With all the poopy things happening out in our world, one sector is getting it right: Young Adult or Teen literature.
As a tween, I read Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and the Princess Diaries. After those tween reads full of debauchery and wit I trailed off from free reading when I entered high school. I became a fan of the classics and adult literature–probably because that’s all that was given to me. I didn’t give much time to casual reading because Crime and Punishment was drowning me in sorrow and philosophical predicaments (ps, I loved it–still do). I also spent my time involved in numerous clubs and my local library was into the glazey-eyed anti-customer service thing that was popular for many a year. In summary, I never free read and I never heard of “young adult literature.”
Until now! I must say that young adult literature is fantastico. There is certainly a trend towards better written, more challenging, more intriguing books that have young adults as their protagonists. Take Libba Bray’s Going Bovine:
Cameron is the typical recluse character with an immensely sarcastic humor. His parents are distant, his popular twin sister feigns revolt against him, and he has no real friends. He smokes pot to deal with life’s seeming “unreality” and appears content with simple, mundane pleasures like visiting his local record store and, well, that’s pretty much it. When he’s diagnosed with the human strain of Mad Cow Disease he’s sent to the hospital. He soon escapes to go on an adventure to save the world given to Cameron by a punk angel. Accompanied with his neurotic side-kick, Gonzo, and a viking dwarf they pick up on the way, the gang travels from Texas to Mississippi then to Florida on a search for Doctor X who will cure Cameron’s disease and stop a wormhole on Earth that has unleashed a dark force from another universe.
Bray presents a rich and poignant humor unlike most young adult literature I’ve read. It is incredibly witty with a lot of social commentary that may still be relevant in the future because the popular icons that Cameron comments on are more like concepts than names existing in our reality. Not only were the jokes humorous, but they were also descriptive and real. They carried out far more literary techniques than just humor. The end of this novel is tragically beautiful. Cameron’s life is finally worth something because he has lived and experienced friendship, love, adventure, excitement, and spontaneous excitement. But he actually didn’t experience these in real life. A true tragedy, Cameron is strung about like Don Quixote, meant to enjoy a reality that is not really there.
And schools are noticing this trend, too, by incorporating more current, young adult literature into their classrooms. And who wouldn’t want to have a discussion on Going Bovine in a class? Probably more than my heart dare tell, but literature like this goes to show that teen fiction can be just as thought-provoking and life changing as the classics. My college-age, future sister-in-law raves about Looking for Alaska by John Greene. “I’ve done tutoring and mentoring for a few years and whenever I worked with someone who didn’t enjoy reading, I had them read Looking for Alaska to spark their interest. It’s a very intriguing book that has many intellectually stimulating aspects. I love to read and I enjoy sharing that with others. This book gives me the chance to act upon that. The biggest influence this book had on me was when I finally got Trevor [her younger brother] to read it and he absolutely loved it and asked me for more books. I thought that if I could get anyone to enjoy literature the way Trevor enjoyed John Green books, I could probably be a halfway decent teacher.” After she said that, my librarian heart was all:
As evident, young adult literature can have a lasting impact on teen’s lives. For teens, not only are they enjoying reading, but they’re reading about great role models that question society’s gender roles. I was inspired to write this blog after thinking about the multidimensional female protagonists that are present in teen literature now. Isn’t it inspiring to know that teens are reading books that encourage independent thinking, carpe diem, being strong willed, kicking butt, and falling in love in your own way? Take Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor:
Book cover synopsis: “Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a chimera’s supply of teeth grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal other-wordly war.”
To classmates, friends, and strangers, Karou is a mysterious eccentric with ultramarine blue hair and a smattering of tattoos. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that, with a coy, sarcastic smile, she admits are real. What the outside world doesn’t know is that the monsters ARE real and they are the only family she’s ever known. As Karou grows older, she grows more and more curious about who her family is and who she really is.
There are four main reasons why I loved this book: unique romance, diverse female characters, well-devised plot, and kick-ass fight scenes. Also, the suspense grabs your life like the Hunger Games but allows you to absorb the storyline, with each chapter ending on a deepening plot line, not an insatiable craving for more (which was masterfully done by Collins).
On top of that fantasy novel, may I present Graceling by Kristin Cashore–a fantastic piece of literature:
The physically and emotionally strong character of Katsa presents readers with a unique female protagonist–one employed by her king to kill and intimidate. As a graceling, one with a super-charged ability, Katsa can kill with precision. She appears to have accepted her savageness but rejects it at the same time. With friends of her home kingdom, Katsa forms a secret group seeking to do good in their land filled with selfish kings.
During a special mission to save a captive king’s father, Katsa stumbles across a mysterious, curious man from the island of Lienid. He later comes to the castle where Katsa stays and befriends her. His forward questions regarding Katsa’s grace encourage Katsa to act upon her reservations towards being the king’s thug. Katsa’s identity struggle regarding her “innate savageness” rise throughout the novel. A forward moving plot where character development is the main driving force. An honest romance where the male respects the wild spirit of the female.
How fabulously reassuring that young teen girls are reading such diverse and influential literature–for fun! With literature such as this, and others which I’ll list below, it’s encouraging to know that young teen girls are being given a wide range of personalities in the protagonists they come to admire, where the plot is reliant on them and not their love interests. For guys, they are seeing a rich diversity in women’s personalities. All in all, a victory.
Further reading on thought-provoking teen literature and strong-willed females:
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (obviously)
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Ash by Malinda Lo
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Absolutely Tue Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake