Thanks.

  • 4. myragarcesbacsal  |  September 2, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    What a nice compilation you have here. Will definitely check out some of the titles that you mentioned. Thanks for sharing this.


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