Why YA Novels Can Be A-One Reading

It’s hard to define young-adult fiction or even pinpoint when it became a category known as “YA.” Heck, YA books have been around for much longer than they were called YA books, and many of them can be enjoyed by readers younger or older than the presumed target audience of preteens and teens.

But I’ll take a stab at describing YA fiction. It often stars preteen and teen characters, and is often told from their viewpoint — whether the format is first person or third person. And it deals with topics and issues that are frequently of especial interest to younger people: growing up, family, friendship, peer pressure, dating, sexuality, school, racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, cars, alcohol and drug use (or non-use), concern about looks, etc.

Also, YA novels are of course usually written somewhat more simply than grown-up books, though they’re hardly simple. In fact, some are as deep as books aimed at older adults. And YA novels are usually not super-long, though there are some exceptions.

Last week, I read The Yearling — which might be the only YA novel to win the Pulitzer Prize (in 1939, before YA books were called YA books). Yet, like much of the best YA fare, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ masterful novel is a YA book and a grown-up book. A major YA aspect is the novel’s focus on the preteen Jody Baxter, and the relationship that only child has with an orphaned pet fawn. But The Yearling also focuses a lot on Jody’s parents, and on the Baxter family’s interactions with other adults in 1870s rural Florida. Plus the author doesn’t spare readers the very harsh realities of life and death (of animals and people). Last but not least, the coming-of-age book is 400-plus pages — longer than most YA literature.

My favorite YA novel might be L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables — which mixes heartwarming, humorous, and sad moments as it chronicles the adolescent years of orphan girl Anne Shirley after she’s adopted by aging siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. The many Anne sequels range from good to great, but none quite match the first novel. (This would be a good place to mention that a number of YA authors also write/wrote adult books, as did Montgomery with “The Blue Castle.”)

Other YA novels in my top 10 — or top 12-18, said by some sources to be the target age range of YA readers: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Louis Sachar’s Holes, Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I listed the above books — which can also be enjoyed by kids and adults — in random order. And, yes, most of them are not that recent. I’m sure there are many terrific YA novels published in the past few years; I just haven’t read them. 🙂

Then there are grown-up works that are sort of YA literature, too: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, etc.

Certain books can be read on two levels. For instance, younger readers thrill to Gulliver’s amazing adventures, while older readers might also admire Swift’s scathing satire. The same could be said for Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which on one level is about a cool raft trip but on another level is a serious look at racism.

I didn’t discuss certain other notable YA novels — including S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars — because I haven’t read them (yet). I’d also like to read more of Robin McKinley’s work.

What are your favorite YA or YA-ish novels, and why?

I won’t be posting a column May 1 because I’ll be in Florida for my mother’s 90th birthday. New column on May 8!

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

105 thoughts on “Why YA Novels Can Be A-One Reading

  1. Pingback: Why YA Novels Can Be A-One Reading — Dave Astor on Literature – Negative Spaces Blog

  2. Good morning Dave…today is the 155th birthday of Rabindranath Tagore, thought about posting this poem .

    Where The Mind Is Without Fear

    Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
    Where knowledge is free
    Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
    By narrow domestic walls
    Where words come out from the depth of truth
    Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
    Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
    Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
    Where the mind is led forward by thee
    Into ever-widening thought and action
    Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

    ~ Rabindranath Tagore

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  3. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite YA or YA-ish novels, and why? —

    One of my favorite novels of this species would have to be Gene Stratton Porter’s “Freckles,” most likely because its protagonist and I had certain similarities about half a century ago, as we were both American Celts with strong attachments to the flora and fauna of our rural surroundings, the rather small Limberlost Swamp of Indiana in his case and the rather large Pinelands of New Jersey in mine. Of course, we had our differences, too: Most noticeably, he had one hand while I had two, and, least noticeably, only one of us is believed to have been of Irish noble birth. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • Thanks, J.J., for that wry/interesting description of “Freckles” and how its protagonist is similar/different from you. And, yes, despite the state’s reputation, New Jersey has its rural areas!

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      • — [D]espite the state’s reputation, New Jersey has its rural areas! —

        Indeed. And one of the nice things about those places within the Pinelands back then was the comparatively benign nature of the creatures that lived there, excepting the occasional rattler (like the one that shed its skin across a path I once traversed in the vicinity of the Berkeley Township/South Toms River border west of the Garden State Parkway), the mob hitmen fulfilling their contracts (like the ones in the “Pine Barrens” episode of “The Sopranos”) and all those nasty little mosquitoes, deer ticks and chiggers (like the ones respectively responsible for eastern equine encephalitis, Lyme disease and really severe itching in sensitive areas that can drive you nuts for a few days). Of course, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s 1981 decision to reintroduce black bears into the Pinelands of the most densely populated state in the U.S. has changed all that. Since then, the black bears have killed at least one human while the Jersey Devil has not even wounded any!

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          • Are the Pinelands also known as the Pine Barrens, or is that another area?

            I recall reading that Franco Harris, Pittsburgh Steeler with an Italian mother and an African-American father, was raised there (the Pine Barrens), away from others, in an era when, all over the nation, mixed-race marriages and their offspring endured much scrutiny and prejudice. (Of course, if these are two different places, my recollection is irrelevant.)

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            • Howdy, jhNY!

              — Are the Pinelands also known as the Pine Barrens, or is that another area? —

              As Dave indicated, the Pinelands and the Pine Barrens are one and the same. I like John McPhee’s “The Pine Barrens,” but I dislike its title, as it popularized a misnomer applied to a region of about 1.1 million acres teeming with a wide assortment of life-forms, including the adorable Pinelands tree frog (http://bit.ly/1T62JGw), whose sighting while on a sugar-sanded walk in the woods Abraham Maslow might or might not have classified as a peak experience. Of course, my preferred regional terms — the Pinelands or the Pines — are also misnomers, given all the cedar, holly and oak trees in our forests and the swamps therein.

              — I recall reading that Franco Harris, Pittsburgh Steeler with an Italian mother and an African-American father, was raised there (the Pine Barrens) —

              Very true. When I was a kid covering high-school football in New Jersey’s Shore Conference, one of my friends came back to our newspaper office raving about a quarterback he had seen play while reporting on a nonconference game at Rancocas Valley High School in Mount Holly: The QB’s name was Pete Harris, and he was Franco Harris’ brother. Awesome athletes in that family! (Meanwhile, I mentioned above coming across the shed skin of a rattler as an exceptional event in my experience, but the Harrises most likely would have been unimpressed: At a certain time and in a certain place, Mount Holly was considered the Rattlesnake Capital of the Pines.)

              J.J.

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              • Glad to know that it’s the same area, if it goes by a couple of names. I can see why ‘Pinelands’ might be the preferable name, but if ‘Pine Barrens’ kept the place freer of development and habitation than it might have been otherwise, I can see virtue in it too.

                A friend did an interview with Franco Harris in the early ’80’s for a short-lived Italian-American magazine, possibly named Ciao. Think that’s how I got wind of Harris’ Pinelands past, and possibly of his Italian heritage, though maybe that was more common knowledge. It’s been a while…

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  4. Great list, Dave. When I was 12 years old I distinctly remember closing Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince before I finished it, with the feeling that I was too old for fantasy novels. For years I stood by my adolescent rebellion against the most beloved books for kids. A dozen years later I started up again where I left off. In only a few weeks I had finished the Harry Potter series and felt terribly terribly embarrassed for what I had felt back then. Perhaps I was better suited for books about magic in adulthood. It makes me glad to hear you’ve gone back and picked up some of these books too. The Yearling sounds particularly interesting to me.

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    • Thank you, Afternoon Sufficed! Great comment!

      I know exactly what you mean about feeling too old to read fantasy novels, YA novels, etc. — even as many of those books, as you allude to, are well worth reading at any age. Not only in of themselves, but because they diversify our reading. I love to bounce around from YA books to literary fiction to sci-fi to classics to “shallow” novels, etc.

      And “Harry Potter”? Definitely a series to be loved by all ages! I remember first reading those books when my then-young daughter was reading them — she’d finish one, and then I’d grab it. 🙂

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    • Thank you, jshupac!

      As your comment alludes to, some of the best YA fiction is also appealing to adults.

      After seeing your comment, I read about the Silverwing books on Wikipedia. They sound interesting! About a bat, and by a Canadian author. So many authors from that country who I love or like — L.M. Montgomery, Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Yann Martel, Alice Munro, Mordecai Richler…

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  5. Great topic Dave..and I am late in here.
    Current situation with creepy Dennis Hastert who got away molesting young boys and the politicians why spoke up for him brings me to the novel “Lost Memory Of Skin” by Russell Banks where most fictional writers won`t go.
    It is a story of a neglected youth named Kid neglected by his party loving mother busy with constant change of boyfriends . All he had was his pet Iguana and a computer since he was 10. With no friends got into internet porno and tried to solicit sex from an underage girl posing as a adult. Lured by her to her home was caught at the entrance by her father then to police and was permanently labelled as a sex offender with ankle GPS monitor.

    He found dwelling among castaways then a “Professor” turns up at the causeway and asks to interview the Kid for a sociology project on sex offenders.
    Later in the book the Professor married with children actually had a secret life videoing naked young girls.

    The story continues..

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    • Re Hastert:

      Those who make use of their position and authority to abuse the powerless, most especially the powerless young, are beyond despicable, yet walk among us, even above us, dispensing law and rules they insist must be followed to the enth of the letter, but cannot trouble themselves to obey.

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      • You said it just right jhNY…i understand about 2 weeks after impeaching Bill Clinton , the creep a child molester / sexual predator / rapist I call him was sworn in as the speaker. And now Delay and others are speaking for him that`s how disgusting it was.
        And stay tuned for more of Ted the Cruz it is going to be a brutal 7 more months. .

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        • Your strong words are totally appropriate, bebe.

          Such hypocrisy from those Republican politicians who tried to bring Bill Clinton down for his wrong sexual behavior when their own sexual behavior was worse (Newt Gingrich, etc.) or MUCH MUCH worse (Dennis Hastert).

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    • Thank you, bebe! Well said.

      It’s revolting that Dennis Hastert got away with being a molester for so long and then received a ridiculously light punishment. Justice is so unequal it’s beyond pathetic. 😦 And, as you say, some people seem to support Hastert more than the victims. Disgusting.

      “Lost Memory Of Skin” by Russell Banks sounds like an incredibly depressing, incredible riveting novel. Thanks for mentioning it. I’ve read just one Banks book — “Rule of the Bone” — and it was INTENSE (and very good).

      Sorry for the late response — I’m currently in Florida, and frequently offline.

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      • It is a difficult book to read…Kid didn`t rape the girl she also lied about her age…Somehow Kid helped expose the Professor ( that part was creepy). then finally a good seminarian played a part , description was more like Mr. Banks himself.
        Have fun in Florida Dave 🙂

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  6. Given the age most are when they read them, the novels of Ayn Rand might qualify. I say this mostly to shoehorn my favorite quote re same into another blog discussion….

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

    — John Rogers

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    • Ha..read Fountainhead when in school forgot the story. Now after decades no point in looking for Atlas Shrugged book or the movie since know much about the author and what she stood for. .

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      • I hear you, bebe. Ayn Rand’s philosophy is so selfish. I often read authors who I disagree with politically, but admirers of Rand (much of today’s Republican Party) have done so much damage. Still, I might still read at least a few chapters of one of Rand’s books out of curiosity.

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        • You have a point Dave..I might try to read a few pages but there are so many books on my very long list Ayn has to wait for a long while. I see plenty copies of the DVD at the library again I am picky on my watching movies. Don`t want to spend a couple of hours or more for another of Paul Ryan`s favorites.

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          • Great point, bebe! Given that there are so many books we want to read, certain “factors” help us determine which ones to read soon, which ones to read later, and which ones to possibly not read at all.

            That’s right — or that’s far right 🙂 — Paul Ryan is a big fan of Ayn Rand. Among the traits those two share is being hypocrites. Rand was big on dissing government, but accepted government benefits. If I’m remembering correctly, a teen Ryan got government benefits after his father died, but now wants to cut government benefits for others. Despicable.

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  7. YA is a sales category with a lot of back-filling attached– older books centered around young people (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, even The Red Badge of Courage, for example), become books FOR young people, regardless, at least some of the time, of their intended original audience. Also books about things presumed to be of interest to young people– The Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, The Three Musketeers, Pinocchio, for example. Also too– fairy tales. Though for generations the province of dreamy-eyed children, often girls, fairy tales as we know them today derive almost entirely from the collecting efforts of 19th century folklorists such as the Grimm brothers, and were not, in the previous centuries, merely kid stuff. Ditto myths, Greco-Roman variety and others, world-wide.

    But if you put up a sign, someone, usually a seller, will begin to collect items to put under– some old, some borrowed, and soon, many new ones, if there’s an audience. Kudos to the triumph of public schooling!

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    • jhNY, interesting thoughts on all things YA — and fairy tales!

      Yes, YA is definitely a sales category — a sales category that can embrace books that are clearly YA, books that are sort of YA/sort of adult, classic novels that predate the YA category by decades or centuries yet have YA aspects, etc.! Thanks for naming a number of books (“Robinson Crusoe,” “The Three Musketeers,” and others) that I hadn’t thought of as being part-YA, but are.

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  8. There was in Raleigh NC in 1960 a used bookstore in which Hardy Boys books, and Nancy Drews were sold for 25 cents per. By that point, I had learned to walk with such speed as I could keep up with my bustling father, and was often asked to accompany him when he went there in search of guilty reading pleasures, most often prison escape novels and/or murder mysteries of the hardboiled variety, or else, popular histories of WW2. He usually bought them in half-dozen lots. By placing my choices on the counter as he did the same, I was able to bring home a pile of the things over time, read ’em all, and I think, am none the wiser for it. They were however, the first thrilling mystery stories I’d read, and at the very least, formed the foundation of my abiding interest in the genre– at least, in the best-written examples.

    But there were other YA books that I liked too, especially a couple by my father’s friend, Manly Wade Wellman. He wrote a book titled Lights on Skeleton Ridge that took place in during the Civil War, and another the title of which I no longer know, concerning the exploits of two English sailors in the early 17th century whose tiny boat drifts for many days along the current. Eventually, they reach the shores of the Yucatan, where they meet the pacifist Maya (now known to be otherwise), who feed them up till they regain their strength, after which, they teach the Maya men how to handle weaponry, so as to more ably resist the aggressions of Aztecs– and all before the landing of Cortez!

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    • jhNY, those are great memories and YA-book examples — some well-known, some obscure but perhaps deserving of being better known. The book featuring the sailors and the Maya sounds like quite a read!

      It’s fascinating the different ways kids develop the reading habit — whether it’s through parents, friends, teachers, or all of the above. And fascinating the genres that kids end up reading first.

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      • It was especially delightful to have dedications to me, written in ballpoint by the author, in the case of those MWW books. Made me feel special. My mother always opined he was at his best when he was writing for boys. She was probably right.

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      • Reading was a way of not getting into trouble at my house. No noise! After supper, we would each retreat (parents too!) to a lighted corner with a book, till, for us children, it was bath-time. Which was only a way of carrying on reading, but with care not to drop the book into the tub. Once my toes were wrinkled, it was time for bed. And a bit more book before lights out.

        My mother was a librarian; my father had even attempted antiquarian book sales as a young man. He was a tireless buyer for many years, amassing a collection of printed matter in his field of history that was one of the very best, and largest, in private hands. It’s now mostly in the library of his university, and scholars come from all over to make use of the materials. I think it was fated, inevitable and inescapable– my love of reading and writing and books.

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        • jhNY, great to have those parental book influences — and that your father’s collection endures!

          My parents were not voracious readers when I was a kid — maybe the occasional book, and a couple of daily newspapers. I can’t exactly remember what gave me the reading bug — maybe some teachers, and school in general.

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  9. Dave, I agree that the content of YA novels can be very much worth reading for an adult as well. I think sometimes the adults aren’t ready for the complexities that can exist in the world of teenagers when they read the books.

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    • So well said, GL! Teens lives are indeed complex (and interesting), and the best YA fiction captures that. And of course teens today are dealing with some especially complex (and interesting) things — increased income inequality, social media, changing gender roles, etc.

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  10. Oh Dave, best wishes to your mother on her 90th birthday! That is something to be celebrated for sure. My best guy friend is turning 88 on July of this year, though you’d never know it if you talked to him for even a minute. I hope he is still around as long as your mom is, and even longer, as I do your mom!

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    • Thank you for those birthday wishes, Kat Lib! My mother will turn 90 a week from today (on May 2).

      And it’s wonderful when someone of many years (like your friend) seems younger than those years. Something we all can aspire to. 🙂

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  11. Hi Dave, I noticed you mentioned my name to Michelle as someone who loved “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green. I did love it, not just for its content, but it’s my favorite Shakespeare quote:
    Cassius:
    “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

    I think I mentioned before how I went to three different high schools and at each school, the Shakespeare play “Julius Caesar” was the one chosen for us to study (in 10th, 11th and 12th grade). I began to think that I could recite the entire play from memory, but alas, this is the one that has always stayed with me. 🙂
    But getting back to John Green, I loved all his books, including “Paper Towns,” “Looking for Alaska,” and “An Abundance of Katherines.” They are all full of interesting and likeable characters, but one of the things I liked best (besides his sense of humor) was his depiction of the parents of the main characters. They are all extremely supportive of their children, although sometimes clueless about them, although in a charming way. It made me think of my own “perfect” parents, even when sometimes their “imperfections” made some sort of sense.

    Another book I really enjoyed was “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell, which was much darker than Green’s books, but well-written and very engaging.

    One of the saddest YA novels I’ve read (other than TFIOS) is “If I Stay,” by Gayle Forman. I may have mentioned this before, but it’s about a young teenage girl who is in an auto accident that kills both parents and a younger brother. It’s written from the standpoint of her actively deciding whether she wants to wake up from the coma she is in and live without her family, or not. Very moving!

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    • That IS a wonderful Shakespeare quote, Kat Lib. (I wonder how many novel titles are taken from the works of Shakespeare or other famous writers?)

      One of these days I MUST read “The Fault in Our Stars,” or something else by John Green.

      Supportive, charming, but sort of clueless parents. Seems like a staple of some literature, some movies, and some TV sitcoms. But great when it’s done well.

      Wow — “Julius Caesar” three years in a row! What were the odds? Et tu 11th-grade teacher, et tu 12th grade teacher…

      And thanks for the mentions of those two sobering books by Rainbow Rowell and Gayle Forman. Yes, some excellent YA novels are not for the fainthearted.

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      • Yes, I used to think about the odds of having the exact same Shakespearean play three times in a row. The worst for me was when I had two back-to-back courses on “Idylls of the King” in high school. I had to write a paper on this work, and I was called out for plagiarism for citing sources in my previous learning notes. Apparently one is not allowed to use things one learn in previous classes.

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          • That was exactly the point I made to my English teacher; however, she wouldn’t back down and told me in the future I had to properly footnote my thoughts from a previous study of this work. At least she didn’t flunk me as she was about ready to do. It was an AP English course, so you’d think she would know I was smart enough to come up with some advanced thoughts on a book I’d previously studied. Not one of my favorite teachers!

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    • In junior high, I can remember convulsing my ne’er-do-well pals with untimely declamations of “Ye Blocks, ye stones, etc.”, after which, I was often booted into the hall. Similarly, in Spanish class, I was sent hallward after shouting “Alarma de incendio!” for no good reason beyond boredom and insolence.

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  12. “Fault In Our Stars” is a beautiful book. I read exemplary reviews on Amazon and had no apprehension going to the YA section despite being a middle aged gal. I would even re read Judy Blume as her books were an integral part of my and countless others growing up years. I infer “Forever” would be more YA.

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    • Thank you, Michele! Well said!

      I also never hesitate to go into my local library’s YA room, where one day I hope to spot “The Fault in Our Stars.” (Commenter Kat Lib here has also enthusiastically recommended that John Green novel.) I know what you mean about being an older “demographic” when visiting that section. 🙂

      I read a couple of Judy Blume books 15-20 years ago when my older daughter was reading her, and liked her work a lot. Glad you mentioned that excellent author!

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      • This all reminds me of when I took that Youth Services class, which necessitated browsing through the YA section. I felt very self-conscious as a gray middle-aged fellow strolling through the youth section without an accompanying child as an excuse. I made it VERY clear that I was only there to seek out a few books. Even now I’ll look up on the catalog what I want and head straight to that area, which has usually been the ‘YA LAN’ books (for Margo Lanagan).

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        • I hear you, bobess48! While I never hesitate to enter the YA room, I never sit there or stay too long. Perhaps my local library made YA a separate room (rather than just a section) for a reason. 🙂

          Must try Margo Lanagan!

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  13. The first book that I thought of was “Catcher in the Rye”. Maybe not strictly YA, but I know I didn’t love it, and all I could think was This might have been better if I’d read it when I was a teenager.

    Dave, I will never get tired of saying how amazing this blog is. I have no doubt that there are millions of online conversations about books where people are saying that they don’t / won’t read YA because it’s not ‘real’ literature (whatever that means), but because this is a safe place, I know it’s ok for me to say I loved “Twilight”. I completely understand why people criticise it, but it just did something for me. I’ve read it two or three times, and it’s still my go to book when I need a good girly cry.

    Similar to another comment here from another Susan, I read Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” without really knowing that it was YA. What an amazing discovery. The trilogy would definitely be up there as one of my favourite stories. Some adult topics such as love, death, and sexuality, but told in such an accessible way that you can’t help but fall in love with the characters. I highly recommend it as great literature, even if it is only YA 🙂

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    • Susan, I agree that YA fiction is literature! There are all kinds of literature, and it’s wonderful to enjoy as many of them as possible. Great that you like the “Twilight” series — we all have our guilty reading pleasures. 🙂 I’ve shied away from that series because of the criticism, but maybe I should give it a try. Thanks for your thoughts on it!

      I’m also not a big fan of “The Catcher in the Rye” — or of the personality of its late, not-very-likable author. But the novel does have its memorable aspects, and is definitely an adult/YA book hybrid. Yes, maybe better to have read it as a teen than as an adult, even if many teens today would find J.D. Salinger’s novel to be kind of an historical artifact (about circa-1950 teen angst).

      Excellent point that we sometimes read YA books without realizing they’re YA — and that’s a good thing, as well as an illustration of how the lines between YA and adult fiction often blur. “His Dark Materials” is now on my list!

      Last but not least, thank you for the very kind words about the open-mindedness of this blog! Same can be said for you and other commenters here. 🙂

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    • Hi Susan, I started to read “His Dark Materials” and for whatever reason I gave it up. But I recognized that this could be an important work, so I never gave up on it completely. It’s still in my library and I hope to get back to it someday soon. The fact that you’re recommending it means a lot to me. Whatever, but I agree with you about how wonderful Dave’s blog is.

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  14. Mark Haddon wrote a very thoughtful novel called “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, written from the perspective of a 15 year old with Asperger’s Syndrome. I believe he won awards in both adult and children’s fiction categories, and the book has now been turned into an award-winning Broadway play . The book gives one some insight into how an Asperger’s mind works. At one point, the father told the boy, “Don’t let me catch you in the neighbor’s yard after dark.” With brilliant logic, the young man parses that sentence and decides that he can meet that demand by merely not getting CAUGHT in the neighbor’s yard after dark. The novel is well worth reading! I would love to see the Broadway show.

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    • Thank you, lulabelle! I’d love to see that show, too, and read the novel. (I have several friends with children on the autism spectrum.) Great comment!

      And thanks again for recommending Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings! Every page of “The Yearling” held my interest.

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      • I too have read The Curious Case etc., and can attest to being entertained, and even moved. Worked in a home for autistic children in 1971, when nobody knew nothing, or just about. Finally transferred to janitorial work in the place, as I could not abide my part in imparting the ham-handed behavior modification routines the institution insisted on inflicting on recipients. Happy to report that the place was funded in part by donations from Johnny Cash– his heart was obviously big as all outdoors, even if, in this case, it wasn’t in the right place. But back then, there were no right places, at least not in TN. Also have a close relative on ‘on the spectrum’, as does my wife. Found The Curious Case etc. to be sensitive and even insightful.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hard to believe, but I guess in some ways the 1970s were still “the dark ages” for understanding/”treating” autism and other psychological and/or brain chemistry issues. Not that things are perfect today; heck, “Big Pharma” often does as much harm as good.

          Will definitely look for Mark Haddon’s book this spring.

          Thanks, jhNY. Among other things, you mentioned yet another interesting stint from your interesting work history!

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          • Not sure, on this topic, that we have yet to leave ‘the dark ages’. What I am sure of: there more folks diagnosed as ‘on the spectrum’ now than there were years ago, so the need for effective approaches has never been more critical. This is a topic about which it is most often easier to be optimistic as to therapies, drugs, etc., when one is a good distance away from the patient and the outcome over time.

            Liked by 1 person

            • True, jhNY. Still “the dark ages” in many ways.

              And, yes, many more people diagnosed “on the spectrum,” which leads to the question of whether there are more people with autism nowadays or whether there have always been lots of people with autism but just not diagnosed (or over-diagnosed).

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              • Beyond the possibly over-broad category “on the spectrum”, the number of people diagnosed with autism per se has increased quite a lot in recent years too, at least that’s my impression.

                Liked by 1 person

    • Yikes! A BIG omission on my part. Thanks, Cathy, for mentioning the Nancy Drew books! I’ve never read them, but they are iconic. My wife has read many.

      There are also other series — “The Babysitters Club,” “Tom Swift,” “The Hardy Boys,” etc. — aimed at similarly aged readers, whether female, male, or both.

      And despite what your library said, YA books ARE literature!!!

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    • Hi Cathy, I’m one of those I guess pre-teens who grew up on Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, the Dana Girls, Cherry Ames, the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Vicki Barr, even the Hardy Boys. Of course, we also read many other books, such as Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Garden, Black Beauty, The Little Princess, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, National Velvet, Old Yeller, Mrs. Mike, and many others. Sorry if I couldn’t read Dickens and others at that early age, but I did read Gone With the Wind when I was in 7th grade. I’m not sure what the insistence is that I’m only allowed to read certain books at a certain age.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. You already mentioned ‘Tom Sawyer’, ‘Huckleberry Finn’, ‘Treasure Island’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘Oliver Twist’, all of which I thought of as well. In some respects, Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ could also be considered something of a YA novel although it does deal with Pip’s adult life as does ‘David Copperfield’. Dickens’ language may be challenging for modern readers although I would say that young readers of a century ago were probably more adept at reading that Victorian language than most are today. Also, when I re-read ‘Tom Sawyer’ about six years ago (it was our ‘Big Read’ for that year), I noticed a passage that I’m sure was omitted from the abridged edition I first read when I was about seven (or had my mother read to me, actually) in which the fate of Injun Joe is described. He is trapped in the cave while chasing Tom and Becky and scratches futilely with his knife to get through the blockage, finally dying of starvation and suffocation. What follows is a sequence that would be fitting in one of Twain’s bleak, final stage of his career in which the futility of the mortal is completely obscured by the passage of time as the stalactites and stalagmites in the centuries to come devour him and that there will be no more memory of his pitiful, insignificant existence. Not stuff you usually encounter in YA.

    A few years ago when I was in Library School I took an elective on YA literature and YA library programming. Among the books that were required reading were ‘Twilight’ which I was able to get through without gagging…barely, ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’, and Sherman Alexie’s ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian’. Only the last of those three had any literary merit in my opinion, mainly because it treats the harsh circumstance of an adolescent with school and home life in a hilarious wise-ass manner. The character’s saving grace is his ability to laugh at the absurdity of his life. We were also supposed to choose certain books from a list of books in various YA genres for a book talk. The one that struck me the most is one that I fully intend to re-read sometime soon–‘Tender Morsels’ by Margo Lanagan. I described it as what would result if James Joyce wrote a fairy tale. It has some Irish-like vernacular and odd syntax as I recall. It’s barely YA because it deals with a girl living with her father in a cabin in one of those Grimm’s fairy tale Europeanesque villages. Barely YA because it involves incestuous rape and impregnation and gang rape, neither of which are graphically described but the emotional impact is still there, a dimensional barrier through which a teenage girl and her daughters are able to live in safety, a sadistic gnome, a boy whose bear costume transforms him into a real bear when he crosses that dimensional barrier, lots of wild stuff going on ‘between the worlds’ but with a sledgehammer emotional impact worthy of George Eliot. So that’s the one fairly contemporary novel I’d recommend to anyone who steers clear of current YA, mainly because I think it works as a powerful fantasy without the YA label. And of course, I’d always recommend those earlier YA classics. I remember reading ‘Robinson Crusoe’ when I was in fourth grade. I’m sure I didn’t understand a lot of it but I kept reading it nonetheless and actually enjoyed it because I still got the ‘gist’ of it. The next year, a kid SAID he read ‘Moby-Dick’. I wonder if he actually read all of it or if he did it was probably abridged for kids.

    Of course, all kids, like all books, are different and some are better equipped to tackle challenging reading than others, so I hesitate to make a blanket statement about what’s suitable and what’s not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the wide-ranging comment, Brian!

      Yes, several other Charles Dickens novels have some YA aspects — the two you named, and perhaps even “A Christmas Carol.” Dickens’ language can indeed be kind of challenging, but most of his work is also very readable (as you know).

      Mark Twain also didn’t hesitate to address the harsh side of life, and the memorable passage you describe in the unabridged “Tom Sawyer” is an excellent example. All the killing in “A Connecticut Yankee…” (NOT a YA book) is another example of Twain “going there.”

      The “Twilight” books are definitely YA. I haven’t read them and probably never will, though I’m a bit curious about them. Sounds like you’re not a fan. 🙂

      “Robinson Crusoe” certainly has its YA elements — including the fascination of someone stranded on an island and all that.

      Thanks, also, for the very interesting discussion in the rest of your comment! Some YA books are indeed intense. And I guess non-YA novels can almost become a little YA if they’re abridged. Also, it’s fascinating at what age kids read certain books and what they get out of them — or don’t get out of them.

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    • Margo Lanagan has many amazing prize winning books, including short story collections. her writing is surreal. I recently read “Seahearts” not as traumatic as some of her books, but just as captivating

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I’ve been helping with a high school book club and in recent years we’ve read a few that might be classified as YA, including “Ender’s Game,” “The Book Thief,” “Prisoner B-3087,” “The Red Pencil,” “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” and oh, heck, I can’t recall several others. All worth a read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill, great that you’ve been helping with a high school book club, and thanks for mentioning all those titles! Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (the only book I’ve read of the ones you mentioned) is a riveting novel. I’ve just read one novel (“Lost Boys”) by “Ender’s Game” writer Orson Scott Card, and it’s pretty good. Not fond of that author’s homophobia, as I’m sure you’re not either, but I (usually) try to separate the work from the writer!

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    • Enjoyed the way you phrased that comment, Susan. 🙂 Thanks!

      “The Hunger Games” is definitely a trilogy that blurs the edges between YA and adult fiction. To me, it’s more the latter than the former — though it of course stars Katniss Everdeen and various other young characters. The trilogy’s dystopian nature is pretty close to Orwell territory.

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      • Hi bebe and Dave, I was going to post a similar comment. I do go on HP every day just for their news feed, but it struck me last week when AH had all kinds of articles having to do with the importance of sleep. First there was her book on “thriving,” then it had something to do with “know your value” (in conjunction with Mika of Morning Joe), then I think she was talking about meditation/mindfulness, and now it’s the “sleep revolution”! It’s as though she doesn’t know that most of us realize one needs an appropriate amount of sleep. However, it must be much easier to sleep well when doesn’t have to worry where the next paycheck or whatever is coming from and what to do with it. She’s basically clueless about the lives that most of us live. Sorry for the rant, but I can’t stand these people who have all sorts of resources, yet expect us peons to follow their lead.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Great points, Kat Lib! Yes, it’s obvious to almost everyone about the importance of sleep; often, people are just too busy or too worried to sleep enough, and feel guilty about it.

          And the often-new-age-y AH indeed seems clueless about most people’s lives — including the way many of her unpaid bloggers struggle to survive while she and her company rake in the bucks. Heck, if HP had paid me a fair wage for my book columns, I might not have had to sell my house.

          Liked by 1 person

          • That is a prime example Dave what she typically does and the major online ” The Guardian ” pointed that out. She is altogether a joke but that does not bother her a bit when she sleeps 10-12 hours. I found it in the other site when someone posted it.

            Liked by 1 person

              • And today, she announced on HP, with her usual self-regarding zeal, that she has been joined the board of Uber, a company I loathe even more than Time Warner, as slowly but surely it will destroy traditional taxi service here. It has already destroyed the investment value of medallions, to the great upset of drivers who saved for years to buy them.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Ugh — she’s associating with so many execs and companies who/that are mostly about profit and not much about the greater good. I also have issues with companies such as Uber that basically have a freelance workforce that enables the founders to rake in the profits without much overhead — and thus have an advantage over their more traditional competitors.

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        • Hi Kat Lib…so true..I saw her on morning Joe and then in Bill Maher she was wearing a “frock” and Maher called her Marilyn Monroe. Actually she does not talk much about meditation..just keep you cell phone away, lower the room temp to 67 degree. In summer.?.shows how ridiculous the woman is ..who can afford to do that ?
          As the article she basically was able to ride on others shoulder like Dave and so many more.
          The above satire I thought was absolutely hilarious I thought so I posted it.

          Liked by 1 person

      • bebe, I hadn’t clicked on your link before posting my rant the other day, but I just did this morning and I must say it’s absolutely hilarious! Thanks for the laugh…I needed that! I wonder if she reads this kind of article.

        Liked by 2 people

          • 🙂

            As we’ve discussed, bebe, AH can actually be very friendly and charming (I talked with her/met her a number of times in the 1990s and 2000s, and she wrote a blurb for my book). But then came all the stuff that drove readers/commenters/bloggers away from HP two or three years ago (the broken promises, the change in the commenting system, the ignoring of complaints, etc.); the still not paying bloggers even when HP was bought by the huge, profitable AOL and then Verizon; etc. She might or might not be personally responsible for all that, but it happened on her watch.

            Liked by 1 person

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