Books, of the “Young Adult” kind.

Young Adult, is, I’m assuming, a tough write.

You’ve gotta cross that barrier. the one where it’s still technically for kids, you can’t go too far with language, violence, sex, the works. But at the same time, if you dumb it down too much, you’re not writing Young Adult, you’re writing children’s lit. Now, I like Children’s Lit, but CL and YA (as I’ll refer to them from here on out, because I’m lazy, fuck) are not the same thing.

Why am I talking about this?

Blame Chuck Wendig. Again. That damn blog of his always gets me thinking.

When I was a Young Adult (and I consider that basically fourteen to eighteen: which is the other problem with “YA” and keeping it in that groove. There’s a HELL of a lot going on with you between fourteen and eighteen, and it’s almost definitely not the same as what’s going on with everyone else, or at the same speed, so.. fuck? how do you WRITE appropriately for such a potentially broad audience? I digress) I consumed EVERYTHING. I still do, but at the time, my small-ish-town library had a pretty strict policy on who could sign out what, and I was not of the who that could sign out adult-classified books.

Which sucked.

Especially as the YA section was MAYBE a dozen shelves (two stacks, side-by-side, six shelves each), and not everything appealed to me, and I read quickly.

So, I ended up re-reading a lot, until my folks put a tag on my Library card saying I was allowed to sign out anything I wanted. By then, however, I was working part-time, and a good portion of my paychecks went to books and comics, where I had no restrictions based on age).

Again, I digress.

I re-read a ton. And that’s kind of when you find your favorites.

I don’t know why FutureTrack 5 became one of mine.

(That’s actually the cover I remember, not the re-release: and I don’t want the paperback. I desperately want to find a copy of the Library edition/original hardcover).

I don’t know if it would have the same appeal to me today, at thirty-nine, either: Whether it would stand up. I’m certain I’ve blogged about FutureTrack 5 before, too, I just can’t remember where. I think I was probably nineteen the last time I read it. Maybe younger. And I remember a desperately bloody, dystopian story. And yeah, there were literary boobs in it. And I read THOSE scenes carefully. HEY, I was sixteen, what do you expect?

It’s the first book my mind flashes to, and the bar I hold all other YA lit to when I read it.

And I do still read YA. There’s some fantastic story-telling in the YA world that gets passed over (some, like, say, Hunger Games hits a societal chord. Some CL books become YA. Harry Potter, I’m looking at you.)

So, now we get to the grist of it. I have RECOMMENDATIONS. YA is tough, for sure. That balancing act of not getting too brutal or too ‘adult’ (for lack of a better word at this moment) versus keeping the interest of a more-varied-than-normal group of near-adults.

1] Harry Potter I think this one is obvious. Ridiculously so. The characters grew with the readers, which is nearly perfect. But, you can still go back and re-read, because you know what’s coming. There’s all the adolescent awkwardness and confusion, but no isssues with language or actual sexual content, but people die. And they don’t come back. It’s a YA win, and there’s a reason the serious sold a bajillion books, and was credited with getting kids to read again.

2] As also mentioned before: Hunger Games. No language, no overt sexuality, but still, all the ‘stuff’ that goes along with being that age. Death is a real thing, not just for the games themselves, but because that’s what happens around yoU: the developing adult fears of the surroundings show really well. And no punches are pulled in terms of “reality”: the Good Guys don’t always win.

3] Futuretrack 5 Obviously. It’s another dystopia, much more bleak than Hunger Games, but there’s hope: I do have to read it again, but I remember a brightness, a sense of future starting to appear at one point in the book. At the same time, there is overt sexuality, and violence, and death. I’d recommend it, but only for the mature/older YA reader.

4] Scott Sigler’s GFL series. The “GFL” is “Galactic Football League”. The series follows the career of Quentin Barnes, and his coming-of-age as he gets off a backwater world, with a rigid structure, and has to evaluate, and re-evaluate, the world around him in his own terms of his own learned bigotries, and his own so-called truths. Light on language, mid-level on violence, and epic in terms of football and alien action.

5] The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings. No need to say much here. I firmly believe that, by age fifteen, pretty much everyone should have read these. If you haven’t. GET OUT. I don’t care if you liked them, you should have read ’em. Because the kids in your life almost definitely will. Go read them now, no matter how old you are. Go on. We’ll wait.

6] The Narnia Books by C.S.Lewis, because NARNIA. I know, I’ve said it already, and I’ll probably say it again. If you’ve NOT read these… just go read ’em. I don’t care how old you are, these are FUN.

7] Pretty much anything by Monica Hughes, but for me, I always loved Crisis on Conshelf Ten, but Hunter in the Dark was great, as were a multitude of others.

8] Absolute classic: Tom Swift. I’m still trying to remember which of these I read: there’s more than a hundred of them. I read ’em around… 1985? I guess? And they were fun stories. Very typically “adventure stories for boys”, and I’m pretty sure they were Third series.

9] Watership Down: Ostensibly, it’s about rabbits. It’s pretty heavy, emotionally though, and it’s definitely a ‘cusp’ read: I read it at thirteen, but parents might not want to have their kids into it until later on. I know my grade school made my parents give me a note saying that I was allowed to read it, even though it was in the school library. This is, to this day, still one of my favorite books. It builds a mythos, and maintains it brilliantly the whole way through. And the last ten pages KILL ME every time.

10] Geoffrey Trease, but again, mostly Bows Against The Barons: YA historical fiction, set in medieval and rennaissance time frames. I read this one on my own, and I can’t remember why.. but the Shakespeare-set story, Cue for Treason was assigned in my grade nine class. A long, long time agao.

11] Lord of the Flies Again, HEAVY SHIT here. But definitely some of the good stuff as far as YA goes. If you don’t know what I’m talking about? Go read it.

12] Holy CRAP, I almost forgot about Gordon Korman and the McDonald Hall books! I love these for so, so many reasons. they’re irreverent, and funny, and well-paced, and honestly, they’re National Lampoon adventures for fourteen-year-olds. They’re brilliant.

There’s tons more, honestly. Some of it’s YA on the twelve-to-fifteen end of things, some of it’s … well, honestly, it’s heavy enough in its topics to not only cover the fifteen-to-eighteen level, but will keep adults entertained over and over. As you can tell, even as a kid I was heavy on the Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

More? Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, anything by Enid Blyton, but personally, I always favoured The Adventurous Four. It didn’t stop me buying every single Famous Five and Secret Seven though.

If there’s a more modern sci-fi fan at that age? The Robotech books to keep ’em going. The Robotech/Macross story still holds up really well. I’d take Stephen King’s “Silver Bullet” or “Eyes of the Dragon” over “Twillight” or “Sookie Stackhouse” any day of the week, then or now. Your mileage may vary, because, and I don’t know if it’s weird or not, my dad had me reading Tolkien and Douglas Adams (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy specifically) before I was ten, and introduced me to Piers Anthony’s Xanth books by the time I was eleven. I was always a reader, I may have mentioned that, and I devoured everything I could find.

Seriously, I could keep going. There’s great worth in “young adult” fiction, for both the young adults they’re intended for, and for the so-called adults they become.

I’ll shut up now.

Go read some YA, already!