Thursday, June 12, 2008

Do YAs read YA lit?

In my new job I'm regularly teaching a class on young-adult literature, which I'd taught a few times previously, but which is a topic that I'm no expert about. So, this past year I've spent a lot of time catching up on the world of YA lit, and I have to say that for the most part, I've been pleasantly surprised at what's out there.

But I really need to befriend some teachers and librarians, and possibly some actual teenagers (yikes), to find out if YAs actually read YA lit.

Most reviews, of course, are written by adults, and while I've had a few anecdotal reports from students about what they've read and--from those who are in the local schools preparing to be teachers themselves--what they know their students are reading, I suspect that the acclaimed and award-winning texts aren't necessarily those that kids read. I read too many papers about how much my students loved "The Babysitters Club" series and its ilk as teenagers to imagine that much has changed.

And I have read enough this year to realize that some "great," "award-winning" YA lit doesn't quite stand up to critical scrutiny. For example, Lois Lowry's The Giver, which I enjoyed, but read with the constant thought that "this could really have been a great novel if it were about a hundred pages longer," and if it addressed some of the nagging questions that an adult reader brings to it, namely how reproduction happens in this dystopia.

Of course, you can't really talk about the mechanics of reproduction in a text for 9-12 year olds (or so it's assumed). And that's who the book is written for. So are my adult critiques even valid, when I'm not the intended audience?

But I have come across a few things that I'd recommend not only to readers of the age group for whom they're intended, but for adults as well. They're just good books by any standard.

So, in the spirit of summer reading clubs, here are a few books that you can easily plow through in one (or two) afternoons after swimming lessons. In no particular order:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its sequel, Roderick Rules by Jeff Kinney. The journals (it's not his fault his mom bought him a book with the word DIARY on the cover in huge letters) of Greg Heffley, the eponymous wimpy kid. They contain his musings about middle school, "the dumbest idea ever invented." There's a lot of satire here that adults who survived the experience will enjoy, but the books also do an amazing job of characterizing Greg, who is both endearing and loathsome in the way that only a middle-schooler can be.

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins. A ethereally written novel about that adolescent summer I suspect everyone has in which nothing and everything happens--when the depth of the world opens up to you and you're not cynical enough to run in the other direction yet.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Don mentioned this book as one of his favorites of 2007, and it's becoming one of my favorites of 2008. Narrated by the very sympathetic voice of death, it follows the experiences of young Leisel Meminger (the book thief) in Munich during WW II.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. A novel in prose poems about one girl's life in the Oklahoma panhandle during the Dust Bowl. The poems are spare but incredibly evocative.

Godless by Pete Hautman. Weird smart kids without much to do during a small-town summer invent a religion whose god is the town water tower. This proves to be an entertaining diversion until, as inevitably happens with any religion, one person becomes a fundamentalist fanatic, a splinter group forms and reinterprets the sacred text, and the tests to prove one's faith get increasingly dangerous.


Her said...

I am a middle school LA teacher by trade, but spent 1.5 years masquerading as a middle school librarian. I had taught The Giver, Tuck Everlasting, and The Outsiders numerous times and although I enjoyed teaching all three, it wasn't until my stint as the librarian did I really come to love YA lit. I have to admit, I am currently wrapped up in the teen series, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, but came to enjoy so many different authors. You made some outstanding selections on your blog. If you're interested, I could give you a list of the house favorites from the tweens in my neck of the woods.

Rose said...

Thanks so much for your comments! Yes, I'd love to see the list you've put together. Haven't had a chance to read the Stephanie Meyer books yet, but they're on my pile, since they do seem to be hugely popular. I'll look forward to seeing what the YAs you know are reading!