Arguably, Young Adult literature has been around since World War II with the release of Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly, which is considered by many to be the first book written and published exclusively for teenagers. The novel is geared mostly towards girls focusing on the theme of first love. Now, I will add that I have always argued Oliver Twist By Charles Dickens is the first Young Adult Lit novel, but that is a whole other post.
What is “Young Adult Lit”? The Young Adult Library Services Associate during the 1960s coined the term “young adult” and defined it to mean literature which represents the 12-18 age range. For books during this period in time think, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. The Outsiders focuses on three brothers growing up and maturing in life after the death of their parents, being part of a different society, judged for a person’s background and socio economic status, etc. The book explores serious themes and gives teens the credit they deserve for actually being able to deal with complex issues and emotions. The 1970s saw the publication and growth in the young adult area with authors like Judy Blume (what girl hasn’t read a Blume book), Robert Cormier (everyone must read The Chocolate Wars) and Lois Duncan.
Around this time, I argue, young adult lit books became formulaic and one dimensional. Books stopped dealing with complex and higher issues and instead became single problem novels (divorce, drug abuse, abandonment) the novels became flat and cookie cutters. Gone was the richness and developed characters of the former books. Around the time of the 1980s, the literature world saw books from R.L. Stine, and the Sweet Valley High series, books I grew up on. Yes, there were books available for teens, I read all the Boxcar Children, Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley kids, I didn’t care for the R.L. Stein books, Dear Mr. Henshaw, Hatchet etc. I read them all, but there seemed, for me, to still be a limited amount of choices. There was literally like 5 shelves at the books store that made up the Young Adult Literature section. Why was this?
It seems like overnight Young Adult Lit exploded into rows of amazing books for teens and I want to read them all. I think, it can really be traced back to the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. I remember the first one being published. My sister has never been much of a reader and my mother saw the book on the Rosie O’Donal show and bought it with the hopes my sister would read it. Well, she didn’t but I did. At that time the second book had been published, but the series had not quiet blown up yet. It wasn’t until I went to get the third book on the release date that Harry Potter mania had hit. Arguably, many young adult authors began popping up after the success of Rowling hit the media. Shortly after reading the 3rd Harry Potter I began searching for other books to read until the 4th book was published when I discovered A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (I think they are better than the Harry Potter books, but what do I know). Rapidly the Young Adult Lit section tripled then quadrupled. Not all of the books are great, I’ve read plenty that just plain suck, but I’ve found some truly amazing books in the process. I was a senior in college or had just graduated, I forget which, when Twilight was published and then The Hunger Games hit the shelves. I got to maybe page 20 in Twilight before I gave up, I just don’t like the series, but I love that teens are reading.
I think the success of today’s YAL novels has a great deal to do with the return to books not shying away from tough issues that teens face, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual assault/abuse, teen pregnancy, absentee parent(s), suicide, etc.. For a period of time, YAL books looked at things like being popular, not fitting in, very surface level things that actually most teens are not concerned with. There are many complex issues facing teens today that adults just don’t want to admit are problems for teens. These issues should be “adult” problems, but in reality we need to remember poverty, abuse, drug and alcohol problems do not see age, race or economic status.
Today, authors such as John Green combine the best and worst aspects of teen life. Green is both honest, and unqiue in his novels while still staying very “real” (please read Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns and The Fault in our Stars).YAL books can truly be read and enjoyed by everyone, even adults. Bower market Research reported that in 2012, 55% of YAL books were purchased by adults between the ages of 18 and 44 years of age, and I think we all know these buyers weren’t just purchasing for kids, nieces, nephews, siblings. In the last 5 years, many of the box office hits have been movie adaptations of YAL Books, think Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight, and Frozen, while not a YAL book is a movie for kids that is incredibly popular with adults as well. Many of my friends openly admit it’s their favorite movie right now.
So why are adults reading YAL books? I don’t think it’s because they want to relive their youth or because the YAL books that were available to them growing up were not as amazing, I think it’s because the YAL books are truly enjoyable. To me, a beach read is a book that is a quick read and can easily be put down, usually a trashy romance, sorry just how I think. I’ve noticed now that many adults are taking YAL books on vacation. While there are complex issues and great writing, they are also quick reads, usually around 200-300 pages, and easy to start and stop, and I say this not in a way to detract at all from these amazing books.
I’m currently reading Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare and cannot put it down! So far there are three books in this series, The Infernal Devices. Clare also has a second series, The Mortal Instruments that I can’t wait to start. And just to throw it out there, anything by Edward Bloor is amazing as well, Tangerine is my favorite.
If anyone has any YAL suggestions, I’d love to hear them.