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Why YA? Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls) as discussed by author Craig MacLachlan

Today, while author Craig MacLachlan waits for his first ya novel to be published, he spends some time talking to us about YA books as part of our ongoing Why YA? series.
I’ve had many memories and great times as an adult, but some of the most defining moments of my life happened during my teen years. I’m going first talk about why I think YA books are important for teenagers and it comes from my own experiences, so first a little history.

When I was twelve my parents divorced and my life changed forever. Any child or teen that goes through a divorce knows what a painful process it can be. It not only affects you instantly, but really never goes away. Within six months after the divorce my dad moved my brother and I twenty-five miles away where we lived with my stepmom who he had married. I lost all my friends and had to make new ones and my mom was now only available via weekend visits and holidays. Yet, after making new friends at this school, two years later we moved halfway across the state and I lost my friends and my mom was now even further away. We then lived in a rental for 4 months, I made friends at the school for three months, then we moved about thirty miles away and I started high school for the second time in those three months. Not only was I being moved around, losing my friends and my mom, I was still getting used to a new mom and would continue that through high school.
During those final four years, which were high school, we never moved so I had a small sense of stability. I met my current wife in 9th grade, made friends, but I was a far cry from the outgoing boy I had been and was shy and withdrawn. I was even bullied by a huge dude for three years of high school until I finally stuck up for myself over the center of a chocolate chip cookie when he knocked it out of my hand. Yes a cookie! Home life was a mixed bag and when I was sixteen I was given the choice to stay living with my dad and stepmom, or move and live with my mom across state for my final two years of high school. So I was given a decision I wish I had never been given and one my real mom new about. Go live with her and give her a chance to see her son and raise me before I became an adult, or stay with my girlfriend of two years and the friends I had made. I stayed, I had to give something up and either way I choice would have left me demoralized.

So the point of my story is that teenagers, for the most part, struggle and deal with instability, pressures, or problems on almost a daily basis in one form or another.

Reading is a stable activity which I used to get myself through a lot of hard times as a teenager. I read The DragonLance Chronicles, The Chronicles of Narnia, Where the Red Fern Grows, White Fang, Call of Wild, Choose Your Own Adventures, and many others.

By reading YA novels, teens are transported into another world outside of their own for a short time which can ease a lot of pain and problems they are dealing with in life. A book is always there for a teen, it never walks out on them, never divorces, never bullies, never complains, never ridicules and a book can become a teens best friend. Teens’ can get inspiration and care about characters with no threat of any type of backlash like from real people. They can learn from characters, situations and hopefully help them cope with their similar struggles. So in my opinion, YA books are a safe haven and a form of therapy for many teenagers and with social media like Twitter, author sites and bloggers. Teenagers are able to connect even better to their books which only enhance their reading experiences.

I have to admit there were (still are some) many ‘adults’ who frowned upon my not only reading YA literature, but writing it as well. Why? I can only guess it was because they thought I was being childish, not grown up and not acting like an adult. I think the biggest problem is that adults have forgotten how to be young and enjoy life. We have become a society so full of expectations concerning how we need to act and behave at certain ages that we have forgotten how to properly live. I never want to become so uptight and stuck up that life becomes all about being serious.

I love adult fantasy and thrillers and always have, but the YA genre has a special place in my heart and I feel it reaches across all ages of life. Adults need to read YA literature because I truly think it brings back a sense of freedom to their lives lost over the years. No matter how old a person is, the teen we once were is still inside of us, forgotten, hidden and locked away. By reading YA novels, adults can remember what it was like to be a teen, connect and better understand their own children. They can learn how to have fun and not take life so seriously. It also allows teens and adults to interact and understand one another on a much more personal level. With teens and adults reading the same books there becomes no sense of age difference that distances them from one another. The teen life is one of ‘in-between’ which is why teenagers feel so alone and that no one understands them. Bridging that gap is why adults should and need to be reading YA literature.

A great YA novel for adults to read, in my opinion, is one of my all-time favorites and encompasses not only family values and teen interactions, but love, loss and accomplishment.

“It’s strange indeed how memories can lie dormant in a man’s mind for so many years. Yet those memories can be awakened and brought forth fresh and new, just by something you’ve seen, or something you’ve heard, or the sight of an old familiar face.” (from Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls)
Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls,1961) may not be a current YA novel, but it has stood the test of time and appeals to all ages. It’s a far cry from the influx of supernatural and fantasy YA books nowadays. Yet, no matter what the book is about, they all deal with similar elements which are young adult lives.

Set in real life, Billy must deal with hard work to earn what he wants (2 Redbone Coonhounds), family life, teenage interactions, love and death. Rawls does a masterful job of balancing and interweaving the characters and plot. When reading the novel it feels like you are living Billy’s life. The book demonstrates how adults and children can get along, be a family and enjoy doing things together while maintaining the parental-child relationship role. Billy deals with many emotional struggles which include not only protecting his dogs, but the accidental death of a fellow kid and in the end, his beloved dogs as well. Rawls shows that with willfulness and determination a person can achieve anything they want. This is a book not only for teens, but for adults. The story shows a time when teens and adults were more connected in all facets of life. In fact, the start of the book starts with Billy as an adult and after stopping a fight between a local Redbone Coonhounds and another dog, Billy recalls his youth which is when the story truly begins. This simple element can cause adults nowadays to do the same and remember a time in their lives when they were young and what dilemmas and problems current teenagers may be experiencing.

This book helped me through my teenage years and I fail to recall how many times I read it. To this day, as an adult, reading Where the Red Fern Grows still connects me to so many elements of life.

I write YA novels because of how they make me feel inside. I want teenagers to be able to break away from their daily lives feeling connected and inspired by the characters and story. I also want adults to enjoy my writing as well because the issues and struggles the characters are faced with are similar to ones they once dealt with, or knew someone who had and which are directly related to teenagers today.
About Craig MacLachlan

Craig MacLachlan currently lives in Coeur d’Alene, ID and is married to Christina. His first completed YA paranormal/fantasy novel is Sierra Winters and the Void: Summer’s Shadow, book one of a planned series. Sierra Winters and the Void: Summer’s Shadow is due for publication in 2014 under the MediaAria CDM Ltd. imprint.
Craig is also working on a YA thriller/horror novel and has two short films, Roger and Marbles: A Love Story he co-wrote also completed. Craig recently won third place in a one act screenwriting competition put forth by The Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) Creative Writing Competition.
Follow Craig:

Why YA? Bitterblue (Kristin Cashore) as discussed by Annette Birdsall

Bitterblue is book three in the Graceling Realm trilogy by Kristin Cashore.  Cashore’s books (Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue) explore a fantasy world where an evil kind has ruled and some people have special abilities called a Grace.  When you write a book series, you run the risk of not satisfying some of your fans with a latter book in a series.  Keep in mind, there are many people out there that have intense negative feelings about Mockingjay and the way that Suzanne Collins ended the Hunger Games trilogy.  In that same vein, it has been interesting to read the reactions and discussion about Butterblue. Like with the Hunger Games trilogy, some fans have not been satisfied with this story.  Today, as part of our Why YA? series, librarian Annette Birdsall writes about Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.

I’ve been able to delay answering the question of Why YA? for quite some time since my job as a youth consultant meant that I have to read YA and picture books and those wonderful Alex award winners which I’m more than a little drawn to…

And I’ve even written articles on great YA books that are perfect for adults.  But I did not answer the inherent question.  Not why do I read YA, but why do I seek out great YA books; why do I favor them?

Now that I’m facing some career changes, I want to answer that question.

It’s not that they are fast paced or less complex or that I’m not an ‘adult’ reader – whatever that is.

It’s that there is so much room in my own response and personal reflection– a connection to the story that happens in my other favorite writing – poetry. So let’s get particular and address why I loved Bitterblue.
“The more I see and hear, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” (from Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore)

The reviews of Bitterblue have been positive from readers like me and negative from readers who were annoyed with Bitterblue.  For me, the confusion and fog she felt were mirrored in the writing.  I connected with that expression, joined her journey and came to some lovely moments of realization about love and friendship and gifts of healing.  Cashore’s writing allowed me that grace, if you will pardon that.  And in really good, entertaining stories with really good writing, those internal journeys happen over and over for me in YA lit.
“…that’s how memory works … Things disappear without your permission, then come back again without your permission.”  (from Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore)
I’d have to tell you much too much of my personal life to share what that means, but in those great stories there is room for me.  Selfish, juvenile, who cares?  “We’ll sort it out slowly … The coming was as real as the going, and the coming would always be a promise.  It would have to be good enough.”

So in Cashore’s own words I read for that promise.  And I thank all the YA authors whose writing is ‘good enough.’ 

“…when truths disappear, they leave behind blank spaces, and that is also dangerous.”  (from Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore)
Annette Birdsall is the Youth Services Consultant for the Finger Lakes Library System in New York.  You can share about a book that you love with your own Why YA? post.  Find out how here.
Be sure to tell us in the comments how you felt about Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.

Pete Hautman is the Mr. that Was (Why YA? Mr. Was as discussed by Pete Hautman)

When you read a lot, you can lose track of some of the books that you read.  And then, there are those titles that stay with you in one way or another.  Mr. Was by Pete Hautman is one of those titles; I read it years ago and it has really stayed with me.  It has a great concept and deals with an issue that too many teens have to deal with – domestic violence.  Well, that and time travel.  Not that too many teens are having to deal with time travel.  So I approached Pete Hautman and asked him to write a Why YA? post and was very surprised when he said yes.  And I was even more surprised when he wrote about Mr. Was.  I had just mentioned it earlier in my book review of Hourglass.  So it is with great honor and pleasure that I bring  you this Why YA? post by Mr. Pete Hautman.
Seventeen years ago I had made a good, solid start in my career as a novelist.  I had published two successful crime novels for adults, with three more under contract. I was about as interested in writing for teens as I was in learning to play the accordion. I was a grown-up guy with grown-up concerns. I had written a few dozen nonfiction kid’s books because I needed the money, but I certainly didn’t read such things.
But people change.
For some years I had been playing around with an idea for a book based on a recurring dream that had haunted me for years: I discover a small door at the back of a large, cluttered closet in my grandparents’ home. The door leads to forgotten rooms and spaces where I would encounter old friends, lost toys, or dead pets come to life.  Most often the dreams were pleasant, but sometimes I would wake up with my heart hammering.
I wanted to tell the story of a man who passes through the door and finds himself transported—a serious adult sci-fi/fantasy epic. But for some reason, the story wasn’t working.  I expanded it, I cut it back, I rewrote, I added and deleted characters, but the tale would not ring true. I kept going back to the dream, trying to recapture some of its magic. Finally, it hit me that the magic I was seeking was magic seen through adolescent eyes. I changed my protagonist, Jack Lund, from a 30-year old man into a teenager, wished him the best of luck, and sent him through the doorway.

Jack’s story, I soon learned, was the story of a boy who is thrust into quasi-adulthood by the sudden and brutal death of his mother.  It was unlike anything I had written previously.

Several writer friends advised me that the resulting book, Mr. Was, was too complex and scary for younger readers. But I used to be a younger reader, and the way I remembered it, complexity was not an issue, and the scarier the better. I’d pick up any book that promised to take me someplace new. I knew there were plenty of kids out there who were not afraid to me challenged, confused, and frightened for the sake of a good story. 

Shortly after Mr. Waswas published, I started readingyoung adult novels. For research, I told myself. Most of them were pretty bad—just like most novels, period. But the good ones were…good. Amazingly good. Before I knew what was happening, I was hooked on YA.

The YA novel is often defined as a coming-of-age story. But most novels written for younger readers are simple adventure stories, or mysteries, or horror stories, or protracted jokes.  (This includes virtually all of the series books, because how many times can the same characters come of age?) The truly memorable stories, however—the ones that stick with you for years (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, The Chocolate War, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)—all tell us about a young person crossing a bridge from one set of challenges to another even more difficult set of problems. They address the greatest mystery of our adolescence: What does it mean to be an adult?

Teens read, in part, to find out what is waiting for them in the larger world. Every book has the potential to contain revelations that might change their world-view. Some of the books I read as a teen helped me become a more empathic, giving, thoughtful, and knowledgeable person. Others had a less salubrious effect—Ayn Rand led me into a philosophical morass where I wallowed for half a decade. The James Bond novels convinced me that cigarettes and martinis were essential to becoming an adult. The point is, the books we read as teens matter.

We adults have mostly settled into our lives. Our politics, religion, social status, tastes in food, fashion, music, and so forth is pretty much a done deal. We tend to read novels for validation, for escape, for relaxation. These days I don’t read as many young adult books as I used to—probably no more than a half dozen a year—not because I don’t enjoy them, but because there is only so much time to read, and YA is a very small (albeit important) part of the literary universe.

When I do read teen books, I do so because they are a reliable source of quality entertainment. As one blogger put it, “the plots move a lot faster, for the most part, and you’re not required to participate in the Thought Olympics to understand what’s going on in the book.” Reading YA is relatively easy, and it’s fun. If a teen book contains a dose of revelation (and many do), so much the better!

Time Magazine’s Joel Stein, with a few remarks that I believe were deliberately inflammatory and obtuse, managed recently to create a media bonanza for himself by dissing adult readers of teen fiction. A month ago I didn’t know who he was. Now I do, so I plan to run to my local bookstore and not buy his new book. Because when I see a fifty-something person at Starbucks reading Suzanne Collins, or John Green, or even Stephanie Meyer, I do not feel pity or disdain, as does Mr. Stein. I see someone quietly amusing themselves to the detriment of no one. After all, it’s quite likely that I am looking at my own reflection in the window.

Pete Hautman is the author of The Big Crunch, What Boys Really Want, Rash, Blank Confession, Invisible, Godless and more.  He is also the author of The Obsidian Blade, the first book in the Klaatu Diskus trilogy.  There is a teacher’s guide for Mr. Was at his website, so go check it out.  You should also go read his bio on his website because it’s funny and features a picture of him smoking and driving a car at age 3.  Seriously.

You can share a YA book you love and here’s the information how.

The Giver (Lois Lowry) as discussed by Lauren Kate

Today, as part of our ongoing series Why YA?, Lauren Kate, author of the Fallen series, discusses The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” is a story that truly moved me growing up. The book takes place in a society where all pain and suffering have been eradicated – a seemingly wonderful thought which has in turn, led to the death of human emotion. Only one man—the Giver—has access to the joys and pains of humanity’s past experience. He is dying. He is looking for a successor to carry this strange burden.

Like all great novels, the Giver calls into question all the things we take for granted about our own world: music, color, human connection, the love of a parent for a child, the ability to make our own decisions. What are we without these? How different are those who have access to these gorgeous painful realities from those of us who don’t know how or refuse to see them?

The Giver created a vivid and haunting world without color, without passion, without connection, a world so visual that I can still picture it, tree for tree, 15 years later.

And the best part? The Giver is the first in a trilogy – followed by “Gathering Blue” and “The Messenger.” I’d recommend all three to anyone looking for an eye opening experience. These books will truly change the way you look at the world.

Find out more about Lauren Kate and her books at her website

Lauren Kate grew up in Dallas, went to school in Atlanta, and started writing in New York. She is the author of Fallen, Torment, the forthcoming Passion, and The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove. Her books have been translated into over thirty languages. She lives in Laurel Canyon with her husband and hopes to work in a restaurant kitchen and learn how to surf. She is currently at work on the final book in the Fallen series, Rapture.  If you live in the Dallas area, Lauren Kate with be visiting Barnes and Noble at Southlake on June 18th. (Author bio from her official website)  You can follow Lauren Kate on Twitter @laurenkatebooks.  Rapture, the final book in the Fallen series, will be released on June 12, 2012 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

Why YA? To never forget… The List (Siobhan Vivian) as discussed by Stephanie Wilkes

Today, TLT member Stephanie Wilkes shares her Why YA? post.  You can write one too. Here’s how.

I’ve contemplated this post for several weeks now because the reason I read YA didn’t seem like something I could just pin down for a blog post.  There are so many different reasons and in my interview when I joined the TLT team, I gave away the book that made me into a YA reader.  I kept telling Karen that I was going to write this post and for several days I have just stared at my reminder post-it, seeking inspiration.  Then, during a recent outreach visit to my old high school, I found it.

One of my best friends (since 2nd grade) is now a high school English teacher and one of her requirements to complete her certification is to have community visits to her classroom.  So, of course, I offered to come in and talk about books that are not required reading in hopes of securing more readers and library users.  Kristin teaches at our high school and before I went to her class, I had to drop off my son at my mother’s house.  The same house I grew up in.  I drove the same drive that I took ten years ago and was amazed at how many flashbacks I had while driving down those back roads.  So much has changed but for the most part, all of it is still the same.  
I walked down the same hallways that I did as a student and down some of the new hallways built after they added on to the school.  The hallways smelled the same…the bathrooms smelled the same.  And then, at lunch, when I was in the cafeteria, I spotted my senior portrait on the wall (high ACT scores got to have their pics on the wall in our Renaissance Club).  I walked over and was instantly blow away by this picture.  I made a goofy face and took a pic with it and when I got home, I just sat and stared at this pic and thought about how much my life has changed in ten years.  
First thing I noticed?  Fake happiness.  Present me, happiness that is real.  Second thing, hair like all my friends…highlighted, curled…not me.  Present me, hair that I LOVE.  The night before I took that pic?  Went out with friends and drank…a lot.  Witnessed my boyfriend kiss another girl.  Got amazingly sick.  Threw up all the way to pictures the next day and made my Mom REALLY MAD.  And then came home and cried for hours and hours.  And then, while looking at that pic, I stopped dead in my tracks and realized why I read YA.
I read YA because there are millions of teenagers out there who don’t have a clue.  They have no idea that we, the adults who work with them, have experienced heartache, happiness, “falling in love” tingles, and the pain of being stabbed in the back by your best friend.  And while most adults run as quickly as possible from those feelings and that time in their lives, I choose to embrace it.  Embracing the hurt and the happy makes me a better teen librarian because I can offer real sympathy.  I can offer a kind ear, I can pick up on body language, and I can tell who has a crush on whom from across the room.  
And along that line, I can offer them books to help them realize that life doesn’t always suck and that sometimes, it sucks hardcore.  One book I just recently finished was the perfect example of the girls in my high school and at times, I was like each and every one of them.  In fact, Siobhan Vivian’s The List is quite possibly one of the best books that I’ve read this year.
At the beginning of each school year, a list is posted.  The prettiest and ugliest of each grade.  So right off the bat, we are introduced into our cast of eight…the pretty girls and the ‘ugly’ girls.  It’s a story of how girls see themselves and how others view them.  At times, I could identify with all of the girls and their feelings and one of the first books that truly took a realistic view at girls and their behavior and instead of offering resolution, because not all of the stories were resolved, offered a snapshot into a life and then, as you closed the book, made you call into question your own actions.

It is these types of books that give teens power.  And especially the girls in the book.  Each one of them is empowered because of this list in some way, shape or form and it is up to them to learn how to use this power wisely (and now I feel like the whole ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ Spiderman-quotey).  So, not only these 8 girls are affected by The List but also their friends, their boyfriends, and everyone around them.  It makes you remember that so much of your high school life is dictated by others opinions of you or what people say behind your back and at times, it is extremely painful.  And sometimes we make decisions that we might not have made otherwise and I know we have all been there.

 Why do I read YA?  Because I never want to forget.  Thanks to the hundreds of YA authors for keeping it real and reminding me everyday that I’m human and that the pain and happiness made me into the awesome nerdfighter I am today.  And thank you for empowering me as an adult to always passionately serve my teens and give them an outlet to learn more about the world and about themselves. 

Why YA? The remix

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post defending the notion that adults not only could, but that they should read YA fiction.  You can read the post here, but the basic premise is this: we work with teens, we live in a world with teens, we were once teens so, of course, we should read teen fiction.  Then we started a meme and invited teens and adults to share their favorite YA experiences.  And then – bam – yesterday on the YALSA blog there was a post questioning what it means for ya collection development to have adults reading (and liking) ya literature.  The underlying question seems to be this: are we building collections for adults or for teens?  As a teen services librarian, I build the collection for teens, but I am happy whenever any reader finds a book that speaks to them and walks out of the library a satisfied customer.  That’s just good business.

Collection development is both a science and an art.  There is some guess work involved, some prognosticating if you will.  Over time as you are part of a community and you experience its ebbs and flows, you begin to learn what moves off the shelves and what will sit and collect dust.  There are actually a lot of truths for teen collection development that are universal truths for adult collection development, too: Often the best reviewed fiction will sit on the shelf while the books that critics scorn move like they are doing the salsa with a fiery Latin lover; that one book you cut from the order because of middling reviews and budget constraints is going to be the next best seller (I put that in there just for you Debra); and yes you will have to buy the newest (insert author here) book even though chances are good they really didn’t write it – or they have been dead for years.  To be honest, I checked the other day and the Mary Kate and Ashley books are still circulating in my J Fic collection so, you know, what are you going to do.

The reality is that librarians everywhere – and in all age groups – have been building collections for patrons with tastes different than theirs for the history of librarianship. In order to have a well rounded collection that meets the various needs and tastes of our entire community, we buy stuff we don’t read and we skip buying stuff that we like sometimes.  This is especially true in smaller libraries where there is one person in charge of say the entire adult fiction collection.  They may personally be mystery fans but they buy to represent an entire population, including horror, romance and science fiction fans.  If they do their jobs well they spend time looking at circulation statistics, reading reviews, and – gasp – talking to their public.

Funny story, that’s what I do with my teens.  Just Monday night I sat in a room with my teen volunteers and picked their brains asking them what they were reading – and liking – and why.  When I see a teen browsing my teen collection I don’t hesitate to engage in conversation with them.  I ask them what they are looking for, throw some books at them (not literally) and say hey, when you’re done, come back and tell me what you thought.  Since my goal is to get teens reading and get teens using the library, my goal is to build a kick butt collection that won’t sit on my shelf gathering dust.  It’s not the Karen collection, it’s the TEEN COLLECTION.

To be honest, it seems the fact that I read – and enjoy – ya literature makes me better at my job.  You see, when I approach that teen and ask them what they are looking for, I can then offer up some choices that fit their needs because I – gasp – have knowledge of my collection.  And to be honest, “oh my gosh you have to read this book it is so amazing” is a much better talking point then “this book will theoretically fill your RA requests given that it has 4 starred reviews which indicate it is on the topic you are interested in.”  Although my favorite selling point it is: “the other day a teen told me this was the best series ever.”

Some of the comments in reply to the YALSA post seemed to indicate that because they were grown ups that had left childish things behind and could no longer engage in teen fiction.  This expressed such a diconcerting disdain for our audience that I don’t even know how to respond.  You see, I feel like you have to genuinely care about teens to be a successful teen librarian.  I think you have to spend some time in their world; to, as one commenter said, be able to “step meaningfully into their world.”  Teens want to be valued and respected and know that the adults in their lives, their communities, care.  When we read ya lit, we are better equipped to do this.  And like any fiction, it helps us to walk in their shoes and reminds us what it is like to be a teen; those harried emotions, living with one foot in the world of child and one foot in the world of adult, that aching need to belong . . . it is easy to spend so much time in the grown up world that we forget and, in forgetting, lose are ability to empathize with our teens.  I am a better teen services librarian because I can remember all too viscerally the utter despair that comes when the boy you love loves someone else or what it is like to be the last one chose every single time in gym class.  Not that those things ever happened to me.  Having that ability to remember and empathize doesn’t make me less of a grown up, it just makes me a better teen services librarian. 

As for building collections – to be honest, that is just what every collection development librarian does.  We step aside from the personal and look at the bigger picture.  And to be fair, it IS okay that adults step into the teen area and check out teen books.  After all, teens have been stepping into the adult collections since the beginning of time.  It only seems fair that it should go both ways. And at the end of the day, a good book is a good book and it doesn’t matter what collection we shelve it in and it doesn’t matter who is reading it; what matters is that it is being read and changing hearts and minds.

This is what Stephanie Wilkes had to say in her comment on the YALSA blog post:
So many different things I want to say here but I do want to address your statement, Ken. I have grown up. I am a mother. I am a wife. I love adult things. And I read YA books for many different reasons…1) Because they’re just damn good books, 2) Because that is my JOB, and 3) Because when I put my faith and heart into a book that I recommend to a teen, I want to do so from experience.
Developing my teen collection, reading teen books…I do all of this because I DO LOVE my teens.
I feel as if we are trying to create a problem to explain how and why to deal with the problem of slashed budgets for teen collections. The answer is not to purchase some teen books with adult money and then put them in the adult collection. And let me just say that I think the application of a ‘type’ of book, be it adult, ya/teen, juvenile fiction, does not exhibit a person’s lifestyle, intelligence, or any said factor. People read what they want to read because they enjoy it. Plain and simple.
The problem we need to address is how to keep our teens reading. That’s our job. To provide the BOOK for PATRONS, regardless of who they are.

This is what I said: I am a grown up and a professional. I have spent the past 19 years devoted to the cause of connecting teens with libraries and literature. That has involved spending the time to study adolescent development, collection developement, marketing, the 40 developmental assets, advocacy, program development, project management – to name just a few. I have served on committees, professional boards, and more. Part of what makes me good at my job is that I do read and love YA. And that I spend time having meaningful conversations with my teens about it. We are capable of looking at a sheet of statistics and making collection development decisions from them. I find the idea that I and other librarians can’t separate the personal from the professional actaully offensive. We all spend time cultivating the tools that we need to serve our teens in our communities effectively because we believe in what we do. I also believe, very strongly, that it is important for those working with and serving teens to be able to remember what it is like to be a teenager; to be able to talk meaningfully with teens about the world that they live in – including the books, movies, and music that they like as well as their experiences. I believe that when we can’t, we fail. Just yesterday I sat in a meeting with my teen volunteers discussing what they were reading and loving, what types of programming they wanted, what types of SRC prizes they were interested in. And teen librarians around the globe are engaging in these same professional pursuits. Because I live in a community with teenagers – and because we all always will – it behoves us to respect them, to be engaged with them, and to – wait for it – read teen lit (also true of children’s and adult lit). And if we are reading it, it is okay that we love it too. That doesn’t mean that I’m not intelligent or thoughtful or mature or doing grown up things. It also doesn’t mean that I am building collections to suit my personal tastes. It means simply this: I am both a grown up professional who works hard to be successful at my job as a teen services librarian because I believe it has value AND I am someone who likes to read teen fiction. Call me crazy, but people are just complicated that way and not easily put into boxes.

Now it’s your turn . . .

Why YA? Giving voice to Sarah Byrnes (Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher)

Reading ya lit with our teens helps
them view the real world with a
safety net.

The thing that shocked me most when I began working with teens was how much different their lives were from mine.  My first eye opening moment came when I saw an incredibly large teen beating up a boy who was the size of a 3rd grader.  I simply ran in and called the police because I thought we all clearly understood that hurting another was not only inhumanely grievous, but a crime.  A couple of days later this abusive teen returned to my library with a posse, one of whom was carrying a sledge hammer.  I was sitting in a chair when he approached me and he leaned down at me with one arm on each arm of the chair, pinning me in.  “You better not ever call the police on me again,” he growled.  In my youth I was (courageous/naive/bold/stupid/whatever) so I simply looked him in the eye and replied, “You better not ever give me a reason to.”  Weeks later I was at a gas station when he approached me again and thankfully the gas station attendant came out and intervened on my behalf.  I wish I could say that was my only terrifying experience working with teens, but it was not. Nor was it my only heartbreaking one.

Over the years I have grown close to teens who have had babies and abortions.  I have spent time with teens abandoned by their parents being raised by grandparents.  Some of my most heartbreaking moments have been recent as I have comforted teens who have had friends, and fathers, take, or attempt to take, their own lives.  I have visited juvenile detention centers with teens who stole or set fires for no reason other fact that they had no hope and it didn’t really matter anyway.  There were no spring flings or new school clothes coming up.  There were no cars at 16 and graduation parties at 18.  No prospects of college because if food doesn’t show up on the table at night you are guaranteed that there will be no one dropping you off at your dorm your freshman year with small room refrigerators, stereos, and the promise that you can come home on the weekend to get your laundry done.  There is no one home at the end of the day offering these teens a plate of homebaked cookies and asking them how their day was.  Some of these teens came to the library after school for no reason other than the fact that they couldn’t go home until after dark and they needed a place to stay; for them – there was never any hope for dinner.

This is one of the reasons why I love Chris Crutcher.  Crutcher is an author who spends time in the grittily real world of teens who are living lives that we could never imagine.  He gives them a voice and tells their stories.  I read them, and I think everyone should, because by stepping into their world – I, too, give them a voice.  And in learning who they are and what they feel, I develop the tools to love them unconditionally; to see beyond their challenging exterior and see the true brokenness that rests inside their breastbones where a beating heart should be.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is the story of two outcasts drawn together by their exteriors.  Eric is shunned for his obesity and Sarah Byrnes has a face riddled with scars.  These are two “ugly” teens shunned in a world that prizes beauty.  Slowly, Eric begins to change and find himself through swimming; his body slims down but his friendship with Sarah Byrnes remains strong.  Sarah Byrnes now sits silent in a hospital and Eric must discover the secrets that haunt her.  You see, the scars on Sarah Byrnes face may be no accident and Sarah, like many teens in homes across our country, is not at all safe.  Abortion, murder, suicide, body image – these are all topics that come up in this book with chilling effect.  But we are kidding ourselves if we think they are not topics that many teens have to face in very real ways.  Maybe not your teens, hopefully not your teens, but the breathe would leave your lungs if you knew what happened when some of our teens walked up the steps of their homes and closed the door to the world outside.

Although Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes has been declared one of the “Best of the Best Books for Young Adults” by the American Library Association – and it truly is – parents have often fought to have this book, and many others, removed from school and public libraries.  They want to protect their children they say from books like these.  But who is protecting teens from living lives like this?  Who is standing up for teens like Sarah Byrnes?  Everyone who reads this book is.  You see, when we open the pages of a book and take a moment to slip into the skin of someone else, we develop an empathy that changes us.  It opens our eyes to the people around us.  If we put on blinders, we miss those moments when we can reach out and help the Sarah Byrnes in our lives because we don’t recognize the signs.  Your teen may not be Sarah Byrnes, but they may be sitting next to her in class or passing by her in the hallways.  We can pretend that teens aren’t living lives like hers, but it is only make believe.

So sit back, turn the page and read about Sarah Byrnes.  Weep for her.  See beneath the layers.  And then talk to your teens about her.  Ask them if they could see the signs.  Ask them what they would do.  Ask them to care. Then hold them close and let them know that they are loved.  Why YA? Choose to be bold, like Chris Crutcher, and give voice to those teens that are living lives we could never imagine. 

Karen, who struggled with whether or not she should write about Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes or Whale Talk.  So after you read about Sarah Byrnes, go read Whale Talk because that is an amazing book about bullying and racism and the power of friendship in unexpected places. Read More YA? posts and find out how you can write your own here.

Harry Potter + The Fault in Our Stars = A fantastic Why YA? post by Leah Miller

As part of our ongoing Why YA? series, Leah Miller, author of The Summer I Became a Nerd, shares two titles that moved her and why everyone should read them.

Harry Potter is, as we all know, a beautifully written story. It will be with me for the rest of my life (not to mention my kids’ lives, if I have anything to say about it). Sometimes, I’m not sure how I ever lived without it. I know that might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. Rowling wove a story for us that could never be equaled. All sorts of topics are touched upon in the series; prejudice, love, hate, loyalty, and relationships between friends, family, and enemies, among tons of others. The way her brain works is spelled out on the page in plots, sub-plots, and even ghost plots (all my Pottermore people say, “Holla’!”). I doubt I’ll ever be as in love with a story as I am with Harry Potter and his many adventures.

Rowling’s writing is, well, it’s what I aspire to write. Her turns of phrases to suit the situation,  her characters who rip your heart out and lay them on a silver platter, the twists and turns, the gasps you make after just one sentence.
Harry Potter is one of those series I acknowledge as the reason I started writing in the first place. In my opinion, anything that makes one aspire to be better, to follow one’s dreams, is valid. Also, the fact that she has interwoven so much of herself into the books is wonderful. Who would Hermione be without Rowling’s own know-it-all spirit? As a writer, I pull from my own experiences and ideas about the world. I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to do it as subtly and ingeniously as Rowling.

Harry Potter also holds a place in my heart due a special connection with someone very important to me that was made because of it. I talked my father into reading the Harry Potter series back in 2001. I always knew he loved me and believed I could do anything, but up until that point, I never really knew he trusted my opinion.

Of course, he loved it. Here was this almost sixty-year-old man asking me for the next book only two days after I gave him the first. We even watched the first movie together in the theater. After Dumbledore said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” Daddy leaned over to me and whispered, “Remember that, Leah.” At the time, I brushed him off, sort of. “Yeah, Dad, watch the movie.” Unfortunately, he never got to finish the series. He died in 2002 from a stupid disease called pancreatic cancer. Which leads me to another book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

I don’t know about other people, but that book affected me in a very personal way. It made me analyze how I handled the news about my father. It made me remember what is was like to watch him die when I had only just turned twenty, still practically a teenager. TFIOS forced me to think about a part of my life that I considered a black spot, something I very rarely want to think about. I would hazard a guess and say we all have spots like that. But TFIOS also made me think about life and death, in general. And thinking is a good thing no matter what genre is causing you to do it (noticing a trend here?). I learned a lot about myself while reading that book that I don’t think I could have learned from reading anything else.

The fact that Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars are forever connected in my mind might seem a little odd, but that’s the thing about YA. Sometimes it can be heart wrenching. Sometimes it can be fun and make you laugh until you cry. Sometimes it can be both. Sometimes it can be all that and then teach you something about yourself you never knew was there. That’s what Harry Potter and TFIOS were for me. And I like to think Daddy would have felt the same way despite him being an almost sixty-year-old man.
Nothing I could ever say to J.K. Rowling could ever encompass my love for her series, but to John Green I’d like to say, “Thank you, Mr. Green, for giving the world that book.” I’m not as poetic as Mr. Green, so I’ll just say that, for me, The Fault in Our Stars was “heavenly in its hurtfulness”.
P.S. I hope John Green doesn’t take offense that I was able to put my feelings into words for his book, but was unable to do so with Harry Potter, but as Hank Green says, “No matter what I read, I think, ‘This is not Harry Potter.’”

P.P.S. I know at some point in this post I was supposed to say why these books appeal to teens. To that I say, “They appeal to teens because they’re really, really good.”

Mother, wife, and YA author living on a windy hill in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I love fuzzy socks, comic books, cherry coke, and brand new office supplies. THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD by me coming Summer 2013 from Entangled Teen.  You can visit Leah Miller’s blog, Living the Dream, or follow her on Twitter (@LeahR_Miller).

You can also read our other Why YA? posts and learn how you can write your own here.

Jennifer Rummel declares “I Love YA” (with apologies to Randy Newman)

Why read YA?

I read YA because I LOVE it!

There are so many things I love about YA books, but the biggest is the first moments.  Teen years are the biggest moments for firsts – first kiss, first love, and first heartbreak. It’s a time for drama: family, friendships, school, job, and relationships.  It’s a time for finding you’re not alone in the world.  It’s a time where you learn that other people have the same questions, quirks, feelings that you have and it’s normal. It’s a time for discovery and figuring out who you really are.

The YA community is huge! I enjoy hearing about books from other book bloggers. It’s great meeting YA bloggers and YA Librarians and conversing about books.  I’m a huge fan of social networking, talking with authors, librarians, publishers, book bloggers, and readers. I blog about the books I read and enjoy reading other blogs and discovering new books to read or purchase for the library collection.

It’s hard for me to choose a favorite book because of the volume I read each year. While I have a slew of favorite authors whose books I will always read, its great discovering new authors.   For the past four years I’ve started keeping track of the number of books I read. Last year I completed my goal of a book a day, across all age groups.  So far, I’m on track for my reading goal this year.

Reading widely across ages and genres makes me a better librarian. I read pictures books that sound cute or have gotten great reviews, chapter books that appeal to me, cozy mysteries, regency romances, craft books, cookbooks, and tons of teen books. As a teen librarian, teen books make up the majority of books I read.  I help run a 4th and 5th grade book club. There, I’m exposed to books I wouldn’t normally read, but books I end up loving. Sometimes I read for knowledge or the emotional ride, but mostly I read for pleasure.  Reading is fun.

Here are some books that stay with me long after I’ve turned the last page. There are some that haunt me because of their issues. There are some that touch my soul. There are some that amazed me and made me look at the world differently.  Either way they have touched me and I’ll never forget them.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

One of the most important books in the history of YA. It’s about a huge issue, but it’s also about friendship, finding yourself and your voice, and being a social outcast in high school. Years after its publication, girls are still finding it helpful.

Wintergirlz by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book is so haunting I don’t even know how to begin to describe it. It’s about two girls who used to be friends and also have eating disorders. They grew apart and one girl died. The other struggles to survive.

Purge by Sarah Darer Littman

A heart wrenching yet funny take on eating disorders. “It was like they went from being my Band of Barfers, my Sisterhood of Sneaky Eaters, to my Judge and freaking Jury in three minutes flat.” Littman tackles such a huge issue with humor and honesty while letting the raw pain of her characters shine through. It’s really a book everyone should be reading and chatting about. It’s that good.

Just as Long As We’re Together by Judy Blume
I read this book until it fell apart when I was younger.  I loved the friendship drama between Steph, Alison, and Rachel. This was my Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (which is also amazingly good).

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
I devoured this one. It’s about a girl who creates 13 tapes of the 13 people she blames for her life. The tapes are sent right before she commits suicide. One of the 13 is listening to these tapes. It was so dark and brutally honest. I wanted the outcome of the story to be different, but of course you already know the ending of the book from the beginning.

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Disaster strikes when a meteor hits the moon, pushing it closer to Earth. Havoc and chaos reign as everything changes.  I’d never read anything like this book. I couldn’t put it down. I wasn’t expecting it to be so emotional. Whenever I hear of a potential disaster strike, I always want to stock up on canned goods now.

Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen
Macy learns to deal with her father’s death by embracing chaos into her formally perfectly ordered life.  I can’t say enough about this book dealing with grief, letting yourself go, and finding your true identity. I hate the library scenes, but they do also make me chuckle. I found Macy to be brave.

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
DJ helps a rival high school quarter back with his game while they work on her family farm.  I love how this book defies gender stereotypes in sports books. I found DJ to be strong, caring, and athletic.  I think everyone who likes sports books should read this one!

Sold by Patricia McCormick
A novel in verse, that’s hard to read due to the subject matter: prostitution of young girls. Lakshmi is a survivor and she keeps hope alive, even in the darkest moments.

Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
The ultimate road trip book featuring four siblings whose mother left them alone. They travel south along the east coast to find family and a place to call home. It’s a heartwrenching book about survival, family, and hope.

My latest favorite YA reads:

Sweet Shadows (comes out in September)

Touch of Power (A/YA crossover)

I know that I will never tire of reading YA books. I love reading them, love talking about them, and love handing them off to my friends, family, and patrons at the library.
Jennifer Rummel: I’m a Teen Librarian who LOVE LOVE LOVES book and my job! I work at Otis Library in Norwich, CT as a YA Librarian. I have been known to squeal when books come into the library that I can’t WAIT to read! I review books for VOYA. Besides reading books and chatting about books, going to bookstores and other libraries, and meeting fabulous authors, I’m pretty  crafty – beading, card making, and some other odd crafts. I adore candy, pizza, my puppy and the Celtics.  Hear Jennifer talk more about ya at her blog, YA Book Nerd.
Read more Why YA? posts and find out how you can share yours with us here!

Why YA? Victoria Scott invites you to dive into YA with Between Shades of Gray

Some of the greatest war stories have been told from the point of view of teens.  Anne Frank was a teenager when she hid her diary.  Devon recalls his teenage years when he returns to the place that haunts him in A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  And just this past week Stephanie and I rejoiced in the splendor that is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  Today, debut author Victoria Scott invites you to dive into the pages of Between Shades of Gray with her as part of our ongoing Why YA? series.

I think the most accepted idea about the YA genre is that it’s meant for teens alone.

I beg to differ.

Most books that end up in the teen section are categorized there for one reason: the main character is a teen. When I explain this to non-readers, or casual readers, the response is always the same, “That makes sense.” And while it does make sense, I’m not sure everyone actually knows this. Many of my non-writing friends believe books are read by some great Lord of the Tomes. Naturally, said lord sits down each morning with a cup of Jasmine tea and the newest soon-to-be-released book, and gives it a read. After doing so, Lord of the Tomes stands, fills his broad chests, and exclaims something along the lines of “I hereby announce this book to be teen in nature. Shelve it as so. I have spoken.”

Because so many people believe YA books are meant only for teens, they miss out on spectacular stories. Stories everyone should read. Stories like BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys. Here’s the description I pulled from Amazon for this brilliant book:

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously – and at great risk – documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.  It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.  Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

At the heart of this book, Author Sepetys is telling about imprisonment, about the human condition…about the will to survive. And I believe the reason she chose to tell the story from a teen’s point of view is the same reason many YA authors do: because teen emotions are beautiful and virginal and raw.

Sometimes, YA books are written for teens. To the point where adults may have trouble enjoying them the way a teen might. But other times, in cases like BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, books are written using a teen lead because it makes sense for the story. This is why readers should never shy away from YA. Because there are stories on those shelves you can’t find anywhere else. Because the characters experience life in fresh, exhilarating ways.

And because YA is where it’s at, baby.

Victoria Scott has a deep-rooted obsession for all things creepy. Her favorite place to brainstorm story ideas is inside a grandiose graveyard founded in the 1800s. Victoria’s passion for books is inexhaustible, and she dreams of owning a colossal library complete with spiral staircase. When not writing, Victoria can be found snapping pics of gnarled trees, scouting cotton candy, and snuggling obese cats. Victoria has a master’s degree in marketing, and lives in Dallas with her husband in an appropriately-creepy house. THE COLLECTOR: A DANTE WALKER NOVEL (Entangled Teen, 2013) will be Victoria’s first novel. Visit her online haunt at www.VictoriaScottYA.com, or learn more about THE COLLECTOR at http://www.victoriascottya.com/work/thecollector