On reading various young adult books

Last Thursday, Lemonade Mouth made us late for school. Today it was The Nature of Jade. Before I became a member of the YA nominating committee for the Cybils awards, I would rise at dawn, tidy the house, pack lunches, and go out back and build a stone wall or two (Really. Not a whole wall a day, obviously, but bits). Now 6:30am finds me lounging around inside, eating the children's chocolate chip cookies and reading ya novels. Only 70 or so on the list so far, and more nominations coming in. In my defense, as well as it being my Duty to read these books, it is dark and cold outside at 6:30 these days, and if I go out there I might trip over the children's toys and hurt myself. Perhaps once we set the clocks back things will change.

Here are the books I've read this past week, which I hope I will be commenting on in greater detail sometime in the near future:

Lemonade Mouth, by Mark Peter Hughes
Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Story of A Girl, Sara Zarr
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin
The Nature of Jade, by Deb Caletti
Red Glass, by Laura Resau

Here are my thoughts on the genre so far:

1. The first person present rules. Yet almost never do the protagonists say "we." Perhaps this a clever linguistic ploy to emphasise the alienation of said protagonists.

2. It is very rare to have two nice caring parents who are happily living in the same house together (I don't pretend to be discovering something new here). But really, I don't think the Betsy-Tacy books suffered from the happy marriage of Betsy's parents.

3. As evidenced by my allusion to B-T., I am generally a reader of lighter fare than is offered by many of the ya books of 2007. I believe there is Nothing Wrong with books where people are generally happy and healthy from the beginning to the end. I think that even when I was a teenager I believed this (although back then, in the 1980s, I can't recall ever reading YA books in the sense of the genre these days. Were there any?). I am wondering if there are going to be any books on the 2007 ya list that are cheerful.

4. I have boys, who, if all goes well, will someday be in high school. I am encouraged by the presence (generally as secondary characters, but sometimes main-ish) in many of these books of nice boys who are on the fringes of things but still end up relatively happy and have girlfriends. This is balanced, however, by the many horribly embarrassing/physically painful things that happen to the boys who are main characters, and sometimes secondary characters (see, for instance, Twisted).

5. So far, I've encountered two emotionally challenged fathers building model railroads in their basements. Coincidence or conspiracy?


  1. It is a fact universally acknowledged that it's hard for a kid or teenager to have too much Interesting happen to them under the sheltering embrace of two nice, caring, functional parents who are living in the same house together and keeping track of him or her. This is good for us as parents and for actual kids: we don't want things to get too Interesting for them. Plot, after all, is built on conflict and peril, and really I don't want my kid in peril.

    My fiction, however, I like with a dash of plot, and it's hard to have plot with pesky parents hovering around keeping kids safe. Betsy-Tacy is an exception to the general rule, and its author had a particular gift for depicting the lives of characters who were happily sheltered and yet had interesting things happen to them. In my experience of kids' and teen literature (and not just recent books, either), this is rare.

    In any case: bravo to you for soldiering onward through the nominees, and for reporting on them for all our entertainment and edification!

  2. I KNOW! I thought the railroad coincidence was CRAZY weird. Of all things!

  3. There are some happy books out there-- you just have to look. I don't mind happy, humorous dysfunctional, but I NEVER have a student ask for people who are just strange and dysfunctional. I highly recommend Korman's Schooled, Beaudoin's Going Nowhere Faster, Bradley's 24 Girls in 7 Days and Selzer's How to Get Suspended and Influence People. Also, Jordan Sonneblick's books. None will win awards, but the students (and I) love them. You need a break!


Free Blog Counter

Button styles