One year ago today a little book was published that had the title Where Things Come Back and it was authored by a young man named John Corey Whaley. In January Where Things Come Back received both the William C. Morris Debut Award and the Michael L. Printz Award, because this book is that awesome. Today at TLT we are celebrating the 1 year anniversary of Where Things Come Back with a Why YA? post and a Q&A with John Corey Whaley. Somewhere in these posts you will find a way to enter to win a signed copy of Where Things Come Back. Happy book anniversary.
For many years now I’ve been quite obsessed with children’s literature: collecting the Newberys, reading as much as I can, writing a little here and there, and working toward my Masters in Library and Information Science, specifically to become a children’s librarian… until about 4 months ago.
You see, a few strange things happened at the beginning of the year. I’d reluctantly registered for a YA class this semester and, after considering dropping the class for another option, decided to stick around. At least this was a good reason to reread The Hunger Games (#TeamKatniss).
And then another thing happened. The American Library Association announced the Youth Media Awards for 2012 and, having set (and broken) a rule for myself about continuously buying books when I hadn’t read all the ones on my shelf, I’d told myself I could buy one book off the awards list. One book, Callie Ann, and that is all.
Now, typically I would have gone straight for the Newbery list, but, this time, another title caught my eye. Perhaps it was fate. Perhaps it was the YA class I’d just started. Perhaps it was the author being inspired by Sufjan Stevens. Whatever the case may be, I picked up a title I’d never heard of, by a guy I’d never heard of. I figured if this John Corey Whaley character had won both the Printz and the Morris, there must be something to this book.
As I wandered through Lily, Arkansas searching for that blasted bird and a beloved little brother, I discovered 17-year-old Callie Ann, wandering through Tuscumbia, Alabama, eating burgers at Cold Water Café and screaming cuss words in the Tennessee River. (I also developed quite a crush on Lucas Cader. Sorry Cullen… and Mena.)
Needless to say, I loved Where Things Come Back. I finished it and immediately wanted to read it again. I thought, “If this is YA lit, bring it on.”
I guess this is the point in the conversation where I should formally thank Corey Whaley for jump-starting a new passion teenagers and YA literature. In the last four months, not only have I entered the many new worlds of Mal Peet, Sherman Alexie, Jaqueline Woodson, and so on, but I have also rediscovered the wonderful, heartbreaking years of teen-dom.
Some call it adolescence. Some call it youth. Some call it young adulthood. Whatever you call it, there is one thing we must acknowledge: it is important. Over the course of a few months, I’ve realized that these years we all experience are immeasurably important, and yet forgotten. I’ll be the first to admit that I have actively avoided teenagers for years now. When, at the beginning of the semester, given an assignment to interview a teen who wasn’t related to me, I slightly panicked.
I’ve realized teenagers are, quite possibly, the most forgotten group among libraries. And this fact is infinitely sad. And we, as adults, aren’t fooling anyone. Teens know they’re forgotten. It can be seen simply in the size of so many library YA departments. YA departments are tiny and, unless you’re in a large city, usually don’t actually have their own librarian. A teenager comes in with a question and is referred to a children’s librarian. And, come on folks, you remember what it was like. No teenager wants to be called a child. Teenagers aren’t children.
And you know what else they’re not? Adults. Why do we get so uptight when teenagers get a little rowdy? When they laugh and cut up and don’t whisper in the library? These are typical teenage behaviors. What’s the big deal?
And so, we expect teenagers to act like either children or adults, when in fact they are neither.
So what can we, as adults and as librarians, do about this predicament? How can we help this forgotten group? Here are a few suggestions:
Say “hey” to a teenager. Hell, just smile at one. Think about your years as a teenager. Sure, it wasn’t all pretty, but that’s the point. The universal themes of teen-dom don’t change much. We can all relate. So start relating.
Pick up a YA novel and start reading. If we think about it, we’d realize many pieces we consider classics would be classified as Young Adult, were the published today. The Catcher in the Rye. The Outsiders. All those books we were forced to read in high school. And now that “Young Adult” is recognized as its own division, department, whatever you want to call it, there is a plethora of really fantastic books out there. Pick one up. Check one out. Get to reading.
As Cullen Witter (by the way, Corey, I see what you did there, giving your protagonist your initials along with your sarcasm) reminds us “I wanted the world to sit back, listen up, and let me explain to it that when someone is sad and hopeless, the last thing they need to feel is that they are the only ones in the world with that feeling.”
Fellow adults, let us not continue this path of creating loneliness for our teens. Let us cultivate an environment that is open and inviting, reminding teenagers that we were there once, too, and we believe they are important.
As for this children’s-turned-YA librarian in training, I must conclude this break from homework. After all, it is finals week… Thanks for reading.
I'm Callie Ann. I'm working on my Masters of Library and Information Science at the University of Alabama. Goals in life: 1. Be awesome (check) 2. Write some books (check) 3. Get published (workin' on it) 4. Roadtrip the east coast 5. Shave my head 6. Live in a lighthouse. You're welcome.
Ironically, John Corey Whaley was one of the first to write a Why YA? post here at TLT. Read it and write your own. This week is the 1 year anniversary of when Where Things Come Back was published, so thanks Callie for this timely post.