Sunday, June 5, 2011

Book Thoughts: YA a different way

Late last night, the Wall Street Journal posted a terrible excuse for journalism in the form of Darkness Too Visible. The main thrust of the article is that today's YA books are too filled with darkness and depravity like "vampires and suicide and self-mutilation" (is it just me or is one of these things not like the others?).

The response on Twitter has been breathtaking. As I write this, the #YASaves tag is the second highest trending topic in the United States. I saw reports that we cracked top three in worldwide trending over night, and while the WSJ article has collected 26 comments, there are over 15,000 #YASaves tweets. This is why Twitter is an amazing tool! That tag is filled with amazing testimonies by teens, authors, librarians and parents about how some of these "dark" YA books have literally saved their lives. It makes for some truly powerful Sunday morning reading - a way better accompaniment to my Pop-Tart than the WSJ!

Last night, however, Justine Larbalestier posted a tweet that got me to thinking. She points out:
"Yes, @OfficiallyAlly, it's ironic. Majority of YA *isn't* dark. We've both written light funny books. We're hardly anomalies. #yasaves @wsj"

It's not just the deep, dark books that are "important." In YA, it takes all kinds - girls that love vampires, boys falling in love with other boys, people overcoming rape and abuse, as well as the class clown, the fantasy adventurer, and the silly group of BFFs navigating the silliness of high school.

So I want to start compiling some of those books. There are lots of blog posts already reiterating the importance of the books the WSJ article denigrates, and I'm in complete agreement with all of those blog posts! I contributed my own bit of #YASaves to the hashtag last night, and I think we all know someone for whom Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak has been a literal lifesaver. I'm not downplaying their importance - only highlighting that these books aren't the only things going on in YA, and that there's more than one way to save a life. As others on Twitter have said, if the mom in the beginning of the WSJ article had been in an indie bookstore or library, she would have easily found something appropriate for her daughter.
    How to Ditch Your Fairy
  • How to Ditch your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier - Set in a fantasy world where girls playing sports is totally normal - as is having a fairy that grants you a special talent. Charlie has a good parking spot fairy and she does everything possible to get rid of the darn thing
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore - this is my go-to YA comfort novel. It's not hilarious and has some heavier issues like self-determination, committing violence, and that perennial favorite of moral scolds, pre-marital sex, but if the real world is weighing me down, Graceling has become my saving grace, letting me slip into a fantastic world where I already know everything's going to turn out all right!
  • Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson - love this light-hearted romp through experimental theater and living in a hotel in Manhattan, with a quirky family that legitimately loves each other, even as sometimes they find each other impossible.
  • Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell - I love this family summer camp story, where a girl and her family go to pioneer camp to live like it's the 1800s. The action comes in as Gen texts her friends back home with her hilarious observations about the camp through her illicit cell phone. The romance is chaste and far from the focus, which would probably give it even more bonus points for those who are so against darker explorations of teen life.
  • Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julia Halpern - A must-read for D&D gaming geeks everywhere, especially us girls and young women who sometimes feel like we stick out like a sore thumb around the gaming table! Another book with excellent family relationships (I still count Jessie's dad among my favorite YA parents).
  • The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill Alexander - This one has a dead parent, and a bit of racism, but Austin stays so positive in the face of adversity, even as she's chasing a rather meaningless prize (in the grand scheme of things). 
  • Geektastic ed. by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci - a collection of short stories that span the full spectrum of YA possibilities, from serious and heartbreaking to absolutely absurd. Another must-read for any self-respecting geek!
8 PM update:
  • Bookgazing queers up the list by suggesting Empress of the World by Sara Ryan, which I left off the first time because this is my personal #YASaves title, and thus I probably imbue it with more weight than it actually has. It is easily the one book that changed my life, in more ways than one, and I shall always be grateful for its existence. Bookgazing also adds Boy Meets Boy and most of the rest of the David Levithan bibliography, and A La Carte by Tanita Davis.
  • Dear @wsj#yasaves
  • @readjunkee suggests Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature and Fat Cat by Robin Brande; The London Eye Mystery by Dowd; How Not to be Popular by Ziegler; North of Beautiful by Headley; and "Anything by Jordan Sonnenblick, Roland Smith, Gordon Korman, Lisa Yee, Helen Frost "
Okay, I know my tastes to tend to skew more towards the dramatic, so leave your own favorites in the comments! I'll update this list throughout the day as I get more suggestions. And I've already decided this topic is getting covered on my weekly podcast, A Couple of Geeks, so check back here on Tuesday for a link to the podcast!

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