What YA novels would you recommend to an older adult as examples of well-crafted fiction?
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I thought of directing him to some solid YA storytelling that wouldn't make heavy literary and intellectual demands on him. I thought it might be easier for him to focus on the author's craft in a context that requires good technique to hold a young person's attention. Something fairly realistic (and not too grim) would be preferable to magical fantasy for this gentleman, so no Harry Potter-type selections, thanks.
Both these books avoid a lot of the trends and references that date YA books, and although both were written for the YA market, I feel that they are well-written and mature enough for adults to appreciate - I still do, *mumble* years after I discovered them in my teens!
Don't stop now if you have other ideas.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Unwind by Neal Schusterman
Now I'll try The Book Thief.
Thanks for the great lists.
But if your instinct is I Am The Messenger is a better choice, go with your instinct. It's a good book and an easier read.
He served as a Navy airman (though not as a pilot) before becoming an elementary schoolteacher, first in a very remote rural area of Northern California and later in the city. Ethnicity: I'd have to say generic mixed white.
I'm more than halfway through I Am the Messenger and am finding it well done, but it's dragging a bit through recycling of essentially the same content over and over and through a painfully slow unfolding of what I perceive to be the main message about Ed's journey of self-discovery. My client is not a very patient reader. I don't regret this reading experience myself, but I'm not sure it makes sense for me to recommend it to him.
I find myself a bit dismayed at the apparent prevalence of strong dark themes in young people's reading matter these days. To be sure, there's a need for realism and also a need for common ground with alienated youth. Even if some young people are not themselves into premature sex, drugs, and crime, with histories of abusive alcoholic families, they probably know people who are. But there has to be something in between teen noir and escapist magical fantasy. Where are those books?
What I'm finding myself wondering now is how representative these two samples are of current YA literature. Without overgeneralizing, would it be fair to say
• that they tend to deliver a message, moral, or lesson,
• that they tend not to be very subtle about it, and
• that the authors' struggle to avoid condescension shows a little bit?
And if these things are so, then I'd add a question: how do the youngsters seem to like reading these books? How do they respond?
If these are not fair surmises, then I'd welcome a counterexample.
I'm grateful for all comments. This is not my field, and I'm pretty lost in it.
Regarding your question, however, the answer is no, no, and no. There are many books that don't deliver a message, moral, or lesson - or don't do it in any obvious way - and don't remotely speak down to their readers. I love YA books, good YA books.
I recommend again John Green, Maureen Johnson, and David Levithan's books, specifically Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars by John, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen, and Love is the Higher Law by David. Also Saving Francesca by Malina Marchetta.
If he is willing to try fantasy and science fiction (or you're interested), Kristin Cashore's Graceling series and Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan books are wonderful.
I would call The Giver more Middle Grade (ages 10-14) than YA...and in MG, you can get away with a little more didacticism. Most YA that teens love ISN'T overly moralizing or didactic. I think on the whole that I Am the Messenger is one of those YA books that English teachers love, but that aren't the ones that get passed from hand to hand in the hallways at school. The ones that DO get passed around (books by people like Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins) are often dark or gritty because teens are brave readers--and often use books as a way to "try on" different life situations and learn about the world and think about how they would act in similar circumstances. Other teens use those dark books to learn that they're not the only ones in difficult circumstances and that they can overcome their abusive relationship or anorexia or whatever.
When you think about it, the YA fiction world tends to reflect what's out there for adults...and what's big for adults in terms of popular mass market fiction is urban fantasy and thrillers. So...
There are in-between books out there, though. Just as in the adult fiction world. They just don't always make the headlines.
*steps down* :)
While I Am the Messenger is not, technically speaking, a "religious allegory," I can see how it might be too heavy-handed for some. I'm sorry it's not what you were looking for, but I recommended it because I thought it balanced grim and whim reasonably well.
I don't think your assessment of YA is at all fair. Personally, I think there are some brilliant YA authors out there. Your criteria, though -
" wouldn't make heavy literary and intellectual demands on him"
"fairly realistic (and not too grim) would be preferable to magical fantasy"
"male protagonist...he could relate to"
"don't relate to a gritty-underbelly picture of youth"
"not a very patient reader"
- are rather limiting.
Perhaps he'd like something with an adventure theme -- man v. nature? Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thing I generally read, so I can't think of any titles for you.
Given that he's looking to write a memoir, though, mightn't it be more useful to him to read actual memoirs, seeing how others have chosen to unfold the narratives of their own lives?
Sorry, I thought it made it very clear that I was asking a question to test a hypothesis based on a sample of two in a field that's foreign to me. I would not presume to make an assessment that way.
The titles are, in order, The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings. I think there are two more books yet to be written in the series, but each book has its own arc that is resolved. I do recommend reading in order though — the plot twists are great and it would be a shame to be spoilered.
I'd also recommend:
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (well, this is a actually a bit dark)
Phoenix Rising by Karen Hesse (really all of hers)
Maybe Cynthia Voigt's Tillerman books?
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Trying to pick ones that aren't just girls girls girls.
Aimed slightly younger readers, but just as well-written as is possible (and funny to boot)
Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks
The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
Also, has he tried audio books? Plenty of fiction (both YA and adult) and great memoirs in audio format. There's an adult series of comic crime novels by Donald E. Westlake, which are extremely well-written and plotted (not to mention hilarious) and the audio books of the first nine (which are the best anyway) have an amazing reader.
I was hoping that I could get my client to read one of them and then look at it analytically with me. I expected to be able to point to passages of description or action and say, "See, here is how the author makes this event exciting," or "Notice how she includes just enough detail to give us a feel for the place without trying to describe every single feature."
Unfortunately I'm finding that he just doesn't seem to be interested in discussing any writing but his own. I'm going to have to take another tack.
Roald Dahl's Boy
I Can Jump Puddles by Alan Marshall
Any of Bill Bryson's travelogues, or The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka
Gerald Durrell's many memoirs
Also, although I haven't read either of these, Teacher Man by Frank McCourt and The Freedom Writers Diary are memoirs written by teachers that might be interesting to him.
Trying to get this client to read and discuss works that did what he was trying to do represented one of my last attempts to guide him toward a more effective narrative delivery. Soon after that--and more than a year ago now--I told him I was unable to continue the work. An editor simply can't (and shouldn't) try to take on the writer's job; but unless the writer fulfills his part of the bargain, the editor can't do hers.
I know a lot of self-styled writers who don't see any point in reading the work of others. Some of the most reading-averse are those who claim to write poetry. Needless to say, this lack shows in their writing.
I'm sorry you had such a frustrating job, even if it's over now.
A lot of people seem to think that what they have to say must be pure, unadulterated genius just because it came from them. It takes a pro to accept criticism.
When someone I know asks me to read and comment, I usually decline, saying "I'd rather be your friend than your critic." Very few people can take honest criticism of their writing, even when it's mild.
Besides, in my case they're essentially asking me to give away professional skills that I get paid for. They wouldn't ask someone else for a free tooth filling or brake job or custom tailoring.
I've taken quite a lot of critiquing myself so I'd know exactly how it felt to be edited.
Jamila Gavin, Coram Boy
Helen Grant, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden
Sonya Hartnett, Thursday's Child
Julie Hearn, Rowan the Strange
Gregory Hughes, Unhooking the Moon
Steve Kluger, My Most Excellent Year
E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
almost anything by Jaclyn Moriarty
For your client's purposes, though, the Kluger is certainly the best of these.