Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

If Adults Are the People Buying YA Literature, Should We Still Call It YA? I Say Yes!

whyyaOn Monday, David Thorpe at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure pointed out that current statistics indicate that 80% of YA fiction titles are purchased by adults. This percentage has seemingly increased since the last time we talked about this here at TLT back in 2012 when we discussed that We NEED YA Books for Teens. At that time the percentage was in the high 50s. And since then we have seen a huge increase in adults openly embracing their love of reading YA. They even participate in things like the Forever YA Book Club (and I am a member of the DFW chapter). I have no problem with adults reading and enjoying YA fiction. I am an adult who reads and enjoys YA fiction. But I do have a problem with adults taking over the YA market in such a way that we start considering whether or not we should even call the market YA. The answer is: we should. Teens need, want and read YA fiction. The YA category in bookstores and libraries makes it that much easier for teens to find the books they want, need and read. Like the Juniors section at your local clothing store or the Country category at your local record store, it’s a label designed to help the target market easily find the product they are looking for. It doesn’t exclude others, but it does help increase access. It also is a label of validation. By writing, publishing and marketing age appropriate books for teen readers that they can more easily identify with, we as a society communicate to our teens that we respect them, we value them, that they have a space among us to call home. I said a lot of these same types of things on Monday when I tweeted about this so rather than repeat myself, I Storified the tweets for you. There are also some tweets from others that were wise and affirming. And if you are interested, here is another passionate defense I make about YA literature titled Dear Media, Let Me Help You Write That Article About YA Literature.

What should we call YA (this link will take you to the Storify story)

If Most YA is Bought by Adults, Should We Still Call it YA?

Once again it has come up that a majority of YA fiction tends to be purchased by adults and the question was asked, should we still call it YA if adults are the ones mostly buying (and presumably reading) it? And here is my answer (with some help from my friends on Twitter).

  1. I have a lot of thoughts about this, but my basic answer is yes. Other useful info in the post as well.  https://twitter.com/JensBookPage/status/651140736398680064 …
  2. Re last RT: TEENS DESERVING THEIR OWN BOOKS! So please don’t let the fact that adults are buying/reading YA take YA away from them.
  3. Re last RT: TEENS DESERVING THEIR OWN BOOKS! So please don’t let the fact that adults are buying/reading YA take YA away from them.
  4. There are so many signals society already sends that let teens know we don’t value them. Keep YA, and Keep YA for Teens.
  5. I begrudge no adult who wants to buy and read YA for whatever reason, but let’s not change YA because they do. Teens NEED YA.
  6. As a YA librarian, I can assure that TEENS WANT, NEED, AND READ YA. Every day I talk with them. Trust me.
  7. Yes, they need to know where/how to find the books that reflect their lives. Adults already have large sections.  https://twitter.com/JensBookPage/status/651143236698816513 …
  8. I would love to know more about this as well. I mean, I buy YA. I read YA. I also have a Teen. And I work w/teens.  https://twitter.com/mosylu/status/651144058518175744 …
  9. .@TLT16 @JensBookPage Teens have limited disposable income. Most of their things are purchased by adults.
  10. .@TLT16 @JensBookPage We never say “most teen clothing is purchased by adults! maybe we should call it something different!”
  11. There was almost no YA when I was a teen. I read adult books. What a difference it would be if I had access 2 the YA books 2day. I needed YA
  12. I needed to know that my peers thought, feared, and worried about the same things. That I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t abnormal.
  13. I needed to know that there were other sexual assault survivors, that there were other anorexics, others who were lost.
  14. Anything good that teens have, adults want to claim for themselves, which leads to pushing teens out of it. grrrr. @TLT16
  15. I couldn’t relate to the things in the adult fiction I read. I didn’t know what it meant to be married. To be a mom. I struggled 2 connect.
  16. When I see my teens reading YA, I see how much it matters. How much it helps them in this personal journey.
  17. I needed YA when I was a teen because it probably saved my life. Thank you, Wintergirls.  https://twitter.com/TLT16/status/651145285234618370 …
  18. The “but adults read YA too” argument reminds me too much of “but all lives matter”- yes they do, but that’s BESIDE THE POINT @TLT16
  19. I see my teenage daughter reading Sarah Dessen, & Kissing in America and more to help her navigate teenage friendships. I am thankful 4 this
  20. I see her dipping her toes into YA romance as she is just starting to think about this & I am grateful it is there for her.
  21. Basically, I’m thankful teens today have the YA they want & need to navigate the teen years. Let them keep it. #yasaves
  22. And yes, YA is well written & funny & entertaining. That doesn’t mean it still can’t be for teens. They deserve quality. They deserve fun.
  23. I’m now going to call my baby & ask her what she’s reading today because that’s another thing about YA, it bonds, builds bridges, open doors
  24. In fact, if you are an adult that cares about any teen, you should read YA and then talk to the teens in your life about it. Communication!

Edited to add this link shared on Twitter by Hippodilly Circus: A Letter to Teachers, Stop Telling Teens You Don’t Like Them

In defense of teens by Heather Booth

If you haven’t read the recent article chastising adults for enjoying teen lit, you could seek it out, or you could just not bother (we won’t link to it here). I did have the misfortune of reading it. It didn’t make me angry though, it made me sad. And it didn’t make me sad for the way teen lit is perceived, it made me sad for all of us, because the attitude presented is so prevalent in our society and it colors the way teens experience the world. I’m talking about the clear disdain for teens. The way the domain of adolescence is habitually disparaged as an unfortunate phase that people should escape from as soon as possible. The way adult culture – literature, clothing styles, music, leisure time preferences – are all displayed as the ideal, the pinnacle for which we should all strive.

Let’s, for a minute, recall our own awkward and difficult adolescent moments. Now let’s set those aside and remember the value of teenagehood and what else youth offered us.

It gave us summer vacation. It gave many of us freedom from the confines of a job. It gave us the ability to focus on ourselves and be cared for by someone else. It gave us the opportunity to craft ourselves out of myriad possibilities – to try on theater club one year and be a newspaper photographer the next and to try out for volleyball, and when that didn’t work out, to be a runner on the track team because they took everyone. When was the last time you had that flexibility in redefining yourself as an adult?

That article made me sad because it shows no understanding of the worth of teenagers. No importance of the value of that time in our lives. No respect for teens as people. Not people about to become adults, not people who are unfortunately stuck where they are for the time being. Not defined by their lack of and striving for adulthood, but interesting, valuable, whole people just as they are now.

Read whatever you want; I don’t care. What you read doesn’t define who you are. But if you can’t appreciate the stories of teens written for teens, it says a lot more about who you aren’t. If you can’t do this, it means you aren’t able to suspend your own absorption in your own life and experience that of someone else’s. It means you aren’t able to empathize with people who are younger than you. It means you think you’re better than them. And you’re not. None of us is. Because we are them and they are us. Don’t be embarrassed to read teen lit. Be embarrassed that you think reading it should embarrass you.

-Heather

Why YA? David James talks The Year of Ice

Author David James will be hosting our #TLTDiversity Twitter chat on Wednesday. Today, he is telling us “Why YA?”


I can be fearful of things in the way we all can be when the words “what” and “if” are squeezed together to create uncertainty. When separate, those two little words are harmless; together, they may be reason enough to make the world shake. What if I can’t? What if I’m wrong? What if this doesn’t work? Pushed together, those two little words can be scary, but they are why I love to read YA. You see, to me YA isn’t about following reason. Like Brian Malloy’s The Year of Ice, most YA literature is about following your heart. Instead of living through reason or fear, YA is about living through love and hope.
 
St. Martin’s 2002 ISBN 9780312313692
The Year of Ice is a dance between who one boy thinks he should be and who he wants to be. Kevin Doyle is lost. His mother is gone, and his father might as well be. Stuck in a world where everyone knows him but where he doesn’t know himself, Kevin’s life is filled with self-discovery, secrets, and sexuality. Family and divorce and prejudice. Young loves and old loves. But like those two little words we can sometimes fear, when everything in Brian Malloy’s symphony builds and comes crashing together, The Year of Ice is about much more than the uncertain fears of one boy. This is a story about life, love, and loss. A story about finding possibility in a place where it’s not usually found. About living when life is difficult. And here, this quote from The Year of Ice, is one of the reasons why I read YA so often: “I won’t regret what I didn’t do. That’s important too. Not second-guessing yourself. Because you can make up this whole life based on what you didn’t do. And it’s always a wonderful life, better than the one you have.”  
I’ve lived for twenty six years and like Kevin Doyle, I still don’t know exactly who I should be. I know who I am, who I want to be. But as for who I shouldbe, I’m not really sure. I’m not sure anyone ever truly is. Still, I try not to second guess myself. I try to live without regrets. I try to follow my heart, use love instead of strict reason. Because sometimes in life there is no reason. Just love. Or maybe it’s hope. Maybe it’s hope that makes us tick, and love that makes us breathe. In the end, maybe loving is living. And maybe, just maybe, when we place “what” and “if” side by side, we are creating possibility instead of fear. Hope instead of uncertainty.
 
 
So, why do I read YA? Because we are all still a little unsure. We all could use some reminding of the romanticism of youth and the wonderful hope it brings to our jaded realities. We all live lives filled with questions, some quiet and some loud. We all have secrets, curiosities as to who we are and who we will become. We all wonder what will happen when “what” and “if” collide. And most importantly, I read YA because we all still fall in love, and because sometimes we need to be reminded that it’s okay to follow our hearts.
 
Bio: David James writes books about stars and kisses and curses. He is the author of the YA novel, LIGHT OF THE MOON, the first book in the Legend of the Dreamer series. A novella for the series, THE WARRIOR’S CODE, as well as the sequel, SHADOW OF THE SUN, will be released in 2013. Living in Michigan, he is addicted to coffee, gummy things, and sarcastic comments. He enjoys bad movies and shivery nights, but doesn’t really like writing bios about himself in the third person. Be sure to visit David’s facebook and twitter to learn more about his various addictions and novels.

Why YA? (again): Fear and loathing in YA literature

Last year, there was some brouhaha about the YA Literature label that prompted me to write a defense of YA Lit and sparked a series of posts where many of us – librarians, authors, readers – shared our favorite YA titles and what made them rich, moving pieces of literature.

Fast forward to now.  I have been loving and looking forward to the upcoming movie release of Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion.  It has zombies, a definite plus in my book.  And this is a title – like the works of Daniel Kraus – that has wide age and cross genre appeal.  So imagine my surprise when today I became aware of a post at Read Now Sleep Later in which blogger Alathea discusses Marion’s views on having his book, Warm Bodies, labelled as YA.  Needless to say, they aren’t pretty.

I think that Alathea discusses the issues really well and I encourage you to read the post.  The bottom line is this: YA literature, like all literature, is vast and has a vast array of subject, content and quality.  There are supremely fine works of YA literature just as there are dismal examples of adult literature.  And when adults disparage the YA label, they are also disparaging the YA audience, as if they are somehow beneath them and not worthy of or capable of a good story.

The teen years are a critical time in identity formation, and teens already feel disrespected and disenfranchised by adults.  If adults want teens to transition into the adult years in healthy ways, we need to be their biggest cheerleaders and provide them with opportunities of all sorts, including reading opportunities.

Some authors may think that being labelled YA will cut down on their perspective sales, but as a YA librarian I can assure you that a good book is a good book and if you write one, people will read it.  I spend time talking to adults EVERY DAY who are reading YA lit because they recognize the quality in the writing.

Writing YA lit doesn’t cut down on sales or limit your audience, but it does let teen readers know that there are adults in this world who value the teenagers in their lives enough to write quality literature for them.  What a profoundly empowering message that is.

Why YA? Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) and Impossible (Nancy Werlin) as discussed by author Lea Nolan

Why YA? Because it’s important. And because I know what it’s like to live without it. 

Today, Lea Nolan, author of the new ya book Conjure from Entangled Publishing, shares her Why YA? story with us.  Conjure is book 1 in the The Hoodoo Apprentice.  In this awesome adventure there are messages in a bottle from the past, secret pirate bounties and demon dogs.  The fact that Nolan is writing ya is remarkable when you read what she shares in her story.
 
I couldn’t read until the third grade. This deficiency was likely due to my attendance at a low-performing elementary school where my teachers didn’t realize I wasn’t learning, and the fact that I likely suffered from attention deficit disorder as a child. After moving to a new school and receiving intensive remedial help, plus a lot of hard work, it finally clicked. And I promptly fell in love with books. The stories I clutched in my hands transported me to fantastical worlds where anything was possible and my imagination soared. More importantly, books provided a refuge from my chaotic childhood, which was dominated by my mother’s battle with a devastating chronic disease, and a sibling’s budding serious mental illness. Quite simply, I read to escape.  

By the time I hit junior high, I had read just about every well-known stand-alone book and series for kids. My favorite authors were of course Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engle, EL Konigsburg, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and EB White, but I devoured any and all books that crossed my path, then licked my fingers clean reliving the plot and character’s choices in my head.  

But then I grew up a little, and grew out of these books. Since it was the early 1980s, there wasn’t much left that was geared to teens. So I jumped to the next tier of stories that kids like me were reading, books written by VC Andrews, Jean M. Auel, Stephen King, Anne Rice, and a whole lot of Harlequin romances. Don’t get me wrong, these provided great entertainment, but they weren’t written for a twelve year old. Like all adult conversations a kid might eavesdrop on, I comprehended their words, but I couldn’t completely understand their meaning. How could I? I wasn’t the intended audience, and I certainly didn’t have enough life experience to truly empathize with the adult characters and their problems.  

So I embarked on my teenage years without true literary companions. There were no coming of age stories to help me grapple with the mounting pressure of my mother’s sickness and increasing disability, the havoc created by an equally ill and abusive sibling, or the typical trials of an American teenager struggling to find acceptance, dabbling with alcohol and testing the boundaries of intimacy with boys.  

Eventually I worked it all out, persevered and came out the other side relatively unscathed, going on to college and graduate school and establishing a successful career as a health policy researcher and writer. But looking back I realize I traversed that journey on my own.   
 

Flash forward to my late thirties when a friend handed me Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. A teen book? I was sure I’d hate it or at the very least would suffer through it. But she persisted, extolling its virtues and raving about the power of its romance. Oh-kay, sure, fine. I agreed if only to gain a deeper understanding of how my friend who had a PhD and taught at the collegiate level could be so drawn in by a book about teenagers.  

Well, I did read it. And I fell under its spell too. Meyer’s ability to tap into the deep longing and heart-gripping intensity of first love knocked me on my bottom and rekindled powerful emotions I’d long forgotten amid my daily life as a wife, mom and career woman.  
 
 
So I started reading more YA books. Partly because, like so many others who’d read Twilight, I was thinking of writing my own book, but mostly because I was really excited by this new genre than didn’t exist when I was young. And that’s when Impossible by Nancy Werlin changed my life. This book, based on the song “Scarborough Fair” blends the very best of paranormal elements—a horrific curse which has doomed generations of women in one family, an evil Elfin Knight, and cryptic tasks that must be accomplished to end the enchantment—with realistic contemporary issues faced by teens everyday.  

Lucy, the heroine, is a foster child who survives a brutal sexual assault that results in a teenage pregnancy, while contending with her mother’s madness, and her own mounting fear that she herself will go insane. Though it’s set in a fantastical world where demonic faeries lash out against unsuspecting women, it is rooted in the here and now and filled with issues that teenagers face everyday. In the truest sense, Impossible is a coming of age story in which Lucy struggles with the most inconceivable challenges, both paranormal and terrestrial, to save herself and her child.  

Impossible blew me away. This wasn’t just a teen romance that got my heart pumping. It reached across the decades and spoke to the teen me that never had the chance to read it. How would my teenage self have responded to a book like Impossible? I think I would have relished it. Lucy had serious mommy issues, and as much as I loved my own, so did I. And though I didn’t understand the extent of my sibling’s fledgling and yet-to-be diagnosed mental illness, I was certainly aware of the daily turmoil, violence and dysfunction that swirled around her and thus my entire household. Impossible would have made me feel less alone.

Suddenly, I was sure I’d write my own book, and that I’d write YA. It was like finding something I didn’t realize was lost, but knew I desperately needed. 

And that’s why YA is important. Regardless of genre, YA books address issues that are relevant to young readers who are striving to discover themselves during a challenging and sometimes turbulent time. When adults read YA, it gives them a glimpse of teens’ lives and helps them remember how giddy, dramatic, exciting and frustrating those years can be. And best of all, most YA books accomplish this without being heavy-handed, preachy or sounding like an after-school special. YA books let readers know they’re not alone, that they can survive and even thrive through troubling circumstances. They’re the perfect companions on the journey to adulthood.
 
 

Lea Nolan writes the kinds of stories she sought as a teen—smart paranormals with bright heroines, crazy-hot heroes, diabolical plot twists, plus a dose of magic, a draft of romance, and a sprinkle of history. She’s holds degrees in history and women’s studies concentrating in public policy and spent fifteen years as a health policy analyst and researcher. She lives in Maryland with her heroically supportive husband and three clever children. Her debut YA novel, CONJURE, book one in The Hoodoo Apprentice Series releases on October 23, 2012 from Entangled Publishing under the Entangled Teen imprint. You can learn more about Lea on her website, on Facebook, Twitter and on Goodreads.  CONJUREis available at both Barnes and Noble and Amazon

Why YA? Stephen King as Honorary YA Author by Chloe Jacobs

At some point in their life, every teen will read a Stephen King book.  I remember being in the 6th grade when we were supposed to be reading The Hobbit, instead I spent that week reading It by Stephen King.  I didn’t take away from it what you would think I would, no fear of clowns, sewers or spiders.  No, instead I took away a deep longing for a childhood of mystery and friendship and a special bond forged in one one magical (and yes, terrifying) town.  Today, author Chloe Jacobs shares with us her love of YA lit and Stephen King.  (PS, please don’t tell my 6th grade teacher, but I have still never read The Hobbit.)
 
We have a lot offantastic young adult fiction to choose from these days. Everything the heartcould desire. From contemporary stories about fitting in and finding love, tohorror and dystopians. Vampires and magic. Books for young adults are deep,dark, smart, and amazingly refreshing. They challenge teens and adults alike.They ask us to believe in ourselves and what we can do. They don’t patronize teens,talk down to them, or pander to the expectations of a society that onlypretends to understand what our young people go through on a daily basis. Not comparedto the fodder that was available for the age group even ten or fifteen yearsago.


I remember standing infront of the shelves at the library when I was fifteen with so much frustrationbecause the books they said were for my “age” were So. Freaking. Boring.Patronizing. Contrived. I knew then it was either give up on them, or give upon reading altogether. (I thought about taking up extreme skateboarding, but Ihave absolutely NO coordination). It’s a good thing I just gave up on those“teen” books instead of reading altogether, and moved on to bigger and better books.If not, who knows where I’d be today. I have a feeling it wouldn’t be in frontof a computer, writing stories about fantasy worlds that make me so excited Iwant to shout it out to the world!

Once I did leave thatchildren’s area of the library and venture into the books for adults, I read somany great stories, and yet…I am certain that many of the books I was drawn to thenwould be categorized as young adult if they were published today.

For example, The Talisman (co-written by Stephen Kingand Peter Straub) published in 1984, is not a YA – or at least it wasn’tconsidered to be when I found it on the shelf – even though it’s about a twelveyear old kid named Jack who sets out on an epic adventure in an attempt to savehis mother, who lies in a crappy hotel room dying of cancer. Along the way, hefinds himself travelling sometimes in our world, and other times in anotherworld that exists parallel to ours. In both worlds, though, there are peopleworking to stop Jack from reaching the one thing that may be able to help hismother.
 
 
When I think of thisbook, I remember that it had all of the things I love about YA books today. It’snot a perfect book by any means (the pacing can be slow, and some of thesituations require some suspension of disbelief). But the characters are fantastic,and Jack’s journey is so full of growth, his pain and desperation are so real,that when I sat down with the book at the age of fifteen, I went on thatjourney with him. I felt his loneliness and his fear.

But why did I decideto blog about this old book that was published in the 1980s when I could havechosen any number of fabulous YA books that have come out this year? Because aweek before I found this book my grandfather died. He was the ultimatedefinition of “cantankerous old coot” but he loved me unconditionally, and Iloved him so much I couldn’t breathe when I heard how sick he was. I couldn’tbreathe, or see, or stand. And I was angry. Soangry. Because he hadn’t told me—nobody had told me—until it was too late. Itall happened so fast. He was already in the hospital. Already slipping away.And I felt cheated. There wasn’t enough time to say good bye the way I wouldhave wanted to.

And afterward, The Talisman was the first book I read.It not only helped me keep my love of reading alive when I had almost given upon it. It was also the book that helped me come to terms with the anger andpain that overwhelmed me when my grandfather died of cancer. Because Jack wason the same road as I was. Both of us were fighting not to let go of the peoplewe loved, fighting to keep them from succumbing to the sickness that would dragthem out of our lives before we were ready.

This is why I’mexcited about the books available to young adults today. When my heart hurt andI felt sorrow so deep I didn’t know how to deal with it, I couldn’t talk toanyone about how I was feeling. I was at the age when I didn’t really want totalk to anyone about anything. Not to mention, my whole family was upset andgrieving, and I thought that “complaining” about how sad I was would only make mattersworse. But when I found the right book, I also found the ability to work out myemotions and find some manner of peace…and everyone should have thatopportunity. The opportunity to find peace. The opportunity to find acceptance,understanding, and even love.

Do you think Stephen King should be an honorary YA author? Who else would you make an honorary YA author? And what adult books did you read as a teen that would probably be published as YA today?

Chloe Jacobs is anative of nowhere and everywhere, having jumped around to practically everyProvince of Canada before finally settling in Ontario where she has now beenliving for a respectable number of years. Her husband and son are the two bestpeople in the entire world, but they also make her wish she’d at least gotten afemale cat. No such luck. And although the day job keeps her busy, she carvesout as much time as possible to write. Bringing new characters to life andfinding out what makes them tick and how badly she can make them suffer is oneof her greatest pleasures, almost better than chocolate and fuzzy pink bunnyslippers.
Greta and the Goblin King (The Mylena Chronicles book 1) by Chloe Jacobs
Coming in November of 2012 by Entangled Publishing
ISBN: 9781620610022
Herdebut Young Adult fantasy, GRETA ANDTHE GOBLIN KING, will be available everywhere in November 2012! In the meantime,check her out online…

2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley remembers . . .

In honor of the anniversary of 9/11, we are re-running a piece written by the 2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley on the book Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan.  This piece originally appeared on April 18, 2012 as part of our Why YA? series.

I’ll make a confession: I read YA books. You know what else I read? I read newspaper articles, blogposts, essays, poetry, and . . . . wait for it . . . . adult literary fiction. It’s possible to read them all and experience them all respectively. But, to be quite honest, YA books have the most special place in my heart. They are the titles I remember instantly when asked “What’s your favorite book?” YA books are the ones we keep with us for years and years, lifetimes even.


So I was asked to write about a YA book that means something to me, but there are so many that I’ve had a hard time choosing just one. I could go with the literary masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which would most assuredly be classified as YA were it to be newly published today. Or, I could choose a more recent work like Sherman Alexie’s heartfelt, painful, and gorgeous The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. What about Frank Portman’s hilarious King Dork or Stephen Chbosky’s ode to teenage sexual/emotional confusion and angst, The Perks of Being a Wallflower? I could go on and on about these titles and why they transcend the adult-teenager literary divide. But, some of these I read as a teenager and I thought, to play fair, I’d discuss a YA book that I discovered as an adult.

In the few months prior to the release of my own YA book, I decided to read several titles that I’d had on my radar for years. The one that has stuck with me most from that period of time (and will always stick with me) was David Leviathan’s Love is the Higher Law. This beautiful sincere novel told from the multiple perspectives of New York City teenagers in the wake of the September 11th attacks meant more to me than most books I’ve ever read in my life. I think there are several reasons why this is true and why I would never be ashamed to be caught reading this title in a public place (thank you, Mr. Stein).

One reason is the beauty and courage with which Levithan approaches his characters as they experience, together and respectively, a rapidly changing world in which they suddenly learn they have very little control. Their conversations, relationships, and emotions (and lack there of, sometimes) spoke to me on a personal level.

You see, I was seventeen on September 11, 2001. Mind you, I was all the way down in Louisiana, far away from the actual events of the day, but I felt it just as I think most of us did. I felt a physical change in the world that I had no idea how to respond to mentally or emotionally. When I read this book, ten years later, I realized how I wasn’t alone with that feeling as a seventeen year old. I read about Claire, Peter, and Jasper and how they were just as lost as I was, as a lot of us were, I think.

Levithan found a way to capture something that I think, as a writer of any genre, is nearly impossible. He captured perfectly that universal haunting feeling that one gets when he or she realizes that nothing in the world makes a damn bit of sense anymore. And he did this in a YA book. Go figure.

Speaking of “universal experiences,” I want to end by saying this: we were all teenagers. It’s one of the very few things that every single adult on this planet has in common. We have different faiths, different careers, different types of families, different geographic locations, and even different eating habits. But one thing we all have is the memory of being a teenager. We remember how it felt, how awesome it was sometimes and how much it sucked other times. We remember discovering things for ourselves and making mistakes we knew better than to make in the first place. We all share so few things, but being a teenager and knowing what it means to be one is a damn important one. I write YA books because I choose to tell stories about growing up and about being a teenager and about discovering the world and the way its people work. I do this not because I am too dumb to write adult books (in fact, I’m working on one now), but because teenagers are just us a few years ago. They’re just waiting to grow up and become more bruised and cynical by the ways of the world. I write YA because teenagers read with open eyes and, you know what? Maybe more adults should do the same. Now, excuse me while I go proudly wave my YA books in public places.

John Corey Whaley is the 2012 Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris Award winner for his debut novel, Where Things Come Back. He was also named a 2011 5 Under 35 Author by the National Book Foundation. Find out more at his webpage and follow him on Twitter (@corey_whaley). Where Things Comes Back is the moving tale of Cullen Witter and his life in a small town with a missing brother, a missionary who is lost in other ways, and the strange reappearance of the extinct Lazarus Woodpecker. “Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It’s about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances.” – from Goodreads.com “This extraordinary tale from a rare literary voice finds wonder in the ordinary and illuminates the hope of second chances.” – Amazon.com

Why YA? Ash (Malinda Lo) as discussed by Christie Gibrich

Today’s Why YA? post is brought to you by TLT contributor Christie Gibrich, MLS
Why YA? Because the Shoe Fits
Meeting people for the first (or second time), and it is usually pretty predictable. Right after they find out my profession, the second question I’m always asked is, What do you read? (Comes right after It must be nice getting to read all day, huh?) And I admit, I will *try* to read just about anything. I know my library’s collection pretty well, and feel that I need to have a working knowledge of what my patrons want, so I keep up with new releases, even though Westerns, Historical Romances, and bright and chipper teen series can make me grit my teeth.
However, if you come to my house and inspect my bookcases (call first so I can pick up and dust, OK? I can’t seem to find any house elves that want to live in Texas) the shelves that hold my books are mostly fiction and run a little darker – mysteries by JD Robb and Sara Prelutsky, science fiction and fantasy by McCaffrey and Tanya Huff and Mercedes Lackey, books by Laurel K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison mixed in with the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, the earlier works of Stephen King. These are the books that I go back to time and time again, because for me they stand up to multiple reading- they’re a full Sunday supper as opposed to state fair cotton candy. And on at least two large bookcases, you will find a variety of Young Adult books. Why these YA? Because they are just as beautifully written as the fiction I’ve read, and they’ve touched a chord in me.

That’s really what reading is about- finding something within the pages that hits you deep inside, that relates somehow to the reader and makes you think, that transports you to a different place, a different reality than your own. Ash, by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown, September 2009), is one of those books for me. A twisting on the traditional Cinderella tale, Aisling (Ash) is orphaned by the age of 12 and left with a stepmother and two stepsisters, and forced into the life of a servant. The only way she learns to survive is by escaping to the fairy realm, and darkening her heart. However, (SPOILERS SWEETIE), when she finds herself falling in love with the Royal Huntress (OH YES, HUNTRESS), Ash must decide between fairy and reality. It’s a dark tale, not the happy happy that most readers are familiar with, and that makes it all the more powerful in my eyes.

Ash pulls from the darker folklore that a lot of people may not be comfortable with, challenging the perception that fairies are benevolent creatures that will turn pumpkins into carriages for the fun of it and that everything turns out fine if you are pure and good and beautiful. It’s complex and lyrical in the way that Lo builds the worlds that Aisling exists in, crossing back and forth from the reality into fairy and back. I can re-read this book over and over because different passages strike me at different times- Aisling’s interactions with Clara and while Aisling tries to encourage her not to follow her step-mother blinding, Clara rebuffing her with the line “It may not be your dream, Stepsister, but do not scoff at those who do dream of it.” (159-160). The fact that it’s really not until Aisling fully accepts the death of her mother that she can find friendship and then love with Kaisa. But in the end, it’s about accepting love, letting it run its course no matter how it comes, and allowing it to be however it needs to be.
And that’s a message that everyone needs.
Have you read Ash by Malinda Lo? Tell us what you think in the comments.  And you, too, can write your own Why YA? post, find out more here.

Why YA? The Story of a Girl (Sara Zarr) as discussed by Lisa Burstein

It was only earlier this year that I read Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.  I was touched by the fact that it was a simple yet raw coming of age story about a teenage girl.  There were no bells and whistles, no magical powers or arena fights to the death – just raw, unbridled emotion.  Then, a couple of months later, I read and reviewed a book called Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein.  When I finished I wrote my review and said that Pretty Amy brought to mind Story of a Girl.  Today, in our ongoing Why YA? feature, author Lisa Burstein discusses Story of a Girl and does a brief interview with one of her writing heroes, Sara Zarr.
“A lot of people can change you – the first kid who called you a name, the first teacher who said you were smart, the first person who crowned you their best friend. It’s the change you remember, the firsts and what they meant, not really the people.”  – Sara Zarr

My mother and I had what would have been described as a strained relationship when I was in high school, but that was really a nice way of saying that I hated her and she didn’t understand me. I understood then that she tried to understand me, but because I was in high school I did not have the capacity to explain the emotions I was dealing with. I couldn’t tell her that it had nothing to do with her that I broke curfew, tried alcohol and drugs, and skipped school. That all of that had to do with what was inside me. The uncertainty, the low self-esteem, the need for acceptance from anyone but her and my father. Of course, I couldn’t tell her any of this. I didn’t want to and honestly I didn’t really realize it all myself at the time.

When I think about the many reasons why adults should read YA, the strongest argument I can come up with is to help them understand their teenagers. Not all YA books can do this. It is a special, meaningful, true book that can. Story of a Girl is such a book.

I read Story of a Girl for the first time a year ago. I was thirty-five and very far away from high school, but reading it brought me back to the confusion, emptiness and uncertainty I felt during that time. Deanna’s story was very different from mine, but the way she reacted to her surroundings, the way she kind of gave up on herself and everyone around her, was very, very familiar. So familiar that reading it was like reading my journal from the time.

Would I have let my mother read my journal? No way. But she could have read Story of a Girl. She could have given it to me to read (if it had been published at the time). We could have attempted to talk about it. Because we were not talking about anything during that time, we were yelling and fighting and not talking. I believe that something as simple and beautiful as a book could have opened a door.
What Deanna says when she talks about the stories she writes in her journal could have opened a door: “Personal feelings I did not want to feel, I gave to her.” This encapsulates what I think so many teen girls go through. Sometimes they even sort of become another person. Angry, rebellious because that is easier than letting people see the person they really are. They are afraid to be who they really are.

Zarr is a brave enough writer to present the deepest, darkest parts of a teen’s mind. The things they hide from their friends, parents, sometimes even from themselves. I cannot tell you how many times, I thought this, “What if everyone got another chance after making a big mistake?” That is how being a teen feels. Everything you do brands you. If you lie to your parent’s once, you are a liar, get caught smoking in the bathroom you are a dirt-bag smoker. You do not have the opportunity to redeem yourself, so you keep falling deeper and deeper into the person everyone thinks you are anyway. There is no way I could have explained this to my mother, but if she would have seen Deanna say it, it may have made her think.

If she had seen Deanna say, “I Deanna Lambert, belong to no one and no one belongs to me. I don’t know what to do.” She might have just given me a hug instead of screaming at me when I came home smelling of alcohol.

Story of a Girl is a book that has the power to open doors between parents and children. It is a book that could help a parent understand why their child feels like an outsider when all the parent wants is for their child to let them in. I knew when I was a teenager that my mother still loved me, but it certainly didn’t feel like she liked me. Zarr captures this effortlessly when she writes, “The girl started to wonder if anyone would look for her.” My mother didn’t seem like she wanted to help the me I was in high school, it appeared that she wanted to help the me I used to be and that hurt most of all.

As a formerly troubled teen, as someone who thought daily what Deanna thought about her own life, “How, how am I supposed to find my own way out?” I would advocate that parents search out books like Story of a Girl when they feel like they don’t know where else to turn. Your teen probably thinks “My life is a question mark,” just like Deanna does when you ask them why they do the things they do. Books like Story of a Girl have the power to help you know your child, which even if they don’t admit it, is all they really want.

While talkinga bout Story of a Girl should be enough to make you want to go out and read it right now, Sara Zarr agreed to talk to us about it as well.  How awesome is that?  Below are just a few of me and some of my Twitter followers had for her.

What YA book do you think adults would benefit from reading?

There isn’t one specific book for all adults, but I encourage people to spend some time browsing the young adult section of the library or book store. I think people who only hear about YA through the mainstream media think all of YA is The Hunger Games, Twilight, or Harry Potter. In truth, it’s a huge, huge category of publishing, with something for everyone.

What did you intend readers to take away from Story of A Girl when you wrote it?

My intention is always just to tell the story that’s in my head, and do it the best I can, and hope that readers connect on some level while they’re reading it. With all my books, I’m just trying to tell a story. I do think there’s lots to take away if people are open to it, but I only hope they enjoy the book at whatever level organically happens for them.

What did readers take away from Story of a Girl that you didn’t expect?

There’s been some discussion that the story is partly about the double-standard (for girls vs. boys) when it comes to sexuality, that I didn’t really expect. And also some comparisons to The Scarlet Letter, which I’ve never read!

What was the best compliment you’ve received from an adult who read Story of A Girl?

One of my aunts, who is in her 70s, said that the emotions of Deanna’s struggle with herself and with her dad felt real to her experience, though her adolescence is over 50 years behind her and was in a very different time. This upholds my theory that the personal experience of moving from childhood to adulthood stays pretty much the same – it’s the context, the language, the accessories that change.

How did you get the idea for Story of a Girl?

It’s been so long now that I can’t totally remember. But I know this particular book started with characters. Deanna sort of came to me fully-formed, and she was tough but vulnerable and I wanted to know what that was about, where it came from.

When you completed Story of a Girl did you know how resonant it would be?

Virtually everything in my career has been a huge surprise and blessing. When it first came out, I just hoped more than ten people would read it. I think every writer fears his or her book won’t connect. It’s a relief when it does, and it makes you grateful.

You blogged once that you were considering giving up writing. What were your reasons for that, and how do you feel now?

Funny – I don’t remember saying exactly that. I think what I probably meant was not giving up the act of writing itself, but the career of “being a writer”, which is a different thing. Whereas once that felt vital to my identity, I think now I could see myself finding satisfaction making money other ways. For me, writing under contract and deadline is not my favorite thing. I am, right now, taking a little break from that, and it feels good.

How do you think you achieve such an authentic voice?

That is a nice question – thank you, to whoever asked that! I don’t know the answer. I know that I’m an extremely picky and critical reader, and am easily pulled out of a reading experience if I don’t “buy” the character’s words or emotions. So I’m picky and critical with myself, too, and always do a lot of cutting in my final drafts in attempts to get rid of anything that rings false to me, especially emotionally. It’s a tough call sometimes, though. (For the record, Karen J from TLT is the one who asked this questions – just saying.)
Meet Lisa Burstein
Lisa Burstein is the author of PRETTY AMY a book that Girls’ Life Magazine called “a must read for anyone who’s felt like they don’t belong.”; and The New York Journal of Books said has “a lot of wonderful snark that will make grownups laugh out loud.”
Please also check out Lisa Burstein’s Dear Teen Me letter.  It is an honest, powerful, bold and necessary reminder to girls everywhere that no means no.

Lisa Burstein

Hatchet (Gary Paulsen) as discussed by Lindsay Cummings

Today, as author Lindsay Cummings waits for her thrilling new ya book The Murder Complex to be published, she stops by to write a Why YA? post about a book that means a lot to her.  You can write one too.

Everyone reads, at some point in their life.

Some of us read in school. Some of us hate it. Some of us love it.

Some of us, like me, can remember the very first time a book reached into their soul and grabbed a hold of them.



It started with picture books. Chapter books. I liked reading, I really did, but it hadn’t hit me yet. It hadn’t sucked me in and refused to let me go…Until I found THE book.

It was the one that changed everything. The one that made me a believer  in the fact that impossible things could be defeated.

The book was HATCHET, by Gary Paulsen.

I started reading. I was horrified by the plane crash, entranced by the wilderness, and completely floored by the fact that a boy on his own, a boy MY age, could survive.
“Patience, he thought. So much of this was patience – waiting, and thinking and doing things right. So much of all this, so much of all living was patience and thinking.”  (from Hatchet by Gary Paulsen)

The writing was real. It made me feel things, and it hit me where it hurt, where it mattered most- right in the heart.
And after that, I couldn’t stop reading. I couldn’t stop signing myself up for these magical journeys that would transport me away from my confusing, teenaged world ,and drop me into entirely new ones where anything was possible.  Where I could be a girl who kissed vampires (oh, Edward), or a boy whose magic saved the world, or a girl with a bow and a mockingjay pin whose rebellion and courage had the power to change EVERYTHING.

YA is magical. It is real, because to teens, the world is a horrifying and beautiful place all at once. YA is what takes us from our experiences in the scariest years of our lives, when we don’t even know who we are, when we don’t even know what we will become or where we will be in the future, and throws us into a time and place where anything is possible. YA gives readers hope. It gives readers excitement. When you’re a teen, everything matters. Everything is the best day and the worst day all at once. The tiniest of choices can affect you for the rest of your life.

And YA harnesses that magic. It makes it beautiful, and available, and addicting. It is powerful, and flawed, and redeeming, and exactly the way life should be- a thrilling journey.

I read and write YA because I love being a young adult. Reading YA makes me  feel something real. It makes me a part of something powerful, something perfect, and something far more exciting than the ups and downs of everyday life.

Why YA? Because life is short, and I want to read the best of the best. There is NO better way to do it than diving into the pages of a YA book.

About Lindsay Cummings

Lindsay Cummings is a 20-year-old author of dark futuristic thriller books for Young Adults. Her first blood-soaked novel, THE MURDER COMPLEX, as well as its sequel, are coming soon from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins. Lindsay deals with chronic fatigue, can’t get enough of her two pesky German Shepherds, and is currently trying to become like one of her book characters by training in Mixed Martial Arts. She’s still waiting on her letter from Hogwarts–it was probably just lost in the mail. She loves Jesus and believes all of her success is His doing! You can follow Lindsay on twitter @lindsaycwrites ! She’s always on, and loves to chat!
You can also find Lindsay on YouTube and Facebook
Find out about author Lindsay Cummings and what happens at The Murder Complex at her website.