Monday, August 2, 2010

Why Would Adults Read YA?

By Tamela McCann

Why would an adult spend time reading books meant for teenagers? What is it about young adult literature that makes otherwise reasonably well read, mostly mature people put aside the books written specifically for them and gobble up stories featuring characters much younger doing things only teenagers can? Is it the storylines? Is it the characterizations, the sense that you somehow *know* these people? Is it the sense of looking back to vanished youth, wishing you were still there but grateful that you aren’t? Or is it the fact that books for young adults are simply well-written, identifiable tales, no matter what your age?

Yep. That’s pretty much covers it.

I’ve always read children’s literature and young adult books, even in that long ago time when I had no children of my own and my “excuse” was that I was a middle school teacher who needed to be in touch with what was out there. The fact is, young adult literature still speaks to me, even though I left my own young adult years a while ago. Whenever I find myself in a reading funk, I can pretty much rely on a YA book to pull me out. No matter the genre, it’s the characterizations that drive young adult lit, and it’s that force that sucks me in. Even in the wildest of settings, there’s a sense of been there, felt that, that comes through; the knowledge that someone else understands your particular pain or situation climbs right out of those pages and grabs hold. There’s a sense of shared experience with young adult books that transcends the book itself as well. I remember surreptitiously passing Judy Blume’s Forever back and forth in junior high; not one of us even had a boyfriend, let alone were considering sex, but it was the idea that someday we might actually do the deed that kept us passing that book so that we all might know what was ahead.

So here I am, some (cough) years past the time I was age appropriate for reading YA books, still reading and loving everything about them. It’s one of the first areas I prowl when I go into a bookstore, and walking into our middle school library still makes my heart race with possibilities. The sight of a school book fair has been known to make me drool like Pavlov’s dog. I could go all scientific and try to analyze just why I find the young adult genre so engrossing but honestly, I don’t care. I just love young adult literature, and I know that nine times out of ten, I’m going to become totally engrossed in the story, whether it’s realistic, fantasy, or historical.

One of my reasons for writing this column is to share some of my favorite YA books and to hopefully hear from you guys what yours are. This month I’m psyched beyond all reason for the third book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, which comes out August 24 (and which I pre-ordered months ago). The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen (love the name!), a teen who lives in Panem, the nation that grew out of what was once North America. In order to remind the nation of the Hunger, a desperate time when
there was no food, the Capitol has established The Hunger Games; each of the twelve Districts send a boy and a girl to the Games to fight to the death until only one survives. When Katniss’s younger sister is chosen, Katniss substitutes herself but she is far from resigned to her fate. Realizing that it’s as much about entertainment for the masses as it is about history, Katniss and her partner Peeta learn to play the Game and work to circumvent everything the Capitol throws at them. The Hunger Games kept me on the edge of my seat; Katniss is a strong protagonist whose quick mind and startling skills makes this book so much more than just a fantasy. It’s survival of the fittest but only one can win.

I was lucky enough to have to wait only have a couple of months after finishing The Hunger Games for the sequel Catching Fire to arrive. The nature of Catching Fire taking place at hinges on the ending of The Hunger Games so I won’t spend time recounting the plot. I did read some reviews that suggested that Catching Fire wasn’t quite as exciting as The Hunger Games, but I found it just as enthralling because though there are similarities, there is also character and plot development that set us up for the third installment. Suffice it to say that there is a return to the arena where things go horribly awry once again. Ending on a huge cliffhanger, Catching Fire did just that for me; I swear I felt feverish in my excitement and desire to know how it’s all going to end. August 24, come on! Don’t you publishers understand I *need* this book right now?

If you haven’t picked up a YA book in a while, do yourself a favor and grab The Hunger Games to see what you’re missing. YA isn’t just teenage angst; it’s about the world(s) and our place(s) among the rest of humanity. I guarantee that you’re going to identify with that no matter what your age.

Other recommended books for this month: Evernight by Claudia Gray, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, Wolf by the Ears by Ann Rinaldi, Looking for Alaska by John Green, The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney.


Michele at Reader's Respite said...

I know, I know....I *need* to read these books before Mockingjay comes out later this month. And I promise: they are at the top of my pile.

There are so many great YA books out there. Of course, I'm convinced that there were a lot of great YA books when I was an actual YA, but as an adult I'm more motivated to find them.

Michelle said...

You make excellent points! Like you, I'm well past my young adult years and just adore the books in this catagoriztion. I'm a huge Hunger Games fan as well and would recommend it to anyone who is on the fense about reading YA, it is, in fact, what got me into the genre.

Heather said...

I just reread both Hunger Games and Catching Fire (by listening to the audio) to get ready for Mockingjay. it definitely hyped up my anticipation!

I have read a lot of YA in the last few years, so much that I'm actually kinda burnt out on the genre, but I know I'll go back eventually. I haven't REALLY left it, I'm just expanding my horizons a bit. YA is great for stories and it's my go-to genre when I just want a GOOD STORY.

MizB said...

I haven't yet read The Hunger Games series, but I have plans to try it...

But, I wanted to jump in and say that, I, too, love YA books, even though I'm an "adult" who hasn't been a "teen" for over 12 years now. ;)

I think what draws me to YA books, though, is the fact that they're true-to-life... the characters' experiences are things I can relate to, and the feelings they have are made plain for all to see. Not to mention the element of "been there, done/felt that", as you said.