Go Read 5 YA Books, Then Talk to Me

Just as a preface, this post was inspired by a request from G.P. Merwede, who’s not a #1 fan of YA literature, but wanted to hear more of my thoughts on the matter. I totally respect that there will be a difference of opinions and I want to make clear that don’t like him or anyone else any less for having reading tastes different from mine. To each their own. But, let’s all be informed on the issues, shall we, instead of blindly hating a whole library of books?

There’s be a lot of scorn aimed at YA literature in recent months and years. People have been calling for a YA rating system (because of “profanity”), generalizing all YA literature as dark, depraved, and lurid, and generally believing that YA literature is poorly written, trashy, and unoriginal.

When you were children, didn’t you love books? Didn’t you read age-appropriate books (I’m sure you weren’t picking up tombs of acclaimed “great literature,” such as Anna Karenina or Moby Dick for pleasure reading) that still have a soft place in your heart?

Do you really want to insult your 14-year-old self by saying that everything you read back then, everything you enjoyed, was complete crap?

If you’re an adult and sticking up your nose right now; if, on the tip of your tongue you’re about to say that you didn’t have “refined” tastes yet, you didn’t know what “real literature” was yet, just stop.

Just stop.

The only reason that I can possibly imagine people believe all these bad stereotypes about YA lit is that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Literally, they haven’t read enough YA books (or any at all) to have a well-supported opinion.

As a basic qualifier, let’s say that you don’t have enough information, or haven’t done enough homework to know one damn thing unless you’ve read at least 5 YA books recently. A smattering of both classic favorites and recently published books. Once you’ve read 5 YA books and have done enough of your own research to have a real opinion–rather than parroting somebody else’s statistics–then come talk to me. I’d love to have a real, informed debate about the topic. If you still hate YA literature after reading 5 books, you have my full permission.

In a similar line of thought, if you’re going to leave comments below, you first have to list 5 YA books, ones you’ve honestly read start to finish. It’s like a resume, to prove that you’re qualified to join the discussion.

If you’re counting up books on your fingers and realizing you’re short of the required 5, try out some on the Goodread’s list of the best/most popular YA books, or some of the past winners of the Newbery Award. Also, I’m providing a list of some of my personal favorites. Once you’ve read five, then we’ll talk. Okay?

Book Thief (so well-written, the sentences and sentiments so beautiful . . . you’ll cry. Also, you writers might feel a tiny twinge of despair that you’ll never be able to write such an awesome book. Deep sigh.)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (if you haven’t read this yet, get a copy Right.Now.)

The Scorpio Races (so so so amazing)

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares

The Language of Flowers

Holes

Harry Potter

Perks of Being a Wallflower

Thirteen Reasons Why

Divergent (if you liked The Hunger Games, another recommendation)

The Giver

(PS: All book links will take you to Goodreads, so you can add them to your “to-read” list! Friend me and we can share book recommendations :])

27 thoughts on “Go Read 5 YA Books, Then Talk to Me

  1. Love love love. YA lit shouldn’t be considered “lesser” lit because it’s written for teenagers. Some books are truly phenomenal. People need to give it a chance.

    • I think it gets a bad reputation because of all the commercial fiction, like Gossip Girls, that is popular but isn’t of the highest “literary” quality. There’s lots of equally popular but pretty poorly written adult fiction though! [shakes head] But I should give [Stephen King/Nicolas Sparks/The DaVinci Code] a chance??

  2. The Scorpio Races made my skin crawl, the imagery was so vivid. I liked The Hunger Games, books 1 and 2 but not 3. I’ve read 7 books in the last 3 weeks in the CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore, so that’s my list right there. And, I’m in the middle of Divergent, which my son’s book club chose to read for their next gathering. YA books run the gamut from simplified to sophisticated, from clean to way too sexy, and from thought-provoking to downright chilling. But overall, as I’m working my way through the books my 12-year-old son takes out of the library (if you were wondering why I’m reading all these) I’ve been impresses with the level of vocabulary and tone in most of them. They don’t dumb down the vocabulary. The best ones inspire thoughtful consideration of major social and – though the readers may not realize it – political – themes. The trend toward dystopian fiction with its bleak view of the future, and the pervasiveness of vampire fantasy is disturbing, but I think reflective of society’s tastes as a whole these days.

    Thanks, Hannah, for these recommendations – I’m putting the Book Thief on my list.

    Mindy

    P.S. Did you get the galley for Maggie Stiefvater’s latest book at BEA?

    • Loveeeeeed Scorpio Races. The imagery was amazing. Hunger Games was okay. I liked the plot, but I recognized that the writing was a little simple. Never heard of the CHERUB series, but if you’re plowing through them that fast, I expect they’re pretty wonderful!

      I just finished reading Insurgent and didn’t love it as much as Divergent, mostly because Tris whines excessively (similar to the reason why pretty much every reader hated Harry in the fifth book, because he never stopped complaining about how hard his life was and how things were unfair).

      I love that–that YA books run the gamut, containing a billion categories and subcategories that will interest all sorts of readers. Just like adult fiction. I feel like YA as a cannon has a range similar to adult, the only difference being that all the main characters are 13-19 in YA, and their plots and problems appeal to that age group. It just seems like ridiculous prejudice, considering how similar they are.

      I agree–if you step back and really examine a lot of YA books, their language usage is amazing. It’s a credit to the authors that they don’t “talk down” to kids (which, of course, would probably offend their readers anyway).

      Enjoy Book Thief! It is one of the best books ever written, no doubt in my mind.

      I didn’t get the galley you’re referring to…I’ll have to keep any eye out for book though!

  3. Well said! The very reason I’m a writer now is the fact that I devoured Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary and Sweet Valley High books as a kid. Sure, the genre may have been little more than a gateway drug without a lot of nutritional value, but then again, it made me love reading, and it made me want to write. There’s plenty of merit in that. The concept of “high art” vs “low art” has always irked me, and while I may prefer Klosterman and Fitzgerald to Twilight and Harry Potter, I’m thrilled that thirteen-year-olds are hopping offline every once in a while and reading just for fun, and if adults are enjoying it too, so much the better.

    • Ug, “high art” vs. “lower art,” my least favorite debate. While “high art” lovers look down their noses at bestsellers, on the other side of the fence, I’m sure “low art” readers similarly turn up their noses, considering literary masterpieces to be a collection of boring, slow-paced books.

      Whatever floats people’s boats!

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  5. I loved YA books when I was younger and I love them still. I read a lot of books as a teenager that I really didn’t consider YA, like Little Women, for example, but I loved them all the same. One of my all-time favorite books, Time Enough for Drums, by Ann Rinaldi, is a YA historical fiction novel. It’s the sort of book that I can quote passages from at length, that I would take with me to a deserted island, that has only my number on its library card at my local library (and my school library, too). I loved R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and then later, his Fear Street books, and now my kids are getting old enough to get into his work, so I can share things I loved at their age with them, which is an experience I cherish. There is no experience in the world like sharing a book you adore with a child and seeing their face light up with excitement at the sight of a new book to devour.

    I love all books. I will probably still be reading children’s books and YA novels in my nineties (assuming I live that long), as well as classics and other “adult” fare. Books are books are books. Enjoy them all, I say.

    • I lovelovelovelovelove Ann Rinaldi! I thought I had read every book she’s written–thinking about it now, I guess I’ve read every book of her’s that my library has in stock–so I’ll have to pick up a copy of Time Enough for Drums. Ann Rinaldi was actually the reason I dreamed of writing historical fiction when I “grew up,” she’s the reason why I dual majored in History and Creative Writing in college.

      I never read the Goosebumps books because I was a scarey-cat child; I’m glad that you and your kids can bond over his books and recommend favorites! Excitement over books never gets old. Sometimes I dream about being a librarian or a bookseller and introducing children to their next favorite, perhaps lifetime favorite, life-changing book or author.

      Hurray for never being too old for children/YA books!

      • I’ve only read a few of Ann Rinaldi’s books (Time Enough for Drums, The Last Silk Dress, Ride Into Morning, and possibly Wolf By the Ears), but she’s such a fantastic writer that I would love to read them all. My local library used to have to get Time Enough for Drums through interlibrary loan and when it was reprinted some years ago, the librarian called me to let me know that they had bought a copy since I liked it so well. Of course, by then, I had bought my own copy, but I was grateful for her thoughtful phone call.

        I actually have Jane Resh Thomas to thank for my love of historical novels. I read The Princess in the Pigpen when I was in second grade at the urging of my teacher, Mrs. Ramsey. She insisted I would love it, but I was doubtful and insisted that I wouldn’t. The cover art was what made me try it, though. Something about a girl in a fancy brocaded dress standing in the middle of a pigpen drew me in and I did, indeed, love the book. It blended 17th-century England with 20th-century Iowa life and it was wonderful. I once applied for a position as a librarian and thought it would be the perfect job for me as I love books so very, very much. I didn’t get the job, but in an unusual twist of fate, my current employer (a small-town law firm) is located in an old Carnegie library. :)

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  7. Read list: Harry Potter (all of them), “Hurricane” (Jenna-Lynn Duncan – I’m also the publisher), “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Hobbit,” “The Diary of a Young Girl” (Anne Frank).

    I tried to read the first “Twilight” book (I really did), but couldn’t make it past the cafeteria scene.

    Back when I had hair and it wasn’t grey, the last three books in my “read” list were considered YA (“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Diary of a Young Girl” were required HS reading). I list them because I think this is where some people have an issue with current YA books – books in general have become a lot more sexual (in all genres) than when I was growing up. I think even Sidney Sheldon might blush by what is considered a romance novel these days. The question is whether this amount of sex is really necessary in books targeted at teenagers.

    This is not to say I’m a prude – I’m a big fan of Lara Adrian’s “Midnight Breed” series (is a publisher allowed to admit they are a fan of an author they haven’t published?), and these books certainly contain sex. But it’s not over-the-top or the only focus of these books. These books are well written and tell and interesting story that will engage a reader – and they are targeted at adults, not teens.

    Divertir Publishing has one YA book out (“Hurricane”) and is in the process of publishing two more. “Hurricane” has love scenes but no sex scenes, and the next book (“Journey Through Traveller’s Tower”) has plenty of sexual tension between two of the characters but no love scenes. The third book (“Guardian’s Nightmare” – working title) has no sexual overtones. While each book has a different level of “romance,” what each book has in common is that they are well written and tell and interesting story (in my opinion) that will engage a reader. Sex scenes are not necessary to do this.

  8. I just finished “Jacob Have I Loved” by Katherine Paterson, and thought it was wonderful. My niece and daughter wanted me to read the Harry Potter books, so I’m half way through them. I’ve read a couple of Sarah Dessen’s books. I’ve read the first Hunger Games book. All have merit, some more than others.

    But the same is true of adult fiction, which ranges from trash to timeless.

    I do wish there was less written for both YA and adults about vampires and werewolves. Others would say the same about romance or sci fi or thrillers or any other genre. To each his own.

    • I remember reading “Jacob Have I Loved” for Reading Olympics way back in the day! Personally, I wish there were less Stephen King novels in my local library–shouldn’t there be an even spread for all sorts of readers??–but yes, agreed, to each their own.

      Hope you enjoy the rest of the Harry Potter series!! Book 5 was rough for me–overly long and Harry is overly whiny–but six serves as a real treat afterward.

      I assume you’ve already seen the movies, beforehand. How do you think they compare? I’m always interested in the impression of people who saw the movies first and then the books.

      • Book 5 is whiny, at least so far.
        I haven’t seen any of the HP movies. I’ve been avoiding the whole HP phenomenon. But when the books became available to download to my e-reader from the library, I decided I didn’t have an excuse any longer. I’ve only committed to my daughter and nieces to read the books. I don’t know about the books.
        On Hunger Games, I read the book and saw the movie shortly thereafter. I liked both about the same. I wondered while reading it how they would get the internal monologues into the movie. Maybe I interjected them myself into the movie. The pageantry and politics were very well done in the movie, maybe better than in the book, because of the visuals.
        Usually, I like whatever I experience first (book or movie) the best.

  9. I have read way more than five. :) I’m not sure I’ve read five books categorized as adult this year, although I’m pretty sure I have.

    I have a post brewing in my head about what YA was when I was a kid 30 years ago, and what it is now, and what I’ve seen change. This is in part inspired by Among Others where the protagonist is fifteen and reading much the same things as I read when I was fifteen. And honestly, if people think that YA is subversive and dark and potentially explicit now, they should look back when classic sf & fantasy was considered YA in the 70s and 80s and all the fascinating socialscapes that we read as teens. In a way, I’m not sure YA pushes the envelope as much as it used to, when books for adults were classified for teens.

    But I need to save those thinky thoughts for a time when I have more coherence, and the ability to actually look up the books I read most as a teen and present some interesting looks into what they were.

    • Yeah, I’m not sure I’ve read more than 5 adult books recently either. If I have, they were all nonfiction for work or research.

      Exactly! There has always been dark YA. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, ring a bell anyone?! That is terrifying stuff and a la 1979.

      Looking forward to your YA post!!

      • Oh my goodness, Flowers in the Attic. That’s a series that I can never forget. I think I read everything she wrote, and I actually remember where I was when I heard she passed on (and then watched a zillion more books come out under her name… love the industry).

        I definitely need to write that post. Maybe this weekend, while I’m camping (I have outdoors and internet and I am SO HAPPY).

  10. Love the perspective here. I think that some of the best stories told are YA stories… Even when the writing is simple, the characters can be relatable and the settings, whether real or imagined, can be stirring.

    • Agreed! There’s something so timeless about the coming of age story, too, that I think is appealing to a wide range of age groups. There’s so much change in young professionals lives–college, moving out on your own, first job, etc.–that there’s no wonder why so many adults like YA. I’ve heard tell of a new genre that might further satisfy older YA readers: “New Adult.” I’ll have to see how those books go.

      • Actually, I’m pitching my current novel Aw New Adult. Doesn’t quite have the thematic standard for YA but still strongly features rebellion from authority, etc.

      • That is so interesting! I think there needs to be more of those sorts of books for older readers. We 21-year-olds and up get rather neglected in fiction, if you ask me! Hope your novel is well received and gets representation soon!!

  11. I have to say I love YA lit. The Eragon series by Christopher Paolini is one my favorites. I’m currently reading The Book Thief. I blew through the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight (before the tween-dumb-it-down-craze), and the House of Night series is also one of my faves. As soon as the new books come out, I’m on it! It’s a shame that a whole genre gets lambasted because of a few bad apples. To me, it doesn’t matter the genre, as long as I love reading it!

    • Hurray for another YA enthusiast! I’ve never picked up the Eragon series myself, but I’ve heard good things. I’ll have to get a copy sometime. If you really liked Hunger Games, definitely pick up Divergent and it’s sequel Insurgent (it’s going to be a trilogy). I think it’s going to be the next big rage–I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a movie if the third one does well with readers. Writing off YA because of a few books you don’t agree with is like writing off the entire classical literature cannon just because you though [Grapes of Wrath/Great Expectations/The Scarlet Letter] was boring. I’m sure we can make a comparison that would make any anti-YA reader shiver in horror!

  12. I prefer reading ‘adult’ novels, simply because a lot of the books I’m expected to read as a young person are awful! When I walk into the YA section of the bookshop, I am hit with black covers, vampires, werewolves and other paranormal love stories that make me want to run for the hills! I mean, what happened to the decent YA books? I mean, I have read Book Thief, and it made me whimper, that’s the only exception. I’m making sure I avoid anything that’s become a craze, like the Hunger Games and Twilight, although I’ve read all the Harry Potter books, and only liked the last book! I might try some of the books in the list, as long as no vampires or simpering pale girls with undying love for said vampires is involved in the synopsis!!!!!

    • Now that I think about it, I actually really despise the YA section of bookstores–all bookstores, both indie and B&N. You’re right, they primarily stock those vampire, supernatural, overdramatic books that are pretty much all the same, with the same dark cover, and the same awful plot line. I find all my new YA reads on Goodreads recommendations and through the local library; those librarians aren’t going to waste their limited funds on crappy YA!! I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with “craze” books–I really enjoyed The Hunger Games (hate hate hate everything about Twilight) and love love love Harry Potter, but I do dislike how the public twists and morphs and interprets the books. I promise none of the books I liked/recommend have pathetic female leads or vampires! If you mention a few of your favorite “adult” books, I could point you in the right direction, for a higher probability of a positive reading experience!

      • I adore Gregory Maguire’s books, especially the Wicked Cycle, and I tend to like fantasy/rom coms as well :)

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