This week's "So You Want to Read YA?" comes from one of my friends from college who has made a name for herself in the book world, Laura Arnold.
Laura Arnold is a senior editor at Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
I was chatting with my YA editor colleagues about the task of writing this blog post, and the more we tossed around titles, the more we became panicked. So many good books! Where do you start? Where do you even think of starting? So I decided to look at a few distinct categories…and my choices flowed quickly from there.
Start with the beginning: When I think of the origin of “young adult literature,” my brain jumps instinctively to The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967) and I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier (1977). To suggest that these novels and these alone are the beginning of YA is an entirely unscholarly remark, of course (also, sacrilegious in that I’ve omitted Judy Blume). Yet, read today, each of these stories crackles with the same pent-up energy with which they electrified readers decades ago.
Start with the bestsellers: First it was Twilight. Then it was The Hunger Games. Right now I think it might be John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I can’t get on the subway without witnessing an adult absorbed in one of these YA smash hits. These books aren’t bestsellers just because of their marketing campaigns. Their success speaks to one element above all: passionate word of mouth.
Start with the perennials: Two titles spring to mind for me here as books that will never stop being talked about: Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Conceptually they’re quite different, though both seemingly dark. Thirteen Reasons Why is about teen suicide, The Book Thief about the Holocaust. Yet each is powerful, unforgettable and, ultimately, life-affirming.
Or start with the fun: Maybe you just want to kick off your shoes and curl up with something ridiculously enjoyable. What’s your poison? Werewolves? Try Shiver or Nightshade. Angels? Allow me to plug Immortal City (which, full disclosure, I edited). Fantasy? How about Graceling? Doctor Who fan? You’ll love Across the Universe. Rom-com? Float up into the more thoughtful world of Sarah Dessen.
The point is, YA has something for everyone, young adult or not. There’s a rich trove waiting to be discovered. Dig in, and enjoy!