A grown-up’s guide to YA lit

July 27, 2011

Over the last two months, I’ve been working on a guest post for In the Library with the Lead Pipe about YA lit. It’s been a great experience (I’ve never had an editor before!), and I’m really proud of the final version of the article, “Are You Reading YA Lit? You Should Be.” Here’s the intro:

I’m a young adult librarian, but I didn’t read young adult lit when I was a teen myself. I was a precocious reader and desperate to be treated like a grown-up, so I read books for grown-ups because anything else was just too puerile for someone as obviously mature and sophisticated as I. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, working on my MLS and realizing that I wanted to work with teens, that I discovered there was a huge, glorious world of excellent YA lit that I had completely missed. Now it’s almost all I read.

Outside of YA circles, I sometimes find myself having to justify my tastes to others. Yes, a lot of why I read YA lit is because I work with teens. But even if I were to switch careers, I would continue reading YA lit because it’s good. That’s not to say adult lit isn’t, of course, but YA lit has a freshness that I really enjoy, and it rarely gets bogged down in its own self-importance. YA lit is also mostly free of the melancholy, nostalgia, and yearning for the innocent days of childhood that I find so tedious in adult literary fiction.

I think the reason some grown-ups look down their noses at YA lit is because they haven’t read any of it recently, so they don’t know how good it’s gotten—or how different it is from what they might imagine it to be. While there are still books that deal with Big Issues, the “problem novel” of the ’70s and ’80s has been eclipsed by more slice-of-life contemporary fiction, romances, fantasies, mysteries, sci-fi stories, and genre-blending tales that defy categorization. For as much attention as the Twilight series has gotten, it’s certainly not all that’s out there.

I talk about what YA lit is and isn’t, how YA lit is similar to and different from adult lit, recent trends in YA lit, and grown-ups reading YA lit (plus some suggestions for adults who want to give YA lit a try). It’s kind of long, but I hope you’ll read it!

I want to say again how awesome it was to work with Lead Piper Brett Bonfield and my guest editors Candice Mack and Nancy Hinkel. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to write this piece with their insightful input and to be an ambassador for YA lit to a wider audience.

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5 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. capillya  |  July 27, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    “YA lit has a freshness that I really enjoy, and it rarely gets bogged down in its own self-importance.” A-MEN. Loved the excerpt, Gretchen! I’m definitely looking forward to reading more on Lead Pipe’s site, and I’ve got it bookmarked to read later. I’ll be sure to have my notepad ready to write down some recs, as well. =)

  • 2. the indie librarian  |  July 27, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    I read a lot of juvenile fiction. I’m super impressed with a lot of the authors that are out there. I do, on occasion, feel creepy perusing the YA shelves, though.

    The thing I love about YA is that it’s very succinct as teen readers don’t have an attention span for much more than that. And most days, neither do I.

    I also love that there are a TON of YA authors these days tackling topics that aren’t broached in the adult world – particularly in LGBT topics.

  • 3. S. R. Samuel  |  July 27, 2011 at 6:31 PM

    Hi Gretchen, I just commented on your article on Lead Pipe, but I’ll restate here how awesome it is. You eloquently explain the essence of YA lit and the reasons it’s so popular.

    I rarely find a YA novel that lets me down. The stories are almost always interesting and rich without being deliberately esoteric and vain. Thanks for a great post :)

    -A Fellow YA Lit Enthusiast

  • 4. Gretchen  |  July 29, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    @capillya Thanks! I hope you like the full article. I’m not sure if you’ll be surprised by any of the recommendations, but I’m hoping adults who are less familiar with YA will give at least one of them a shot!

    @indie librarian: I’m really torn on YA spaces that are so teen-friendly that they exclude adults. It’s a great way to make teens feel more welcome in a place that usually ranges from mildly unwelcoming to downright hostile, but it makes it harder for us to be ambassadors for YA lit (and teens generally) to the adults in our library.

    You’re right that YA lit usually does a good job of getting to the point and making that point count–something I sometimes use to sell a YA book to a reluctant adult.

    I’m not really aware of what’s going on with LGBT topics in adult lit, but I’m really glad to hear that YA lit is at the forefront of that! I guess YA lit is all about identity, so it’s natural that there’s be more exploration of identity-related topics?

    @SR: thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad you’ve found YA titles you love! Welcome to the awesome club of awesome people. :)

  • 5. David J Kirk  |  July 31, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    A great, informative post.

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