In only a few weeks, the American Library Association names the winners of its Youth Media Awards! In the spirit of the season, here are my predictions for the two biggest young adult (YA) lit awards, the Michael L. Printz Award and the William C. Morris YA Debut Award.
The Printz Award recognizes each year's best book written for teen readers, based entirely on literary merit. Up to four second-place Honor books can also be named. Established in 2000 to help bring legitimacy and visibility to books for teens, it's the highest award in YA lit.
What I think will win: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki.
BookPage loved this monochromatic graphic novel about happenings large and small in the beachfront town where teenage Rose and her parents spend every summer. Reviewer Molly Horan writes that the story "perfectly captures . . . the dawning realization that no matter how static a place may stay, the process of growing up forces a change in feelings and perceptions."
On School Library Journal's award speculation blog Someday My Printz Will Come, librarian Sarah Couri has also tagged This One Summer as a good Printz candidate, and I completely agree with her reasons:
To these reasons I'd add two of my own. At the risk of getting too academic, children's and young adult literature is traditionally defined by its lack of authenticity. Although it's written for young readers, it's written by adults. But occasionally an authentic piece of childhood culture will creep into an adult-authored piece, as when Rose and her friend Windy play the aspirational pencil-and-paper game M.A.S.H. (Mansion Apartment Shed House). Lots of preteens (or readers who were once preteens) will recognize this game, but many won't have seen it mentioned in a book before.
And, as discussed on this blog last month, narrator Rose's age is never actually stated. This intentional lack of information forces readers to actively engage with the text (and the illustrations) to figure out for themselves Rose's place among the other characters. In scholarly parlance, this facilitates active, participatory meaningmaking.
So far, Printz medals have always been won by single authors (although author Daniel Handler and illustrator Maira Kalman shared a Printz Honor for Why We Broke Up in 2012). Maybe the time has come for a creative team—like cousins Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki—to take home the gold. And since a graphic novel has won the Printz Award before (American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang in 2007), the committee may be open to naming another sequential art winner.
Can I pick another? I'm doing it anyway . . . but this one's more of an outside contender: Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn.
Speaking of authentic preteen pasttimes, Kuehn's books are like those origami fortune tellers you might have made in middle school (or might have read about in the middle grade hit The Secret of the Fortune Wookie: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger). Each flap unfolds to reveal something interesting, until one final unfolding turns the entire structure inside out.
Complicit, a suspenseful psychological thriller about a teen investigating a fire set by his sister, features an unreliable narrator with unusual psychosomatic symptoms and a past speckled with violence and loss. It stands out, even in a year with other strong unreliable narrators (like We Were Liars by E. Lockhart and Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson), and holds its own in comparison to older, similar works like Invisible by Pete Hautman. And even though I suspected that, like Kuehn's 2013 Morris Award-winning Charm & Strange, Complicit would have a twist at the end, I still finished the story feeling turned inside out . . . in a good way.
A relative newcomer to the scene (it was first awarded in 2009), the Morris Award honors YA debuts. Unlike the Printz, the Morris Award publishes a list of five finalists each year during the first week of December.
I'm rooting for The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos. Told in the form of a college admission essay, it's the story of a teen boy falling in love with music and finding himself after trauma. The book, inspired by the author's own experience touring with a band, is set in the 1980s—which means lots of pop culture references (and no cell phones!). Even in a year where high-profile titles like Andrew Smith's Grasshopper Jungle also address friendship among boys, Vlahos' treatment of the topic still stands out.
What YA books would you love to see recognized by these, or other, YA lit awards? Let us know in the comments!
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I'm a polyamorous reader. At one point last month I had two books open at the same time: Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison (for this blog post) and The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. Angus, Thongs is a laugh-out-loud contemporary realistic fiction young adult (YA) book; The Night Gardener is a ghost story set in the mid-19th century and written for middle grade readers (ages 9 to 12, or grades 4 to 7). Both feature 14-year-old protagonists. What makes one YA and the other middle grade?
Literary agent Carlie Webber wrote in 2013 that she eschews manuscripts with 14-year-old characters. Fourteen-year-olds, Webber argues, lack the childlike "outlook of wonder" that characterizes middle grade fiction—but despite beginning to acquire a jaded teenage outlook, they're stuck being chauffered by their parents, so "there’s not a lot they can do to really affect a ton of change." And marketing books with 14-year-old protagonists is tricky, because this age is where two major priorities start to conflict. Conventional wisdom says that young readers like to read about characters a few years older than themselves. But readers also like to be able to relate to characters—and at age 14 "delightful things like puberty" start to differentiate children's experiences from those of teens.
More recently, writer Dianne K. Salerni, author of The Caged Graves, writes of similar issues. At her publisher's request, she reduced the protagonist's age in her middle grade book The Eighth Day from 14 to 13, because "age 14 was a No Man’s Land as far as book stores . . . are concerned. If my main character was 14, the book would be shelved in the Teen section, where it didn’t belong." Salerni goes on to brainstorm factors that might be relevant to character age, including popularity ("Percy Jackson ages past 14" but "I was not . . . Rick Riordan"), character or author gender, and genre and setting. She insists that "the premise of the story, the tone, the voice, and the themes matter more than the age of the main character."
One of this year's standout YA titles, the graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, is a great example of a book that not only avoids these pitfalls but actively subverts them. Protagonist Rose's age is never explicitly mentioned. Instead, she's sandwiched between her childlike friend Windy ("one and a half years younger than I am") and her sort-of crush, who she admits is way too old for her ("He's like eighteen. That's like perverted."). Rose and Windy often joke about sex, but its real implications—like teen pregnancy, marital relationships and infertility—are harder for Rose to process. Because the story is set on a small-town beach, transportation is never an issue, and because it's summer, neither is school. Is Rose an older kid, or a younger teen? How do others see her? How does she see herself? (This One Summer's exploration of these questions is part of what might make it a serious contender for this year's Printz Award.)
With all this in mind, let's take another look at YA Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging and middle grade The Night Gardener, both with 14-year-old main characters. Unlike the realistic Angus, Thongs, the spooky The Night Gardener takes place in a semi-fantastical historical setting. When protagonist Molly and other characters need to travel they do so by horse-drawn wagon, but most of the action takes place in and around a self-contained family mansion in the first place. Middle grade readers can relate to Molly not only because of her inherant hopefulness but also because she doesn't have to contend with, say, the daily social politics of ninth grade (or in British-speak, fourth form) the way Georgia Nicolson of Angus, Thongs does.
And then, of course, there's that puberty thing. Georgia's constantly thinking about boys, makeup and the eponymous undergarments, while these matters never seem to cross Molly's mind. Identity as a sexual being—blended with genre, setting and jadedness vs. optimism—may be what makes some 14-year-olds' stories YA and others middle grade.
What are some of your favorite books with 14-year-old characters—or characters whose age is never specified? Are these characters still open-minded kids, or world-weary teenagers? And who do you see picking up these books—adults, kids or teens?
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field.
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill looks at one of our favorite classic YA novels, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.
Teen Read Week kicks off this Sunday! As an annual celebration of reading for fun, this is the perfect time to look back on one of the most fun YA books of all time.
Fourteen years ago, 14-year-old Georgia Nicolson made her debut in the pages of Louise Rennison's laugh-out-loud funny Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. Nine more books, an online short story and a movie would follow.
In hour by hour—and sometimes minute by minute—diary-style entries filled with British slang and her own neologisms, Georgia relates her adventures with her half-wild cat Angus ("I used to drag him around on a lead, but as I explained to Mrs. Next Door, he ate it"), her 3-year-old sister Libby, her best friends Jas, Ellen, Rosie and Jools, and most of all her attempt to snag—and snog—Robbie, the Sex God. In between, she and her classmates study geoggers and blodge (geography and biology), debate what boys really mean when they say "see you later" and handle various beauty mishaps, like shaved eyebrows and attempts at hair dying.
If these seem like silly concerns, they're supposed to be. As Rennison told BookPage in 2003, her path to writing about Georgia started when a newspaper column of hers caught a publisher's attention in an unusual way. (The publisher "asked me if I would consider writing a teenage girl's diary book. I said, er . . . why me? and they said, because we have never read anything quite so self-obsessed and childish, so we thought you could do a really good job.")
The glossary at the end of the book might be even more fun the main story. Georgia spells out the exact meanings of deely-boppers (an amusing piece of headwear), nuddy-pants ("literally nude-colored pants, and you know what nude-colored pants are? They are no pants"), "double cool with knobs" (which means "very" but is "altogether snappier") and other terms, to hilarious effect.
Recently the Guardian featured a guest piece by author Louise Rennison reflecting on how well the British humor of Angus, Thongs and its sequels has translated to "Hamburger-a-go-go land"—that is, the United States. Among other points, Rennison relates a confusion as to whether or not Americans wear knickers and an oddly impossible interpretation of the British title of the fifth book, . . . And That's When It Fell Off in My Hand.
Rennison's article was perfect timing, because I had recently been reminiscing on the bizarre incidents, urban folklore and noteworthy reputations that've accumulated around this cult classic over time.
First, there's Rennison's unusual path to writing about Georgia's "fabbity fab fab" life. As Rennison told BookPage in 2003, a newspaper column of hers had caught a publisher's attention in an unexpected way. (The publisher "asked me if I would consider writing a teenage girl's diary book. I said, er . . . why me? and they said, because we have never read anything quite so self-obsessed and childish, so we thought you could do a really good job.")
Then there's the climate of YA lit into which Rennison was writing. Angus, Thongs, a 2001 Printz Honor book, entered the American YA lit scene in April 2000, at a time when the Printz Award had just recognized its first crop of winners, John Green was about to graduate from college, and Harry Potter fans were eagerly awaiting the upcoming fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Technology was different, too: Georgia and her friends pass notes in class rather than texting, call each other from "phone boxes" and listen to music on audiotapes. But their desire to evade school rules, their interest in kissing lessons and their frustrations with their parents are universal teen themes.
And don't forget about the longstanding appeal of the diary format itself. Georgia's entries are immediate and highly emotionally charged, with the quick ups and downs characteristic of teens' feelings ("6:00pm: Is my life over? Is this all there is? . . . 8:05pm: Jas has just phoned to say we've been invited to a party at Katie Steadman's and . . . Katie has asked Tom and Robbie. YESSSSS!!!!")
Although Angus, Thongs didn't invent diary format or even bring it to YA lit for the first time (it's a defining feature of 1971's anonymous Go Ask Alice, for example), Rennison's book might very well have popularized and encouraged this way of telling stories. Diary format has gone on to be used in dozens of other YA novels, ranging from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (also published in 2000) to Girls Like Us, longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
And finally, there's the book challenges, the complaints and the apologies. In 2005, the second book, On The Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, was challenged in a Bozeman, Montana, middle school on the grounds that "an unstable person seeing a girl reading the book might think from the title that the girl was promiscuous and stalk her." (Louise Rennison had appeared on the American Library Association's most frequently challenged authors list two years before, in 2003.)
In another incident posted on a children's lit listserv at the time, a bookseller found herself awkwardly explaining to a horrified parent what "snogging" meant (it means kissing, not to be confused with the significantly more R-rated "shagging").
Lastly, one of my own YA lit students shared an incident of her own with our class. Echoing Seventeen magazine's review—"You might want to refrain from reading this one in public"—my student found that Angus, Thongs and public transportation didn't quite mix. "I was reading it on the bus and laughing hysterically, and everyone was looking at me funny," she mock-complained.
Fans of Rennison's latest work might want to check out last year's The Taming of the Tights, her third book featuring Georgia's theater-loving cousin Tallulah Casey. But to some readers, nothing quite compares to their very first encounter with one of YA lit's funniest teens.
What retro YA book have you been meaning to read . . . or re-read? Let us know in the comments!
What we talk about when we talk about E. Lockhart's We Were Liars: pretty much nothing. There's a beach and a wealthy family. Our heroine loves a boy. I don't dare share much else. So I'll do my best to avoid any spoilers, but if you haven't read We Were Liars, read on at your own risk.
If you have read it, you know that once you get past all the dramatic hype, this young adult novel is a tantalizing exploration of memory and grief, with an explosive loss of innocence that will not soon be forgotten.
Wondering what to read next? Read on for your next steps.
If you can't bring yourself to leave the salty air, turn to one of Hilderbrand's novels set on the island of Nantucket. In her 2012 novel Summerland, four teenagers find themselves reeling in the aftermath of a deadly car accident. Their summer is defined by tragedy, but there's always hope to be found in a close community. As with all of Hilderbrand's beach reads, this is an ideal balance of sun, sand and heartrending drama.
If you love the super-complex family web and intricate plotting as well as the beachy setting, check out Straub's second (and arguably best) novel. Travel with the Post family from Manhattan to the island of Mallorca, where escape is on the menu but isn't what's being served. Meet Franny and Jim; their teen daughter, Sylvia; their 20-something son, Bobby, and his girlfriend; Franny’s best friend, Charles; and his husband, Lawrence. Secrets are revealed, true natures come to light, and the pages fly by.
If you couldn't get enough of Cady and Gat's impossible romance and are still mulling over questions of your own ability to forgive, try McEwan's crushing and unforgettable tale set in war-torn Europe. The actions of young Briony Tallis cause irreparable damage for years to come in this haunting tale that explores themes of grief, memory and the ramifications of childhood actions in ways very similar to We Were Liars. Plus it has an ending that will leave you reeling.
If your favorite part of We Were Liars was Lockhart's narrative acrobatics and tender, poetic prose, check out Printz Honor-winning author A.S. King, who deftly toes the line of magical realism. Ask the Passengers seems to unfold with the natural ebb and flow of a young girl's imaginative and kind mind as she navigates the difficult coming-out process in a small, insular town.
If you loved the way Cady told her family's story through fairy-tales—in particular "Meat Loves Salt," the tragic story of a wealthy father who rejects his youngest daughter, which inspired Shakespeare's King Lear—you may enjoy the fable qualities of Boy, Snow, Bird, particularly its understanding of the classic "evil" character, the wicked stepmother.
This is another one that shouldn't be discussed too much, at the risk of giving anything away. From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes this masterpiece of red herrings and reading between the lines. The story focuses on three people—Kath, Tommy and Ruth—who were students at a special experimental boarding school called Hailsham. Their realizations about their short lives will leave you breathless.
What do you think, readers? What would you suggest reading after We Were Liars?
RELATED CONTENT: Read our previous "Read it Next" posts.
Sedgwick, who won the 2014 award for Midwinterblood, has always been fascinated with spirals, "which occur throughout nature from the microscopic to the interstellar." The Ghosts of Heaven (Roaring Brook) is composed of four "quarters," leaping from prehistory to centuries later, that can be read in any order and are all connected by sprials in some way. It's exactly the sort of narrative that Sedgwick alone can handle.
Lake, who won in 2013 for In Darkness, offers a new literary thriller that was inspired by a haunting moment in his own life: A coyote ran across his path in Scottsdale, Arizona, and this image resonated through his mind and life until coming to rest within the pages of There Will Be Lies (Bloomsbury). In a letter at the book's opening, Lake writes, "It's a book about canyons, about chasms, about cracks in reality; and it's a book about what lies beyond them."
Are you as excited for these two novels as I am?
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill looks at Chris Bohjalian's new novel and its crossover appeal.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian, a novel about a teen girl navigating a post-apocalyptic world, was published for adults. But it could easily function as a YA novel for a number of reasons:
Narrator Emily Shepard tells her tale from a first-person point of view, with an immediacy and focus that's arguably one of the defining characteristics of YA literature. Her speech is peppered with the kind of neologisms and pop culture references that a real teen might use. Bohjalian credits his then-19-year-old daughter Grace for helping make Emily's voice authentic, writing in his acknowledgements that "she [Grace] taught me a lot—and I mean a lot—of new expressions."
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is divided into sections before and after an important event (Emily's quasi-adoption of the homeless 9-year-old Cameron). This before-and-after format is probably best known from Looking for Alaska by John Green, but it also figures prominently in older YA books like Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas and newer ones like the 2013 William C. Morris YA Debut Award winner Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn. Bohjalian's book also jumps back and forth in time freely, a technique familiar to readers of, for example, E. Lockhart's We Were Liars.
How many times have you heard book recommendations along the lines of "If you like Harry Potter, you'll like ______"? Comparisons help readers find books they might like, but they also serve as a metaphorical space to define genres, audience and other categories. By citing Karen Hesse's similar 1994 YA novel Phoenix Rising as inspiration (again, in his acknowledgements), Bohjalian grounds Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands in the section of this space occupied by YA lit.
While trying to survive their new world, Emily and her fellow teens use drugs, work as prostitutes and carry X-Acto knives to cut their skin. At first glance these topics—and in particular Bohhalian's non-condemnatory treatment of them—seem rather adult in nature. But in fact these ideas are standard fare for other boundary-pushing works of contemporary YA lit. For example, the upcoming Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson includes a character whose drug use is rooted in complex circumstances. Similarly, Blythe Woodson's recent Black Helicopters shows its protagonist trading sex with an older man for shelter for herself and her brother.
As Jennifer Miskec and Chris McGee explain in "My Scars Tell a Story: Self-Mutilation in Young Adult Literature" from Children's Literature Association Quarterly, contemporary YA lit embraces nuanced psychological and cultural views about cutting. In Violet & Claire by Francesca Lia Block, for example, the protagonist stops cutting when she channels her frustrations into filmmaking instead; in Pretties and Specials by Scott Westerfeld, "cutting is a way [for teens] to gain strength and clarity about the world around them." So when Emily describes cutting as a substitute for creative journaling and as a means to feel "almost human," Bohjalian's not flouting conventions of YA lit; instead, he's locating his story in an established pattern of others.
The number of YA novels that take place in crumbling worlds is dizzying. Some of my favorites from this year include Andrew Smith's Grasshopper Jungle and Rick Yancey's The Infinite Sea, the sequel to last summer's The 5th Wave.
In some ways the apocalypse is a natural metaphor for being a teen: For teenagers, everything is the end of the world. And as high school ends and teens leave home for college, work or other pursuits, the world as they know it is, in a way, literally ending.
So the question remains: Why is Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands an adult novel? Or rather, why isn't it YA?
A book's target audience can be as much a marketing decision as a content one—and no wonder, considering the debate that raged this past summer. When the movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars hit theaters in June, cultural critics like Slate's Ruth Graham immediately started lampooning grownups who read YA books that "abandon the mature insights . . . that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults." And just today, film critic Anthony Lane blasts YA lit in The New Yorker, writing of "the über-mantra of young-adult narrative: everything is a choice—your boyfriend, your college application, your breakfast, your playlist, the color of your scrunchie, and your ontological status. No reference must be made to principles beyond your reach, because those do not apply."
Bohjalian already has an established adult readership; would these fans buy a YA novel? By publishing Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands for adults, Bohjalian's publisher could avoid the issue entirely.
But, as surveys like Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age show, adults actually do often buy, read and enjoy YA books. And as Salon's Laura Miller points out, YA fiction—like adult fiction—can do "everything a written text can do that other forms of storytelling cannot."
And just like adults can and do pick up YA books, teens can do and read books published for adults: Awards like YALSA's Alex Awards recognize adult books of high interest to young adult readers.
In the end, a good book can be a good book, whether it's categorized as adult or YA. So even though Bohjalian's readership is dominated by—and his new novel is targeted toward—adults, I'd bet on a new generation of Bohjalian fans. He's certainly earned it.
What other books do you love that cross YA/adult category lines like this? Add your thoughts in the comments!
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill pairs classic high school reads with great teen fiction.
For avid teen readers, the end of summer vacation can herald the end of reading what they want and a return to reading what they must. The teen who devoured The Fault in Our Stars may be less enthusiastic about the source of its title, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. But pitting YA books against the classics of Western literature doesn't have to be an either-or proposition: Some pairs can illuminate each other in new and interesting ways.
Direct retellings of well-known tales abound (see this chart from Epic Reads), but works that complement rather than duplicate the classics can be harder to find. Here are four suggestions of great YA books to read alongside some staples of high school English.
SALEM WHICH TRIALS?
If you read The Crucible in American Lit class, you might remember your teacher saying that Arthur Miller's 1953 play was really about McCarthyism, using the Salem witch trials as a metaphor. Another interpretation is that The Crucible is about what happens when issues of gender, power, illness and social class combine in a high-pressure environment.
If so, Katherine Howe's new YA novel Conversion is the play's perfect readalike. Half of Conversion focuses on high school senior Colleen and her classmates at a highly competitive, all-female Massachusetts school where dozens of girls suddenly come down with unexplained, seemingly unconnected symptoms. (The story is based on a real incident that took place in LeRoy, New York, in 2012, a topic also explored in the recent adult novel The Fever by Megan Abbott.) The other half is narrated by Ann Putnam Jr., a teen at the center of the 1692 witch panic in Salem. The two halves, initially connected only by Colleen's extra credit project about The Crucible, soon converge. Like Arthur Miller, Howe leaves readers wondering exactly how much of a metaphor the Salem witch trials might be for contemporary goings-ons.
TURNING AROUND IN REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE
Dual, possibly intersecting narratives also characterize Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, another contemporary YA novel that takes place partially in the present day and partially in the past—specifically, during the French revolution. This setting makes it the perfect choice to read alongside A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Like Charles Darney, Sydney Carton and Dickens' other characters, the dual narrators of Revolution watch their personal dramas play out against the backdrop of a larger political and social upheaval.
The 150-year gap between these two works might be the most thought-provoking aspect of this pairing. Historical perspectives on the French revolution have changed over time, with Dickens' heroic Bastille-stormers giving way to more nuanced modern interpretations. And readers of both books might want to remember the multiple senses of the word "revolution": It can mean both a war for independence and the act of changing direction.
WHITE DRESSES DRIPPING BLOOD
No one writes the macabre quite like Edgar Allan Poe. Teens who've read his short story "The Fall of the House of Usher" and want more creepy old houses haunted by revenge-seeking, bloodsoaked-dress-wearing gals—but with less onerous vocabulary and more running jokes about Ghostbusters—can't do better than Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Like Poe's classic short story, Blake's novel positively drips with Gothic horror—but it also features biology study sessions, talk of crushes (both ghostly and human) and pop culture references to everything from Harry Potter to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." And fans of both authors can follow up with further works: Poe wrote dozens of short stories and poems, and Blake's sequel, Girl of Nightmares, picks up where the first book ends.
After leaving a place of chaos and conflict, our hero wanders for many miles, meeting people and learning about the world as they travel. But when they finally reach home, they find that their journey is actually just beginning.
This is the plot of Homer's Odyssey and Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming, both classics of their particular canons. While Odysseus navigates giants, sea monsters and other dangers of the ancient, mythological Mediterranean, teenage Dicey has a much more mundane but no less challenging task: bringing her younger siblings to safety after their mother abandons them in a Connecticut parking lot. First published in 1981, Voigt's novel is filled with pay phones, two-dollar bus fares and other relics of bygone decades, but that only adds to its charm. Besides, Homer's epic is almost 3,000 years old, making Homecoming (and its sequels) seem positively contemporary in comparison.
By pairing YA lit with classics, teen readers can apply what they learn from older works to newer and potentially more relevant contexts. Or they can use YA lit to rethink their interpretations of classic works. Either way, the start of school doesn't have to mean the end of reading YA.
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill addresses a growing trend in YA lit: books featuring physically and mentally disabled teenagers.
Earlier this month, fans of John Green's iconic young adult (YA) novel The Fault in Our Stars lined up to be the first to see its newly released movie adaptation. Green's boundary-pushing book, in which two teens with cancer fall in love, has arguably set the contemporary standard for how YA literature portrays characters with disabilities.
Recently three books about differently-abled teens caught my attention. Like The Fault in Our Stars, all three take a nuanced, sensitive approach to their characters' physical and mental disorders, emphasizing that these teens' disabilities aren't the only factors that define who they are.
Revealing the narrator's disability in She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick is almost-but-not-quite a spoiler: The careful reader will quickly figure out why 16-year-old Laureth needs her 7-year-old brother's help getting through a busy airport. Laureth and Benjamin are on their way to America in hopes of finding their father, who has mysteriously vanished. Laureth is blind, but she spends more time thinking about secret plots, numeric games and her father's cryptic notes than about her lack of sight. And Sedgewick's book is at least as much of a thriller and a fast-paced mystery as it is a book about a visually impaired teen.
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles is told from the alternating points of view of two new high school graduates, both developmentally disabled, who've been paired as roommates for their first post-high school jobs. Quincy and Biddy seem at first to have little in common with each other—let alone with their elderly landlady—but the three soon form a friendship that will help them meet ongoing challenges from the past as well as new ones in the present. Both narrators of this slim, accessible volume are fully realized characters with thoughts, fears, dreams and goals that extend far beyond the labels often used to dismiss them.
At the beginning of Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern, Matthew, a high school senior struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), signs up as a peer helper for fellow senior Amy, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Like their non-disabled peers, Amy and Matthew experience many of the milestones of senior year, including afterschool jobs, college acceptances and of course prom. Neither expects that Amy will help Matthew at least as much as he helps her . . . or that their friendship will gradually blossom into romance.
Say What You Will doesn't end at Amy and Matthew's graduation, though. During their first months as newly independent adults, Matthew learns more about the world of work while Amy finds that her first semester of college isn't quite what she'd hoped it would be. And an impulsive decision of Amy's is about to change the course of both their lives.
(Note: Both Girls Like Us and Say What You Will focus at least in part on characters navigating jobs, college, roommates and living on their own for the first time. Fiction about this life stage has recently taken on the publishing label "new adult." This category name is often mistakenly seen as synonymous with "lots of graphic sex scenes," but these two books provide solid counter evidence to this claim, as neither book contains any consensual sex at all between so-called "new adults.")
In some ways, YA lit has been a welcome home to stories about marginalized teens ever since S.E. Hinton penned The Outsiders in 1967. While Hinton's book compared the working-class Greasers to the high-society Socs, contemporary YA fiction's protagonists represent a wide spectrum of differences across economics, ethnicity, sexuality and many other aspects of identity, including disability. The Fault in Our Stars (in both book and movie form) may have spearheaded the contemporary conversation about disabled teen protagonists, but it's done so as part of a longstanding tradition that continues to refine, and redefine, the portrayal of difference in YA lit.
This summer, let your child or teenager choose their own summer reading! There are plenty of brand new books that will keep your youngster—reluctant or eager—reading all summer long. Of course, they should be soaking up sunshine and swimming so much they could grow gills, but spending time with a book is just as important.
We've selected our favorite new books for summer reading, categorized by the genre your child or teen might enjoy. This is a particularly helpful guide if your child is participating in the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, which encourages young readers to choose their own books and log minutes to earn rewards.
Ready, set, read!
If your child or teen is interested in steampunk adventures,
why not try . . .
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Ages 8 to 12
"From the best-selling author of Airborn and This Dark Endeavor comes another cinematic adventure. In this historical steampunk folktale, young William Everett is traveling across Canada on the maiden voyage of The Boundless. With seven miles of cars, including enough freight cars to form a circus “town,” The Boundless is the longest train in the world." Read our full review.
Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
Ages 8 to 12
"Who hasn’t imagined a new life, with new parents, in an exciting place? And a castle—definitely a castle! With chefs and maids and servants—everything you could ever want. In Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, written by Emma Trevayne, 10-year-old Jack gets exactly this. Unfortunately, things are not as wonderful as they may seem." Read our full review.
Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
Ages 10 and up
"Jaleigh Johnson has created a uniquely imaginative world in her first book for middle-grade readers, The Mark of the Dragonfly. Thirteen-year-old Piper is a feisty, orphaned girl who survives by discovering and restoring flying objects from meteor showers. What she doesn’t count on is finding Anna, who is being chased by a member of King Aron’s army and bears the mysterious mark of the dragonfly." Read our full review.
If your child or teen is interested in juicy mysteries,
why not try . . .
Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine
Ages 10 and up
"For the first time ever, it will just be Adam, his mom and his aging grandmother at their cabin on Three Bird Lake. His parents have recently divorced, and although it will be a different kind of summer, 12-year-old Adam looks forward to escaping the routine of school, sitting on the dock by himself and watching the loons." Read our full review.
Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Ages 10 and up
"On the heels of solving her first mystery in the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, Mo LoBeau faces more intrigue in her tiny North Carolina town of Tupelo Landing. Just when her adoptive kin buy the old Tupelo Inn, now abandoned and rumored to be haunted, her sixth-grade teacher assigns an oral history report to coincide with the community’s 250th anniversary." Read our full review.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Ages 12 and up
"How do you talk about a story so shrouded in secrecy, its own heroine doesn’t know what’s going on? Here’s what we do know: The characters in E. Lockhart’s 10th novel are members of a privileged American family. We know that a private island is involved, on which both intense friendship and romance bloom. But anything else we think we know could be a lie." Read our interview with Lockhart.
The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson
Ages 12 and up
"Set on the beaches and back alleys of Los Angeles, The Prince of Venice Beach is the tale of a homeless runaway who lives an easy life off the grid—until his only means of income turns morally complex." Read our full review.
If your child or teen is interested in sun-filled drama,
why not try . . .
I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora
Ages 10 to 14
"Everyone should read Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird; at least that’s what eighth-graders Lucy and her friends Michael and Elena think. In fact, they believe so strongly in this summer reading-list classic that they decide to put their clever and surreptitious marketing skills to work to get everyone talking about—and searching for—the book." Read our full review.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Ages 12 and up
"At just 18, Emi has parlayed a Hollywood internship into work as a production designer, a job for which she has natural talent. While prop shopping at an estate sale, she finds a letter from a deceased movie star that sends her and her best friend, Charlotte, on a quest to find the actor’s troubled granddaughter, Ava." Read our full review.
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Ages 12 and up
"For Rose, summers at Awago Beach are a constant. She and her parents have been renting a cottage there for as long as she can remember, and none of the changes in her life can alter the yearly trip to the beach—not even her parents’ sudden surge of fights. She’s reunited with her best beach friend Windy, and at first everything falls into the usual rhythm." Read our full review.
What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Ages 14 and up
"Set on the beaches of a fictional island located off the coast of Connecticut, What I Thought Was True is the story of a young woman learning firsthand of the mystifying intricacies of love, lust, luxury and loyalty—and how each can change drastically for her friends, her family and herself." Read our full review.
If your child or teen is interested in a thrilling new fantasy series,
why not try . . .
The Thickety by J.A. White
Ages 8 to 12
"By age 6, Kara Westfall has seen and suffered unimaginable loss: Her mother was convicted of witchcraft, and Kara was accused as well. By 12 she’s developed a dark sense of humor, but she’s a dutiful sister to younger brother Taff and tries to care for her grieving father. Their village hates and fears her, so when a strange bird appears in her path and leads her into the Thickety, the oppressive forest that surrounds them, she’s frightened but curious." Read our full review.
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove
Ages 10 and up
S.E. Grove’s debut novel is set in a world unmoored from time. Different countries can exist in the 19th century, Dark Ages, prehistory or even the future. This grand adventure involves a glass map, a kidnapped uncle and a cast of complex and endearing characters. Look for a review in the July issue of BookPage.
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly
Ages 12 and up
"Mermaid princess Serafina is nervous. Today’s the day she’ll prove herself a true descendant of her famous ancestor Merrow in the royal family’s traditional Dokimí ceremony. She’ll demonstrate her worthiness to rule through “songcasting” a complex musical spell, and the day will end with her formal betrothal to the handsome but rebellious crown prince Mahdi." Read our full review.
Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon
Ages 12 and up
"The first book in a new series from 19-year-old author Lucy Saxon, Take Back the Skies offers readers an incredibly fast-paced mixture of fantasy and steampunk. It’s full of twists and turns that will shock even the most ardent fantasy fan." Read our full review.
What books would you recommend to a young reader this summer?
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill addresses the importance of summer reading.
The days are getting longer, the mercury is climbing and the siren song of beaches, summer camp—or pretty much anything at all that isn’t school—is becoming irresistible. As the school year comes to an end, why should the teens in your life think about picking up a book during summer vacation? Research on summer reading provides some noteworthy answers.
One good reason is that reading over the summer has been shown to reduce “summer slide,” the term educators use to refer to the skills and knowledge that students lose over long summer breaks. A research brief produced by Karen Balsen and Douglas Moore for the New York State Library in 2010/2011 provides an accessible summary of much of this research, especially as it relates to socioeconomic factors. For example, Balsen and Moore cite a 2007 study that found that “two‐thirds of the 9th [sic] grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years.” Having year-round access to a wide range of interesting reading material, this and other studies conclude, helps narrow achievement gaps and prevent summer learning loss.
Reading over the summer has been shown to reduce “summer slide,” the term educators use to refer to the skills and knowledge that students lose over long summer breaks.
Many schools assign books to be read during vacation months, but why should teens also be given the chance to choose their own summer reading? In his various writings, including the seminal books The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research (Libraries Unlimited, 2nd ed. 2004) and Free Voluntary Reading (Libraries Unlimited, 2011), educational researcher Stephen D. Krashen advocates for free voluntary reading (FVR), “reading because you want to: no book reports, no questions at the end of the chapter.” Citing dozens of research studies, Krashen explains that FVR—“the kind of reading that most of us [especially BookPage readers!] do obsessively all the time”—promotes reading comprehension, acquisition of general knowledge and most of all the positive attitudes toward reading that are all but necessary for achieving reading fluency. Summer is the perfect time for teens to catch up on the FVR that busy school year schedules often preclude.
Finally, in what might possibly be the most unusual piece of research ever produced about summer reading, emergency room doctor Stephen Gwilym and his colleagues noticed in 2005 that traffic in their pediatric trauma center had plummeted on certain July weekends . . . the same weekends that new Harry Potter books were released. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they report “a [statistically] significant decrease in attendances on the intervention weekends . . . At no other point during the three year surveillance period was attendance that low.” Why weren’t kids and teens getting hurt in typical summer accidents on those weekends? Because instead they were sitting still, reading about Harry’s latest adventures.
Why weren’t kids and teens getting hurt in typical summer accidents on those weekends?
Of course, this doesn’t quite work backwards: Dusting off your old copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince won’t necessarily keep you (or your teen) out of the ER this summer. But since Gwilym et al argue that Harry’s “lack of horizontal velocity, height, wheels, or sharp edges” contributed to low injury numbers, perhaps any book will do just as well.
In the end, teens (in general) don’t read research studies; their own reasons for reading over the summer are more likely to be about good stories than about achievement gaps. What books are your teens especially looking forward to reading this summer? How do you help convince them that, as the weather gets hot, reading is still cool?