Publishing

Surprised by Young-Adult Books

Even though banning books isn’t standard practice in the U.S., I remember my parents trying to limit my promiscuous reading habits while I was growing up, believing Mary Higgins Clark and Tom Clancy to be inappropriate reading material for a child—–so of course I just snuck the books I wanted to read.

But now that I’m at an age where I make my own reading decisions, I’ve been surprised and pleased by some recent young-adult titles. Written to appeal to the 12-17 age range, these books surprise me because many of their topics are actually darker, more serious, and more volatile than a lot of adult fiction.

Earlier this month, the Denver Post took a look at many topics available in young-adult fiction in an article titled, “Teen fiction plots are darker and starker.” The article cites many controversial topics, including eating disorders, sexual assault, and violence.

Do these books reflect the same issues kids see and experience in life, from the news, to the classroom, to the streets? Or does the current no-boundary fiction—including vampires, wizards, and killers—lead vulnerable children astray?

For me, books are an active experience, often an escape that stimulates my imagination and churns my thinking. So for the many readers like me, I believe that books dealing with tough issues, whether based in real life or make-believe, allow teens an outlet to deal with their own feelings, insecurities, and issues. And, as the Denver Post article articulates, many young-adult fiction books do deal with life-changing issues and share valuable lessons in an engaging way, without the phony honey-sweetness of the family sitcom Full House.

Another important piece of the article is the statistic from Publishers Weekly, citing a whopping 25% increase in sales for young-adult fiction in the last five years. I would also be interested in seeing the e-book sales for this genre, as I think the age range includes many early adopters and technologically savvy people. Regardless of the medium in which they are being read, it’s important to note that the upcoming generation is still reading and digesting content in book format.

Although I’m technically past the awkward teenage phase, I find that much of the writing in this arena has quality in both content and style. So I think that Judy Blume—who started the rapidly growing trend of writing for this audience—would be proud of the recent work from bestselling Sarah Dessen and the continuing success of Laurie Halse Anderson.

It’s a genre worth exploring, regardless of your age. I believe that young-adult books dealing with the increasingly common issues of teen suicide, pregnancy, sexual assault, and family problems are actually helping kids who face these issues, helping them feel less alone and helping them realize they have a wider choice of coping options than they may have thought possible.

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Lydia Hirt is the Marketing Coordinator for the Putnam and Riverhead imprints of Penguin Press.

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