Please welcome funny girl and Young Adult author, Jenny B. Jones, as she shares a little about the world of YA fiction. And grab a pen and paper because you’ll want to run to the book store and stock up on a number of titles (for yourself AND the young reader in your life) when you’re finished reading. Trust me, I own half the books she mentions. They’re among my all time favorites.
Thanks to mega-authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, young adult fiction has been flying off the shelves and into the hands of…adults. According to the New York Times and surveys by the Codex Group, forty-seven percent of 18-24 year-old women report most of their book purchases are YA. Says the author of the article “The Kids’ Books Are All Right,” Pamela Paul, the percentage of YA fans ages 25-44 has almost doubled in the past four years.
If you haven’t picked up a YA novel since you learned how to be a fourth grade nothing, read through the files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, or wondered if God was ever going to be there for a girl named Margaret, you are missing out. But fear not–there’s time to catch up.
Citing reasons such as fast pace, great characterization, and a whole world of plots, adults have helped many YA books reach the best seller lists. So what’s the fuss all about? If you need a little help in knowing where to start, allow me to do a little book chat.
1. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. This is actually book two in a series (book one is A Long Way From Chicago), but you need not have read the others to enjoy Down Yonder. I read this years ago, and it remains one of my top three favorite books of all time. Think you might be too old for this middle level book about life in the Depression? I made my Grandmother read it. Her response after reading? “Bring me the next book.” This book has heart, humor, Peck’s amazing way with words, and some of the best characters you’ll ever find.
2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. According to the New York Times, about half the Hunger Games fans on Facebook are adults. I’ve seen some of the Hollywood elite even tweeting about this series. Set in the future, after the U.S. has fallen apart, this is the story of Katniss. When her sister draws the short stick in a lottery to play in the Hunger Games, Katniss gives the ultimate sacrifice and takes her place. Survivor has nothing on the Hunger Games, and we read as Katniss braves one challenge after another, trying to stay alive. Not exactly a Judy Blume book, but the series hasn’t sold a bajillion copies for nothing.
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. A Printz Honor book, starred review by Library Journal, and New York Times bestseller, this novel is told by Death, the omniscient narrator. Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living near Munich during WWII, survives by stealing. One day she encounters something she can’t resist–books. Her foster father teaches young Liesel to read, and she begins to share the books with her neighbors during the bombing raids. She also shares with the Jewish man hidden in her home…before he is taken to Dachau. A funny, happy book? No. One that will grab you with a powerful story and not let go? Yes. To quote the book, “This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.”
4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. The perfect series to read and pick you right up after The Book Thief. The books are told in cartoon illustration and prose vignettes from the POV of middle schooler, Greg. This is the book to take to the doctor’s office when you’re stuck in the waiting room with that breast feeding magazine from 1998 and Golf Digest. While I adore humor, few books make me laugh out loud. This one made the cut. When I read Wimpy Kid, heads turn I’m giggling so often. Brilliant. And spot-on with the insight into middle school life. A great read-aloud with the kids.
5. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. This small book is about ten-year-old Kaitlyn, a girl who has Asperger’s and struggles in life on a daily basis. The world just doesn’t make sense to her. When the book opens, she has been freshly thrown into grief, after the loss of her older brother. An amazing, poignant look at the world through the head of a child with Asperger’s, it sure taught this teacher something about the condition, one I was already familiar with. Beautifully written–simple, yet so complex. The end offers hope and grace. It will have you smiling, laughing, holding your breath, and awash in wonder at the handicapped mind of a child, who in the end, is the one who possesses the most wisdom. And shares it with all. I loved this book.
6. The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Both books are must-reads. Selnick is both author and artist. His books are both prose and illustrations. Both tell a story. These two books are brilliantly creative, a gift for the eyes, and also a great read with the family. Hugo is the story of a boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station who wants to continue the work of his late father–fixing an automaton. But the automaton holds secrets, and the book does what Selznick is famous for–incredible twists and plot-intertwining you couldn’t possibly guess. Magic. Sheer magic. Apparently Hollywood thought so too. A movie is on the way.
Wonderstruck, Selznick’s newest release, tells one story in prose, while weaving in another tale, occurring in the past, through drawings. His illustrations flow like a silent movie. I read this 608 page book in one day. Despite the girth, it’s a fast-moving story, and both threads meet in the end with the Selznick twist. Do yourself a favor and pick up these two novels. But under no circumstances, get this book on an e-reader. Has to be the real-deal book. Trust me on this one. You won’t be sorry.
7. Anything by Kate DiCamillo, such as The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or The Magician’s Elephant. I am not sure there is a better writer out there than DiCamillo. She not only has a fast-moving plot, but words that will have you tearing up at the sheer beauty. I have no idea if Kate’s a believer or not, but every book is packed with messages of faith, hope, and love. Whether the author meant it or not, the Holy Spirit is in these pages. Incredible books that can be shared with the family. One of my favorite lines:
“You must be filled with expectancy. You must be awash in hope.”
You not only read lines such as that in her prose, but you feel them.
True works of art.
Finally, a quick list to wrap it up. You might also consider picking up:
Anna and the French Kiss (a teen girl goes to an American school in Paris. And yes. She kisses someone.)
Warriors Don’t Cry (nonfiction account of the Little Rock Nine) (Nonfiction account implies boring–it’s so not.)
City of Bones (a whole futuristic series here)
Delirium (Dystopian lit is the rage, and this is my favorite of the masses. A tale of life where the ability to love is surgically removed. Really interesting concept that will have you thinking.)
The Giver (middle level book, and in my mind, very close to being an allegory of the sacrifice of Christ)
Also consider authors like Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jerry Spinelli, Jennifer Donnelly, Rick Riordan, Louis Sachar, and Sharon Creech, just to name a few.
Young adult novels have a little something for everyone. Intrigue, romance, suspense, action, gripping characters, and issues that even we big kids can relate to.
So you know that section in Barnes and Noble they expand every time you go in the store, the one that’s nearly taking over the self-help and knitting book space? Do yourself a favor, grab a mocha, and go peruse the shelves.
You’ll be glad you did.
So what about you? Any YA readers out there? Share your favorite young adult reads.
Jenny B. Jones writes young adult romance, as well as romantic comedies for women, such as Save the Date. Her latest release, a YA, There You’ll Find Me, was a Romantic Times Top Pick and was recently reviewed at USA Today.com. The story of Finley Sinclair, a foreign exchange student trying to find peace for her grief in Ireland, There You’ll Find Me also has its fair share of adult women readers. You can find Jenny at www.jennybjones.com.