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Focus on YA fiction


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#1 Gina

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 11:37 AM

We're doing a weeklong event at BreakPoint, all about good Young Adult fiction. The idea is that, instead of harping on "don't let them read this and don't let them read that," as so many Christian sites (ours included!) tend to do, we want to focus on the positive, and recommend good books for teens. I thought some of you might be interested in seeing what we're doing, and maybe passing the word along to parents, bloggers, and/or teachers that you know.

  • Chuck Colson's radio commentary on the event, "Books to Say Yes To," is here.
  • My blog post kicking off the event, and giving a schedule for the week, is here.
  • A feature article on good YA novels from 2010, by Christian book blogger Sherry Early, is here. (One of the novels she recommends is Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr, who I know has posted here occasionally.)
Tomorrow we'll be asking for reader recommendations, of books that our readers loved when you were a teen or that their own teenagers have loved. Would love it if you could stop by and give your recommendations! :)

#2 Tyler

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 12:00 PM

I'm in my twenties, but I still read a bit of YA fiction.

I liked Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork. It's about an autistic boy who has gone to an alternative school his whole life, but his father wants him to experience regular high school (the "real world") before he graduates. It's a good companion for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

My friend Erin, who's a youth librarian, told me Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is good. I think Sara Zarr likes it, too.

Is it safe to assume you already know about The Hunger Games books?

#3 Gina

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 12:09 PM

Thanks, Tyler. Please don't forget to drop by and post these at the site tomorrow! (Hunger Games gets a recommendation in Sherry's article.)

#4 wmadjones

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 12:41 PM

You may need to review them to ensure they vibe with the Christian world-view you want, but I've always found some gems in the annual lists put out by the ALA Booklist: Best Young Adult Fiction 2011.

#5 Christian

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 12:55 PM

It was only after I saw I Am Number Four that I learned it's based on a YA novel (correct description?) written by James Frey. Don't know if that fits here, or helps in any way, but with the movie in the news right now, I thought I'd mention it.

#6 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 12:58 PM


We're doing a weeklong event at BreakPoint, all about good Young Adult fiction. The idea is that, instead of harping on "don't let them read this and don't let them read that," as so many Christian sites (ours included!) tend to do, we want to focus on the positive, and recommend good books for teens. I thought some of you might be interested in seeing what we're doing, and maybe passing the word along to parents, bloggers, and/or teachers that you know.

In my experience, there can be quite a big difference between focusing on how to recommend "good books for teens" and the "Young Adult fiction" shelves category in the library or bookstore. I'm afraid that I've always found the "Young Adult fiction" label pretty condescending, along the "you're still too young and dumb to read those, so here, read these shortened, dumbed down to the lowest-common-denominator in your 13-17 age group" lines. However, if we're talking about the best books to recommend to younger readers, that's something different.

For example:
Louisa May Alcott
Lewis Carroll

John Buchan

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Alexandre Dumas
Rudyard Kipling
Dashiell Hammett
Harper Lee
Madeleine L'Engle
Jack London
A.A. Milne
Howard Pyle
Dorothy Sayers
Sir Walter Scott
Robert Louis Stevenson
J.R.R. Tolkien
Mark Twain
Jules Verne
T.H. White
Johann David Wyss

On a final note, I can't think of better time to fall in love with reading Shakespeare than when you are classified the "YA Fiction" age-group.



#7 David Smedberg

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 02:32 PM

I read Hunger Games and I am Number Four (both impulse buys on my eBook reader) and I can't really recommend either. In particular, I am Number Four really trashes meaningful romance (the whole idea behind the hero's romance with his female flame is that, unlike ordinary human romance, his love for her is forever. His species is monogamous by nature, the implication being that humans are not. Ick ick ick. Teenage puppy love I don't have a problem with, but please don't turn it into Aragorn and Arwen in reverse.)

I am right now reading, and really really enjoying, Lloyd Alexander's Time Cat. Alexander is one of the best YA authors I've read (a previous mention on A&F here). I gave my little sister Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight) for XMas, those are also excellent.

Edited by David Smedberg, 21 February 2011 - 03:03 PM.


#8 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 02:50 PM


I've always found the "Young Adult fiction" label pretty condescending, along the "you're still too young and dumb to read those, so here, read these shortened, dumbed down to the lowest-common-denominator in your 13-17 age group" lines.

Thinking over this a couple hours later, I believe I may have come across a little harsh. I didn't mean to. There are plenty of really good books out there, written for children & teenagers, that still wouldn't necessarily make it into the "great books" category.

 

I suppose while I could encourage reading books like The Wheel on the School, Carry On Mr. Bowditch, The Phantom Tollbooth, or even the Encyclopedia Brown series, I'd just try and purchase copies of those books without "YA Fiction" printed on the front cover.



#9 Gina

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Posted 21 February 2011 - 02:58 PM

Understood.

In my ideal world, all teens would read classics all the time. However, as I've learned to my sorrow, we don't live in my ideal world. :) My feeling is that, as the YA designation is pretty much ubiquitous, we might as well try sorting out the gems from the muck. And there are some gems when you start looking for them.

#10 Gina

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Posted 22 February 2011 - 08:50 AM

BreakPoint staff picks are up today, and we're soliciting reader recommendations as well. If you have any recommendations to put in the comment section over there, we'd love to have them. :)

#11 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 05:46 PM

NPR had a poll for the top 100 "YA Fiction" books. The fact that Harry Potter would make #1 and Hunger Games would make #2 was, I suppose, inevitable, given that the selection process was democratic. Here are the results. It doesn't seem like much of a consolation, but at least they got in the following:

3 - To Kill A Mockingbird - by Harper Lee
5 - The Hobbit - by J.R.R. Tolkien
6 - The Catcher in the Rye - by J.D. Salinger
7 - The Lord of the Rings - by J.R.R. Tokien
8 - Farenheit 451 - by Ray Bradbury
12 - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - by Douglas Adams
18 - Lord of the Flies - by William Golding
33 - The Call of the Wild - by Jack London
51 - Treasure Island - by Robert Louis Stevenson
60 - Something Wicked This Way Comes - by Ray Bradbury
63 - A Ring of Endless Light - by Madeleine L'Engle

I should stop being surprised by the quality of these sorts of lists. But I can't help but be particularly surprised that the C.S. Lewis Narnia series didn't even make the top 100, and neither did Brian Jacques' Redwall series. Sounds like the voting was done from a collection of 235 finalists - among which Lewis and Jacques were also not included.

I suppose these lists are at least useful as cultural and educational measuring sticks.

#12 Jason Panella

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 06:46 PM

I should stop being surprised by the quality of these sorts of lists. But I can't help but be particularly surprised that the C.S. Lewis Narnia series didn't even make the top 100, and neither did Brian Jacques' Redwall series. Sounds like the voting was done from a collection of 235 finalists - among which Lewis and Jacques were also not included.


Seeing some of your comments from a year and a half ago, I was surprised at how many books on the NPR list are actually adults books that could be considered good for teens.

#13 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 06:50 PM

Well ... this certainly puts my past comments on recommended reading for teenagers or "young adults" to shame.

 

E.D. Hirsch, Jr., The Knowledge Deficit, 2006, pg. 9:

In a 1785 letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, aged fifteen, Jefferson recommended that he read books (in the original languages and in this order) by the following authors: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Anabasis, Arian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justin.  On morality, Jefferson recommended books by Epictetus, Plato, Cicero, Antoninus, Seneca, and Xenophon’s Memorabilia, and in poetry Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Milton, Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope, and Swift.  Jefferson’s plan of book learning was modest compared to the proper Puritan education of the seventeenth century as adovcated by John Milton.

 

I, for one, am now over the age of 15 and still have not read most of Jefferson's YA reading list in their English translations, much less in the original Greek and Latin.



#14 NBooth

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 07:06 PM

Milton, Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope, and Swift. 

 

 

 

Hey, look! He even included fan-fiction.



#15 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 08 June 2014 - 11:23 AM

Three days ago, Ruth Graham (whose writing both on evangelicalism and on Mark Driscoll should be appreciated) wrote "Against YA: Read whatever you want.  But you should feel embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children" over at the Slate Book Review.

 

The responses to Ms. Graham has been entirely predictable.  Among other responses, so far there has been the following:

 

Cat Kinsman, CNN, "Don't be ashamed of your YA habit":

... It's the "should" (Slate's italics, not mine) here that vexes me most. It implies that someone else's hierarchy of taste and personal experience takes precedent over your own, when in reality, letting go of that is one of the great spoils of achieving adulthood ... I read plenty of other books (yes, for "grownups"), too, and probably even more than I used to because my hunger for good words is so keenly whet. They go down a lot more easily now that I'm not choking on all that embarrassment.

 

Michelle Dean, Gawker, "Let's All Just Read More Great Books, YA or Not":

The argument Ruth Graham makes is either muddled or obvious ... Matters are made worse when she seems to position her personal taste as obviously being based in objective standard ... The problem with dismissing things as "juvenile" is that "for the young" is only a stable category when used as a marketing technique. It isn't particularly original to observe that lots of "children's books" clearly have higher aims. They operate on several planes of maturity. The Narnia Chronicles are a good example of that; so are Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials books. Those books tend to reach out to other texts like the Bible and Paradise Lost; reading them as adults reveals hidden meaning. And so, as many adults have come to understand, those books are not "just for kids" even though any marketer would position them that way ... And after all, pretty much everyone, in my experience, reads mostly to console themselves. That consolation takes different forms for different people: escapism, challenge, learning, self-indulgence.

 

Sara Benincasa, The Frisky, "Adults Can Read Whatever the Hell They Want":

Full and proud disclosure: I write young adult (YA) novels ... More importantly, I read YA. I love YA. I love “juvenile fiction” books by Tahereh Mafi, Lauren Oliver, Ransom Riggs, and John Green. I love “children’s” books by Neil Gaiman ... Adult readers of YA fiction are not dummies. They are not missing out on whatever fancypants high literary art one discusses over million-dollar local free-range grass-finished organic bourbon and artisanal crackers made by hippie elves in a barn in Tibet. Adult readers of YA fiction know that the dreams of teenagers are perhaps even more vivid and alive than the dreams of adults ... Look, I don’t have an MFA. I’m not fancy. I just write stories. And I just read stories. Sometimes the marketing people at book publishing companies have labeled these stories as children’s tales. That’s cool. Whatever works for them, I guess ... Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write some more adolescent garbage literature for anyone who wants to read it. And after that, I might read something in the YA section. You know why? Because it’s fun. And it’s great. And it means something — maybe everything, sometimes, for a moment, when it’s done right.

 

Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic, "Of Course YA Books Can Be Complex":

"For all their claims to dislike pat solutions, though, it seems that it's critics like Graham who wants a simplified world. In the name of high-minded, conscientious reading, she has swallowed marketing copy. Good books go over here, neatly labeled 'literary fiction' by salespeople, while the less good books go over there, neatly labeled for kids.  The history of influential, canonical fiction written for children, from Alice to Narnia, is neatly erased, in favor of another encomium to John Updike."

 

News & Observer:

If you haven’t heard, YA fiction is a big deal. With readerships among teens reaching the millions, YA titles are now regarded a major sellers at publishing houses. And ever since the success of the “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” novels/movies, movie studios have been snapping up adventurous book titles for possible profitable franchises. The first film installment of the dystopian “Divergent” trilogy, starring Golden Globe nominee Shailene Woodley, made a killing at the box office earlier this year, grossing more than $266 million worldwide ... Studios are also adapting romantic, youth-oriented tearjerkers, like John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.” The book, which has been No. 1 on The New York Times young-adult best-seller list, has now been made into a movie (also starring Shailene Woodley), which hits multiplexes this weekend ...

_____________________________

 

Ms. Graham:

... I’m surrounded by YA-loving adults, both in real life and online. Today’s YA, we are constantly reminded, is worldly and adult-worthy. That has kept me bashful about expressing my own fuddy-duddy opinion: Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children. Let’s set aside the transparently trashy stuff like Divergent and Twilight, which no one defends as serious literature. I’m talking about the genre the publishing industry calls “realistic fiction.” These are the books, like The Fault in Our Stars, that are about real teens doing real things, and that rise and fall not only on the strength of their stories but, theoretically, on the quality of their writing. These are the books that could plausibly be said to be replacing literary fiction in the lives of their adult readers. And that’s a shame.

 

Adult fans of these books declare confidently that YA is more sophisticated than ever. This kind of thing is hard to quantify, though I will say that my own life as a YA reader way back in the early 1990s was hardly wanting for either satisfaction or sophistication. Books like The Westing Game and Tuck Everlasting provided some of the most intense reading experiences of my life. I have no urge to go back and re-read them, but those books helped turn me into the reader I am today. It’s just that today, I am a different reader. I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged.

 

But crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way. It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults ... Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with "likeable" protagonists ...

 

Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this. I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader ... But I remember, when I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks; I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a world where all the adults were camped out in mine. There’s a special reward in that feeling of stretching yourself beyond the YA mark, akin to the excitement of graduating out of the kiddie pool and the rest of the padded trappings of childhood: It’s the thrill of growing up. But the YA and "new adult" boom may mean fewer teens aspire to grown-up reading, because the grown-ups they know are reading their books ...

_____________________________

 

While I personally would have crafted a few of her major points a little differently, bravo, Ms. Graham, bravo.  I wouldn't dismiss reading "literature for children" (although I would seriously consider a tangential argument that "literature for children" is old and superior to "literature for teenagers" which is new).  We've had the "literary fiction" and "are there objective standards in art?" conversations at A&F before.  Regardless of your opinions on either side, the fact remains that publishing houses, film companies and marketers are promoting and hyping "YA fiction" and what are now essentially "YA films" relentlessly, and the public is buying it.  And marketing aside, the fact remains that the very idea of a "teenager" (or is "young adult" supposed to sound, what? more grown up?) is almost completely unique to the 20th and 21st centuries.

 

Therefore, we have the phenomenon of books that are now being written, with the modernized assumptions of what a "teenager" is supposed to be, in mind.  The comedy of the whole situation then arrives when those who are older than teenagers end up making these books into bestsellers.



#16 NBooth

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Posted 08 June 2014 - 01:17 PM

I'm liberal enough in my evaluation of others' taste to not grouse too much about what they read. If you can make it work, make it work; if it can be made to do interesting things, go ahead. I know enough about the history of reading habits to realize that most people, most times, have--at best--bourgeois or--at worst--just plain terrible taste in literature. And I'm self-aware enough to know that my own tastes aren't unimpeachable--I read and study mid-century junk fiction. I would rather watch the new X-Men movie than anything Malick ever did, and given the choice of Poirot and Proust, I'll take the Belgian. No one else has unimpeachable taste, anyway, and it's not particularly desirable. But--

 

I'm getting to the point where anytime anyone suggests I read some YA book or other, I want to respond like Stewart Lee [NSFW]. This especially applies to John Green.

 

At the same time, Graham's tone is the wearying cadence of a professional contrarian. Adam Kotsko talked about this a few months back:

 

It’s an iron-clad rule: whenever someone declares himself [sic] a “contrarian,” you can know with absolute certainty that everything that comes out of his mouth will be a well-worn cliché. Contrarians never say that maybe we should totally abolish capitalism, or that maybe we should all become cyborgs, or that maybe we should consider eating four meals a day instead of three — it’s always something like “I know that I’ll catch a lot of flack for saying this, but the traditional three meals are the best way to distribute our food intake.” Their bold, outsider perspective always allows them to see that the most tired bromides of acceptable mainstream opinion actually have a lot going for them.

 

 

Quite so. There's absolutely nothing daring about slagging off on YA fiction [nor is there anything particularly daring about defending it]. It's an old, old--boring, boring--dance. The fact that both sides can pat themselves on the back for being frightfully original says more than anything they actually verbalize.


Edited by NBooth, 08 June 2014 - 01:42 PM.


#17 Rushmore

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Posted 08 June 2014 - 01:39 PM

Just a quick remark for now: we should never, ever forget that the distinction between "adult" and "young adult" fiction is far more of a marketing distinction than a literary one. I can't get on board with any train of thought that takes the dichotomy between the two anywhere near as seriously as Graham does. More later, when I have time.



#18 NBooth

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Posted 08 June 2014 - 01:45 PM

Just a quick remark for now: we should never, ever forget that the distinction between "adult" and "young adult" fiction is far more of a marketing distinction than a literary one. I can't get on board with any train of thought that takes the dichotomy between the two anywhere near as seriously as Graham does. More later, when I have time.

 

Oh, yeah. This too. [see also the discussion on "literary" fiction as a marketing gimmick]. Looking forward to seeing your thoughts on this.



#19 Andrew

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Posted 08 June 2014 - 02:47 PM

Hmm, so I wonder how Graham responds to the narrow narratives of, say, the plays of Shakespeare or the ancient Greeks.  Comedy or tragedy, they're all so predictable:  everyone dies, or the lovers rightly end up happily together.  Her generalizations are quite broad and inaccurate.

 

I've commented elsewhere on the quality I perceived in The Fault in our Stars, so I won't repeat myself here.  But based on this one book by Green, I would say he stands up quite strongly in comparison to authors that have been praised elsewhere in this forum such as George Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane.  And I would say his work is much more enriching from a moral development standpoint than the work of those two authors.

 

And does the fact that adolescence is partly a cultural and partly a biodevelopmental phenomenon invalidate it?  The 21st Century has much about it that is regrettable, but I'll take the extended lifespan, higher education, and expanded vocational opportunities that allow teen and college life to flourish over their 18th and 19th Century alternatives any day.  So of course young adults want to read books about people similar to them.  Why such alarmism?

 

And as an adult, I'm happy to dip occasionally into young adult fiction.  I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, and I'm glad my daughter and I can share enjoyment of John Green's work.  An adult subsisting solely on such works would be malnourished from a literary standpoint, but that's true with most such things in life.



#20 NBooth

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Posted 09 June 2014 - 04:45 PM

And does the fact that adolescence is partly a cultural and partly a biodevelopmental phenomenon invalidate it?  The 21st Century has much about it that is regrettable, but I'll take the extended lifespan, higher education, and expanded vocational opportunities that allow teen and college life to flourish over their 18th and 19th Century alternatives any day.  So of course young adults want to read books about people similar to them.  Why such alarmism?

 

This, too. Much like nationhood, teen-hood is imaginary, but that doesn't mean it isn't an actual social phenomenon as well. [Or, to paraphrase a YA novel--just because teenagedom is in your head doesn't mean it isn't real]. It has tremendous potential for developing or destroying--just like every other social phenomenon, including the ones with a hoary frost of age around their temples. Arguing that a concept is invalid because it's new is the precise and opposite error to arguing that one is invalid because it's old. Old and new, both are tentative formations rooted in material-historical events, and as such pose unique problems and offer unique potentialities unfound in other forms-of-life.

 

I still get grumpy when people act like I'm incomplete until I've read the latest new thing in YA fiction, though.