By Rebecca Ciardullo
It’s easy to believe, when you look at the recent offerings on the silver screen, that young adult fiction consists of sparkly vampires and ripped werewolves exchanging longing looks with a teen ingénue. Or perhaps you have fond memories of Judy Blume and Nancy Drew? I know I do. Young adult fiction however, is so much more than that now, and I for one am thankful for it.
When I started teaching 8th graders 14 years ago, RL Stine was one of the big names in YA. I’d have kids rip through those books and get really frustrated when there wasn’t anything else out there like him. In recent years, we’ve seen a huge surge in genre books for teens. What was once a world of realistic fiction with a sprinkling of historical and mystery has evolved into a feast of all the genres.
When I wander through a bookstore (yes I do like to wander through the stacks, there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands) I gravitate more towards the YA section than the adult fiction offerings. In the adult science fiction, fantasy, romance and mystery stacks I see the same names over and over again. The same names I’ve been seeing for the last twenty years. The material is very limited. However there has been an explosion of new writers with wonderfully vivid worlds and complex stories in the young adult sections. Adult writers like James Patterson have plunged into the YA scene and found audiences. Young adult writers and publishers are taking risks I haven’t yet seen in the adult fiction world.
Kids are actually getting excited about books now! I’ve gotten some wonderful recommendations from my students over the last few years. I have read the Twilight books, though personally I much prefer Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy—gripping, haunting and beautifully written. Harry Potter paved the way into this brave new world or YA fiction and I’d love to kiss JK Rowling for breaking the page barrier. YA books can be any length now. We’ve seen that with engaging characters, intriguing stories and gripping worlds kids can and will read hundreds of pages and come back for more.
Seeing kids argue over books, talk about books, trade books and steal books off my classroom shelf makes the teacher in me do the happy dance. The author in me though keeps thinking that while I love a good paranormal romance, I should start coming up with ideas to sell to my students!